The four candidates running for three Board of Education seats met this week at Council Chambers for their first campaign debate.
Board Vice President Brian Goldberg and challengers Frances Bilak, Lewis Hall and Andy Licht convened Wednesday at a debate sponsored by the and the PTA Council. Bilak is an El Rodeo parent, Hall is a parent of a Beverly Hills High School graduate, and Licht, who serves on the Traffic and Parking Commission, has children at Beverly Vista and BHHS.
The candidates answered questions submitted in advance by parents.
There was slight rancor on the topic of , the $334 million bond passed by voters in 2008 to modernize the five schools of the Beverly Hills Unified School District.
The district that the original bond sale schedule is no longer viable because 2008 assumptions of the assessed value of Beverly Hills property were inflated. As a result the board is considering alternative financing such as Bond Anticipation Notes (BANs), which would allow BHUSD to access bond proceeds several years before the actual issuance of bond sales.
The district sold its first round of Measure E bonds—$72 million worth—in 2009. After paying for legal bills related to the case and for architectural fees, there is about $60 million remaining.
Licht and Bilak both suggested the BHUSD move ahead with plans to spend the $60 million on pressing renovations at and , and to worry about funding other school repairs later. Licht said he did not favor BANs because he believes they are too risky. Bilak did not give an opinion on the BANs.
Hall suggested the BHUSD take lessons from the construction at Horace Mann, which is scheduled to start in February 2013, before making plans for renovations at other schools.
Goldberg said that the board has focused on fire, earthquake and safety issues in its Measure E spending plans. It has also hired educational planning firm to come up with a long-term master plan for the schools. By aligning the Measure E plans with findings from Dejong Richter, the schools will “ … [H]ave the flexibility necessary for 20, 30 or 50 years down the road to continue to provide the best educational environment possible for our students.”
Regarding ways to make the board meetings more productive, all of the candidates stressed the need for meetings to start on time and to more closely follow the published agenda. In the last year, board meetings have routinely begun at least 30 minutes late. The meetings are often divisive, with members making personal comments about each other.
Meetings have run smoother since Superintendent Gary Woods started July 1 and imposed shorter agendas, Goldberg said. Addressing the reasons behind some of the divisive behavior, he said that the board meetings are usually the first time the members have gotten together to discuss important matters.
“You are seeing the board struggle with complicated issues in real time,” he said.
Still, his opponents called for more politeness.
“Reasonable minds can differ, but acrimony needs to be limited,” Bilak said.
Licht said he had experience bringing civility to government bodies.
“I serve on the Traffic and Parking Commission, and we are polite and productive,” Licht said. “There has never been a problem there.”
The debate will be broadcast Friday at 8 p.m. on Beverly Hills Channel 10. It will be rebroadcast on Monday at 5 p.m.