Board of Education candidate Niel Tam
Board of Education candidate Niel Tam
AUSD School Board Member (Retired Principal from AUSD)
I am an Incumbent School Board Member for the last four years with 30 years of experience in AUSD as a teacher. I have been deeply involved with educational excellence within AUSD for the past 43 years. My long term experience and historical perspective within AUSD provide me with the knowledge, training and commitment necessary to lead our district during this critical period of uncertainty. I bring teaching and administrative experience from preschool, elementary, middle school and special education to the complex decision making required by Board Trustees. Throughout my AUSD career and Board work, I have striven to respect value and encourage the involvement and contribution of Alameda's parents, students, teachers, businesses and community.
If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
A. Maintain a balanced budget and be proactive about securing adequate funding for our children. It is important that Proposition 30 or Proposition 38 passes on November 6th. If Proposition 30,which is initiated by our governor, does not pass, “trigger cuts” will happen. The state budget was created on the assumption that Proposition 30 will pass. If Proposition 30 does not pass on November 6th, the Alameda Unified School District will have a deficit of $3 million in the 2013-14 school year and $6 Million deficit in the 2014-15 school year. If Proposition 38 passes, the state may still administer trigger cuts.
It is important to continue to support Robles-Wong versus California Litigation. It is a Litigation challenging the State's School Finance System and would give AUSD state funding equal to other schools.
For this school year, when the state deferred payments to the school districts AUSD maintained a balanced budget and did not have to take a loan during the summer months. We did not close any schools, enact massive layoffs of employees, have furloughs or reduce the number of school days like many other school districts. AUSD district has been fiscally conservative in using our reserves and the Tier III, restricted categorical monies from the state. I believe that our Chief Business Officer, Mr. Robert Shemwell, continues to do an outstanding job.
B. Implement the goals and strategies of the Master Plan. In 2009/2010 AUSD saw its revenues reduced by $1,421 per student from $6,367 to $4,946. The 2010/11 proposed Governor's budget had revealed no meaningful restoration of public education funding, and this looks to be the trend for years to come. The severity of the deficits, uneven enrollment and the need for more choice in this district led to the creation of the Master Plan. The district must do more with less, reducing its fixed costs while ensuring effective services, high quality programs and still have fiscal integrity. This plan relies on the community to lobby for and successfully pass a new replacement parcel tax. In the spring of 2009 the school board voted 4 to 1 to commission the superintendent to develop a blueprint for the district's decision making on finances, stifling programs and facilities over the next five school years. Eight community workshops were hosted by the board and superintendent, 29 smaller meetings by community facilitators, 30 school-site meetings and two community surveys as well as a teacher survey were held in creating this blueprint. Two scenarios were created. Plan A if the parcel tax passes, and Plan B if the voters rejected it.
Measure A did pass and now we have implemented the stated goals in the blueprint. Some of the goals and strategies in the Master Plan have taken place. Accelerated learning through high quality instruction has taken place with the implementation of the Math Initiative as shown by the results of the CST's Math Scores. Attractive school options were created with the approval of a magnet school, Maya Lin (formerly Washington School) and the Innovative Programs at Earhart School and Bay Farm School. The enrollment in the district also increased this school year with the implementation of Centralized Enrollment along with the introduction of the magnet school and the innovative programs. Maya Lin's student enrollment is reaching its capacity.
C. Implement and support the Math, SIM, IBD Instructional Initiatives. As a principal, I felt that staff development played a crucial role is supporting new teachers in my school and throughout the District. Throughout my 39 years as a teacher and principal, I believe that the district has not been active enough in building capacity for internal professional development, trainings and coaching. The Board needs to continue to build upon past academic initiatives. The Math, SIM, and IBD Instructional Initiatives provide this type of capacity-building for our teachers and has measures which sustain these initiatives over time. I also believe in teacher leadership where teachers are trained as coaches to support their colleagues. As an example, the Math Initiative is a practitioner-base math professional development model that integrates coaching and intervention and has proven to improve math instruction in AUSD.
For the past 4 years (2007-2010), AUSD has continued to test ahead of the State and County averages in math performance for CST's, grades 2 to 5. The 6th and 7th grades have also consistently performed ahead of the state and county on the Math CST's.
As teachers retire and new teachers are hired, building the internal professional development within our district will result in higher achievement for our students.
What would you do to encourage harmony between the school board, school district administrators and teachers?
As a way of encouraging harmony between the school board, school district administrators and teachers, I would suggest having Community Mediators to facilitate meetings. Community Mediators are trained to address conflicts by providing a safe environment for the participants to express their issues. I think it would be helpful to utilize the talents of persons who are well-respected in our community and who are trained Community Mediators. Two people in our community are trained Community Mediators, Former Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker and former League of Women President Jeff Cambra.
The district recently released a facilities report that outlines $92 million in needed facility fixes. How would you address these needs?
To address these needs, I would use the same process that we used in the creation of the District Master Plan. We should engage the citizens of Alameda to ensure that all district stakeholders have multiple opportunities to be informed about the Facilities Master plan and Facilities Assessment Report. Community workshops can be hosted by the Board of Educations, independent community-base public education volunteers could carry our listening campaigns through the school-site meetings, community and teacher surveys.
There is a District Master plan, and the Facilities is a part of this blueprint. With the reduction of revenue, the District needed to create this master plan. Since AUSD revenues were reduced by $1,421 per student from $6,367 to $4,946 and the 2010/11 proposed Governor's budget showed no meaningful restoration of public education funding for years to come, the District created this master plan. The district must do more with less, reducing fixed costs while ensuring effective service, high quality programs and still have fiscal integrity. In the spring of 2009 the school board voted 4 to 1 to commission the superintendent to develop this blueprint for the district's decision making on finances, stifling programs and facilities over the next five school year. The Facilities Assessment provides the information to make informed decisions.
