Facing a lively audience in the auditorium of El Marino Language Immersion School, five of the six candidates in the race for seats on the Culver City School Board discussed their views in a forum last Thursday.
Candidates Alan Elmont, Patricia Siever, Kathy Paspalis, Robert Zirgulis, and Karlo Silbiger answered a series of questions put to them by moderators Roberta Mailman and Judith Martin-Straw. Twenty of these questions were drawn at random from a hat and asked of two candidates each.
The only candidate who didn’t participate was Gary Abrams.
The one question all five candidates had to answer was “Do you support Measure EE (the parcel tax initiative)?” Needless to say, all the candidates expressed support, although Zirgulis stated first that he usually is “opposed to new taxes, especially during a recession.” But he added that he is “reluctantly supporting EE because the situation in the schools is dire.”
The moderators noted that none of the candidates had explained exactly how they would work to get EE passed.
Among the randomly drawn questions was “What specific measures would you take to rectify the approximate $3,000,000-plus shortfall of funds projected for the 2010-2011 budget year?”
This was answered by Paspalis, whose solutions included drawing from the deferred maintenance fund and saving money with energy conservation, and by Zirgulis, who suggested hiring a grant writer and also exclaimed “I will go lobby Sacramento. I will give them hell.”
Asked if she thought the administration at the Culver City School District was too “top-heavy,” Siever replied that one would have to look at the duties of each administrator to see how they affected the students, before cutting any positions. ”You have to have empirical evidence to do that.”
Silbiger’s answer to the question of whether he believed in “consensus building” on the Board was “Absolutely. We have to have a Board that works together….you have to be able to compromise, to see the big picture.”
Asked if athletic and arts programs should be cut back, Elmont responded by defending them. He supported the hiring of a grant writer to obtain funding. “We should double our efforts to obtain outside funding for these programs.”
Silbiger likewise emphasized that arts and athletics are “valuable culturally and socially” and that besides, funds for these programs “are already too small to begin with.”
A couple of razor’s edge questions concerned what the current School Board has done “correctly” and “incorrectly” over the past 18 months.
Siever voted in the positive for the Board’s rescinding cuts to classroom aide positions and creating an anti-bullying task force. Silbiger listed the Board’s removal of art and music classes from the cut list. On the negative side, Silbiger had discontents with the way the Board had handled the budget hearings, citing a lack of transparency in regard to the public’s ability to receive documents and to view the budget actions online.
In a final round, the candidates were asked to choose from the list two questions they had not been asked.
Paspalis responded to a question about the acceptance of inter-district students, a policy that many believe has positive effects. “We shouldn’t need as many permit students as we have,” she said. “We should start off with the students that we have who live in the district and then fill the spaces with permit students.”
Elmont weighed in on the issue of “drop zones” for students to be let out of cars in areas with a high concentration of traffic. “This is a fundamental safety issue” he said, recalling that Board member Scott Zeidman’s son was injured in a car collision last year. Elmont stated that while policing of drop zones was a “good start,” there needs to be “enforcement to change behavior.”
Zirgulis maintained that one thing the Board had done “incorrectly” was to refuse to support “environmentally safe” oil drilling for school revenue.
Candidates managed to answer most of the questions while keeping to a two-minute time limit (there were some occasional enthusiastic speeches that had to be cut short). Spirits stayed high and everyone maintained decorum and politeness.
Scott Zeidman brought the meeting to an end by thanking the participants and noting that the debate had lasted less than the two hours provided.