(Updated to reflect a late email from Monique Ketteringham-ed.)
Tammie Bullard – Incumbent
Francine Scinto – Incumbent
James Laird – Incumbent
I knew there was something we forgot. Hey, come on, how many voters truly look at who is running for the school board? That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t and, during the contentious issues we have had between the TUSD and the city of Tustin, they deserve a once over. Face it, even the candidates themselves didn’t even think it important enough to spend a few dollars on a website as I have not been able to find any for any candidate.
There are five candidates for three seats on the Tustin Unified School District governing board. They are, Francine Scinto, Monique Ketteringham, Dr. Elias Teferi, James Laird, and Tammie Bullard. Of the five, only the three incumbents bothered to file candidate statements. All three of them promote the fact that TUSD, under their guidance, has maintained a low student to teacher ratio, increased relevant student scores and run an efficient budget. They are also long time members of the board, Scinto and Bullard both holding seats for the past 16 years. Laird has been a member of the board since 2004.
None of them has raised the issue of the ongoing fight between the district and the city of Tustin and that is a bit of concern.
There also appears to be some concern over the actual residence of school board member Francine Scinto. Earlier in the year, a commenter mentioned that Scinto may not actually live in the district. They cited a Google search that indicated Scinto lives in south county. We did our own Google search and it came up with an address in North Tustin. So, at a recent event (which was held in her neighborhood in North Tustin, by the way) I asked Scinto about her residence. She adamantly denied living out of the district at the time. The person making the accusation has not sat on her heels. She may also run a website that posted this a few days ago. Still no solid proof. Just accusations. I’ll let you be the judge.
Tammie Bullard is also a long time member of the board. She has been board president multiple times and continues to advocate for a fiscal conservatism and low class size.
The two upstarts in the race have neither websites or candidate statements. There is not much information to go on regarding their reasons for entering the race. Dr. Elias Teferi, who lists his occupation as Independent Educational Consultant, has put up a few signs in public places but has not made any further efforts in his campaign. He also endorsed Measure S, the school technology bond.
Monique Ketteringham responded to an email inquiry, saying she entered the race late and was not able to muster enough financial support to place a Candidate Statement on the ballot. Ketteringham says her priorities include supporting the arts within our district, tending to infrastructure, and seeing Measure S through. “I feel our school district needs a new, fresh voice on the board, someone who can relate to the needs and concerns of the parents and students that make up our community.” She is running a grassroots campaign, meeting and greeting people door to door as she, by her own admission, has not been able to do much fundraising prior to the campaign.
Both of the challengers are Democrats while all three of the incumbents are Republican, if that should matter to anyone in a non-partisan race.
There is an old adage that if something isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The current Tustin Unified School District governing board continues to do a good job in raising standards and pertinent student scores for academics while maintaining sound, fiscal policies. And, while I do not subscribe to Measure S, the technology bond, I believe their stewardship over Measure G demonstrates their capability to be responsible in the use of tax money. We’ll take the incumbents in this race.
We have already written a couple of articles, which you can read here and here, on local Measure S that will appear on the November ballot. This Measure was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Tustin Unified School District and is championed by school board president, Jonathan Ablelove and school board member Lynne Davis. The proceeds from the bond issue would be used to implement technology in Tustin schools, something I admit is sorely needed.
In meeting earlier this year with their technology guru, Alex Rojas, I was impressed with the amount of work that had gone on behind the scenes to get this measure in front of the voters. He also explained that all of the money would go toward actually putting technology into the classrooms, from infrastructure to front end systems. While Measure G paid for some infrastructure, the restrictions in the construction bond limited the amount of technology that could reach the classroom. Measure S would change that.
My complaint, of course, has not changed: In times like these, it is unfair to take more money out of pockets of the voters, many of who are struggling to make ends meet. Rojas told me the $135 million dollar bond would be repaid over thirty years and would amount to another nine dollars or so being put on a property tax bill. But, that is the rub. As I said before, we are still paying for Measures G and L and we will continue to pay that for some time. Now, Measure S, being repaid over a whopping thirty years would increase that debt. That is debt our children will be responsible for repaying. And, as I said before, raise you hand if you think this is the school district’s last bond measure.
There also has been no effort by the school board to pay for the technology through budgeting over multiple years or through other means. The initial reaction to the question of technology was to go immediately to a bond issue rather than find alternate sources to pay for this. Admittedly, that would be difficult given the present fiscal circumstances of the country, but that should be an indicator that the TUSD should also live within their means rather than living off the voter credit card.
For our money, we will vote no on this issue. Send the school board back to the financial drawing board to do what they need to do and stop saddling property owners and their children with debt.
Move over, Jerry Brown. After holding community outreach programs on technology assessment and planning, the Tustin Unified School District voted unanimously to place a Technology Bond Measure on the November Ballot.