During my 39 years in this school district the maintenance of our district facilities has always been an issue. When the district had low revenue maintenance of certain school facilities were deferred. This created a larger problem for these facilities the following years. This is the first time in my career that a Facilities Master Plan was implemented and a Facilities Assessment Report was done. Many of the older facilities have served well with years of continuous use and continue to need maintenance.
Do you believe Alameda's schools are underfunded? If so, where would you find the revenue to address this problem? And if not, what do you believe the district's priorities should be and how would you shift funds in order to address them?
I do believe that Alameda's schools are underfunded. It is important that Proposition 30 or 38 pass on Nov. 6th. If Proposition 30, which is initiated by our governor, does not pass, trigger cuts will happen. Those state budget was created on the assumption that Proposition 30 will pass. If Proposition 30 does not pass on November 6th, the Alameda Unified School District will have a deficit of $3 Million in the 2013-14 school year and $6 Million deficit in the 2014-15 school year. In addition, if Proposition 38 passes, even though Proposition 38 would direct more money to school districts, that funding increase would be offset to an unknown extent by the fact that the trigger cuts will still happen at the state level.
Since AUSD receives a lower amount of funding than other schools who did not formerly have a military base in their district, it is important to continue to support Robles-Wong versus California Litigation. The District has supported this case since 2007 and as we are partners in the refiling of this case in 2010. This important litigation alleges the State's current system for funding public education is insufficient, irrational and unstable and that it violates children's fundamental right to an education. We filed our appeal in that case in June and are looking forward to the case finally reaching the appeals courts in 2011. She said that it takes two third vote by the legislature to raise revenue. I suggest that we use Social Media to force the politicians to adequately fund our schools. Social Media provides a platform for us to connect as a community, share information and inspire others to stand with us.
I believe that the district’s priorities should support the school sites. The shifting of funds is addressed in the AUSD Master Plan. The district continues to decentralize Central Office and redirect 5-10% more of the total district budget to school sites along with greater flexibility and greater accountability for achieving results.
What services should Alameda's schools provide, and what services do you believe every Alameda student is entitled to?
AUSD schools should provide our students with the knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed and thrive as adults. Our high schools need to prepare our students with the academic and technical knowledge and skills they will need to prepare for further education and for careers in current or emerging employment sectors. Students need a range of analytic and workplace skills.
Services that Alameda's schools should provide are:
• Counseling Services for Career technical education and Regional Occupational Program that would give the students the academic knowledge, higher-order reasoning and problem solving skills, work attitudes, general employability skills, technical skills and occupational specific skills.
• Counseling Services to prepare students for Community College, for entrance to the California State University or University of California system as well as other universities.
• Special Education and speech services
• Title I Services as mandated by federal law
• ESL Services as mandated by state law
• Academic Services such as after school tutoring programs
• Technology Services - Students and parents can have access to their teachers, schools and the district through the internet
• Interpreters for non English speakers as mandated by federal law
Services that I believe every Alameda student is entitled to:
• Special Education Services
• Speech and Language Services
• Services required by the American Disabilities Act
How do you view the challenges and/or opportunities posed by charter schools?
Charter schools offer options for families and also appeal to particular interests. The site-based governance and regulatory flexibility that Charter schools enjoy provide an opportunity to involve students, parents, teachers and administrators more deeply in school program development. Charter Schools offer an alternative way to align programs with specific student needs. The trade-offs for Charter School Options is that they require monitoring from the district. When charters do not buy services from AUSD, the Central Office loses revenue.
The Master Plan survey revealed that community members and parents were very interested in science/technology and an arts themed school. It was clear that families wanted more choices at the elementary level. In the 2011-12 school year the School Board approved Washington Elementary to become an arts magnet school. We also approved the Innovative Programs at Earhart Elementary School and Bay Farm Elementary School. AUSD learned from our existing charter schools as part of our choice initiative.
How would you propose to compete with charters and private schools in order to retain students, and if so, how?
In the 2012/13 school year new elementary art magnet school, Maya Lin (formerly Washington School) opened its doors. The school’s enrollment almost reached full capacity. Previously, Washington School had always been under enrolled. The Innovative Programs at Earhart and Bay Farm Schools also began this past academic year, and the enrollment of both schools increased.
The district continues to explore expanded educational options at Wood Middle School and Encinal High School that will be implemented in the 2013-2014 school year.
There is a wide disparity among PTA organization’s ability to support their individual schools in terms of the amount of money each can raise. How would you address this disparity?
There has always been a wide disparity among PTA organizations’ ability to support their individual schools in terms of the amount of money each can raise and having served in Title I schools, I was always aware of this disparity. One way of addressing the disparity is to create a bridge between the schools who are having difficulties raising money with the schools that have the fundraising capacity. When I was principal at Miller School our PTA worked together with the Edison School PTA on combined fundraisers. This also built a stronger relationship among the parents and teachers between the two schools.
Another strategy is to build nonprofit, business and philanthropic partnerships with the schools. When I was principal at Miller School we were able to raise over $350,000 to replace the playground structures at the school. The Coast Guard installed the structures. When I was principal at Washington School the Warriors through the Tides Foundation adopted the school and built two full size basket courts on the school’s playground.
How would you improve the way the school district does business?
I would have the school district implement the AUSD Master Plan. Some of the strategies are:
• Decentralized administration and redirecting 5-10% more of the total district budget to school sites.
• Implementing cross-departmental processes/systems for greater efficiency, greater service to sites and a shift to a results-oriented culture.
• Implementing scorecards that track core business functions and demonstrate improvement each year towards targets from stakeholder surveys and data collection systems.
• Centralizing student enrollment