I had heard about the outreach meetings being held to discuss the possibility of putting another bond issue to the voters. My immediate reaction was to say, “no.” And, that is what I wrote in a recent article, saying the school district -like other government entities- needed to learn to live within their means. But, when you get a headstrong bunch of teachers together, they tend to get an idea into their head and stick with it. So, it was no surprise that, after the article came out, I was contacted by school board members and even the school district’s IT guy, Alex Rojas.
I reiterated the case I stated in the article and told Rojas that I thought the taxpaying public was getting tired of the school district, water district, cities and what have you, all coming to them as if they were an ATM machine. Even though the amount of the bonds is relatively low at $135 million dollars, the taxpayer would eventually revolt and this may be that time.
My concern also stemmed from the fact that Measures G and L were supposed to put technology into the classrooms. The infrastructure was supposed to be there. If that was the case, why did the school district need to come back to the trough with their hand out once again? Would this pay for iPads and apps? Would every student have an iPad issued to them?
Now, Alex is a good salesman. He explained the difference in what Measures G and L did and what the new bond measure would do. In essence, this was the finishing touch that would open the technology doors to the students and faculty, bringing our schools up to state standards in regard to technology. He explained that online testing would become the norm, mandated by the state. Yet, the state had no funding for such programs (this sounds familiar). He also said, ” In addition, our parents expect us to provide their children access to the technology needed for career or college readiness and we need an infrastructure/network that can support new technology. A bond is the only vehicle we have to make investments in our students needs especially given Sacramento’s decision to cut our funding.”
Really? What about cutting back in other areas to provide funding on a lower scale? That did not elicit an answer, other than what I had already received.
So, I went back to the ATM issue. The state can’t fund technology. The school district doesn’t have any hidden funds that they want us to know about, anyway. What made him think the taxpayer was going to be conducive to another tax? Lower costs, for one thing. the cost of the bonds would be less than 2% at issue rate. That makes the bonds nearly even in borrowing. But the bonds would be issued over an incredible 35 years. That doesn’t make this more palatable, it makes it less as the bond debt service will be an extended period. Raise your hand if you think this is the school district’s last bond issue for the next 30 years or so. I didn’t think so.
The presentation and the arguments for the bond measure are compelling. As a parent, I even agree with much of it. But, I have to wonder if the school district has really exhausted their resources to help provide for at least some of this. And, at what point will the taxpayers just say no? It seems that, every time the school needs something, the first thing they look toward is bonds. If we did not already have two unpaid for bonds out, this would be a little easier to stomach.
One thing the school district has going for it is the fact that it is not just taxpayers, homeowners, who will be voting. Everyone, homeowner, renter and freeloader gets a say in spending homeowner cash when it comes to bond measures, even though they may not have a stake in the game. Perhaps that’s why it is easier to get school bonds passed. No one thinks about who is paying or what the cost truly is.
The school district has a podcast up on the technology presentation. It is a good one. If you are going to spend your money on a bond issue, then take the time to watch so you know what they plan to do with your money. And, it is your money.
In a comment on a previous post I mentioned that this is not just about TUSD. In 2011, there were 10 school bond measures floated in California with 7 of them passing. On the June 5th ballot this year, there were 34 school bond measures with 23 of them passing muster. Total bond money brought in? $1.8 billion dollars. Cost to taxpayers? Priceless!
I haven’t checked to see how many bond issues are on the ballot for California in November. San Diego has placed a whopping $2.8 billion school bond on the ballot, however, making ours look like chump change. So, this could be a very expensive year for property owners.
An Open Letter to Mayor John Nielsen and the Tustin City Council
Dear Mayor Nielsen,
At the Tuesday night meeting of the Tustin City Council, you expressed outrage that the newspapers and blogs would attack you over the Heritage Elementary School lawsuit. You thought it unfair that the press had labeled you and the city council as racist because of a pleading entered by the city in Orange County Superior Court outlining their complaint against the Tustin Unified School District. I can’t help but notice, you timed your remarks so as to preclude any immediate response from the audience by including them in “Mayors Comments” at the end of the session. I felt a response was necessary, to keep the record straight. As such, I choose to respond here.
You began your comment (which begins at timemark 1:09:12) on the issue by saying that you were the one who originally set up a meeting between the city and school district to hammer out an agreement. You also said:
I’ve been a great supporter of Tustin Schools for many years. My children have grown up in Tustin public schools from kindergarten and have graduated through high school. They’ve attended Nelson Elementary, Utt Middle School and Tustin High School, both of my children graduated from Tustin High, and this dispute is very disconcerting and has been for the last two years.
But, in the most recent legal battles that we’ve had, the city has tried to protect its residents and Tustin Legacy by trying to preserve a newly built neighborhood school as an elementary school. That school was paid for by those residents, by millions of dollars in fees, mello-roos. And, we engaged in that in order to have that elementary school so they could use it for their kids, which they anticipated they could have until it was changed and the carpet pulled out from under them, so to speak. But, you know, there are differences between agencies and institutions and people don’t always agree on things, but, you know, I’ve been fairly patient throughout this and haven’t said a whole lot.
But, when I see in the newspaper that the TUSD is declaring us as racist and, by reference, the neighborhood in Tustin Legacy as well, I get very perturbed. And, frankly, it’s despicable and it doesn’t do anything to solve anything. I know we disagree but, name calling and playing the race card is certainly not the way to solve those differences. I’m even more concerned that, frankly, the Orange County Register would print this, with scurrilous accusations without any foundation. Instead of trying to inflame people in this community, we should be trying to bring them together. We should try to heal and we should try and work together as much as we can. And, if we have differences, let’s please be civil about it. Let’s not get it down to calling names at each other. Let’s just do what we need to do to get through this. I’ve been quiet on this. I’m usually a patient man. But, when I see that I am being called a racist, I get a little upset.
Let’s clear up a few things here. You claimed the Register made scurrilous accusations that had no foundation. It was my original article on the city’s loss of the Heritage School lawsuit, which the city initiated, that first stated the issue of race. The Orange County Register could not ignore the fact as it had been published and was circulating widely in the community. I, along with other community bloggers, urged reporter, Elysse James and her editor, to publish the article both on-line and in the OCR print edition. It was, in fact, the city that provided the foundation by alleging harm to children who were forced to attend overcrowded minority-ridden schools, not the school district. In a pleading submitted by the city, the city council alleged:
Elementary school age children who live in the vicinity of the school, including children living in the transitional housing provided at The Village of Hope and the Tustin Family Campus, to date, have been forced to attend overcrowded elementary school in other neighborhoods further away from their homes. But for the Project, those students would be able to attend class at the neighborhood elementary school planned, paid for, and built for their use. These overcrowded elementary schools include W.R. Nelson Elementary, Jeane Thorman Elementary, and Benjamin Beswick Elemenatary. These schools serve predominately minority populations.
Do I think you are a racist, Mayor Nielsen? In your diatribe, you wrongly lashed out at school officials who you say called you a racist. Yet, that is clearly not what Tustin School President Jonathon Ablelove was implying when he called the wording inflammatory. He, along with thousands of others who read this wonder what this paragraph, written by city attorneys and approved by the city council, added to the city’s argument for the lawsuit. If it did not have racial overtones, if it added nothing to the argument, why was it included?
Quite frankly, Mayor Nielsen, I am disappointed in your response. You could have come to the table and said, “They misinterpreted what we wrote”, or, “What we meant was this…”. You could have apologized for allowing a racially insensitive remark to get past the council in closed session. You could have even asked the city attorney for an explanation. The community would have accepted that and moved on.
Instead, you chose the typical conservative route. You stated your credentials as a fine, upstanding citizen of the community; how you have been involved for 10 years with city politic; how your children have all gone to and graduated from Tustin schools. You even mentioned Nelson Elementary school (mentioned in the pleading as one of those overcrowded schools) and then said, “I don’t care what the papers say, I am not a racist!” Well, the words, “These schools serve predominantly minority populations”, without any further explanation from you as to why they were allowed into an official court document submitted by the city, stand as evidence of the racially insensitive nature of the city council’s attitude.
I would also like to point out another error in your complaint toward us. You stated that the newspapers, by reference, called the Tustin Legacy population racist as well. Untrue. Nowhere in my article on Our Town Tustin or the excellent article written by Elysse James of the Orange County Register, did we allege the citizens of Tustin Legacy to be racist. Again, this must be your conservative logic putting 2 and 2 together to make 5. While I cannot speak for Ms. James, I can certainly tell you that I feel the citizens of Tustin Legacy, who only want to see the school they paid for used for the original purpose, do not feel that way and nowhere in any discussion of the issues has that ever been brought up by or against them. You speak of inflammatory remarks but, isn’t that what you attempted to do with the citizens of Tustin Legacy in having them believe they were called racist?
No, you and the city council stand alone in this matter.
The overriding tone of your message (besides, ‘I am not a racist’) is one of working together to resolve the issues that have gone on far too long. On this we can agree. Recently, the judge overseeing the original lawsuits in Orange County, continued the case again, this time until January of 2013. One has to wonder about the timing of that. Perhaps the judge is also hoping that, over the next year and possibly with new blood on the city council, cooler heads will prevail and the two entities can resolve this dispute without going to trial. It is not too late, Mayor. You have, by all accounts, an unwinnable situation. You can take that patience, which you espouse, and put it to good use by putting aside partisan politics and resolving this issue.
John, I have met you. We have spoken at length on various city matters. You are an intelligent, thoughtful man who, I think, has the best interest of the city at heart. Your allegiance to Councilmember Amante aside, you make fair decisions most of the time. This is one of those times you need to be your own man and act as mayor of this city. Quit trying to divert attention from this. Own up to it and apologize to the families of Tustin for, what amounted to, a racially insensitive remark that served no purpose whatsoever.