The Courier’s Interviews With School Board Candidates Rachelle Marcus, Marvin Winans Jr. And Tristen Walker-Shuman
Posted Thursday, October 4, 2018 - 6:20 pm
By Laura Coleman
With absentee ballots set to be sent out tomorrow for the upcoming Nov. 6 election, Beverly Hills residents will soon elect two new members to the Board of Education.
In anticipation of voters casting their ballots, the Courier sat down with each of the three candidates – Rachelle Marcus, Tristen Walker-Shuman and Marvin Winans Jr. – to learn first-hand how they feel about the issues, as well as to gauge their viability as potential board members.
Marcus, a longtime resident and veteran Beverly Hills Unified School District teacher with more than 50 years of experience in the classroom, without a doubt has a wealth of experience teaching students and knows first-hand the nuances that happen within the schools.
Walker-Shuman, a mother of five and a third generation Beverly Hills resident, who became the spokesperson for the Future Focused Schools Team and later co-chaired the Measure BH campaign, has years of experience with Beverly Hills schools, and has already been endorsed by many – including all five City Council members and the Municipal League of Beverly Hills.
Winans, a Beverly Hills resident and parent of three young children who moved to the City just over a year ago with his family, is all about soul. An entertainment executive who has years of experience negotiating complex contracts, Winans quickly became part of the community, joining the Future Focused Schools Team and serving as the Beverly Vista PTA vice-president.
Each one of the candidates has varying degrees of experience and qualities that make them all viable. However, only two can go on to join the Board – a choice that depends on YOU. Below is the Courier’s exclusive interview with the candidates.
Beverly Hills Courier: Do you have a skill that the present school board lacks?
Marcus: I think the skill that I have is my ability to get along with people, and to bring people together to work collaboratively. Even though we can have differences of opinions, I think that we can also come to a mutual understanding and mutual agreements by working together, and I’ve always been able to work together with people in that respect and I’ve always had success in that. I like to be with people and I like to work with people. I think that my experience as an educator in the school district should really carry some weight.
Walker-Shuman: I really enjoy working in teams, something I experienced a lot on the Future Focused Schools Team. It doesn’t mean everyone shares the same viewpoint or mindset, but the process of working together with people, getting them all to same destination, is something I feel very capable and confident in my ability to do. The board has had a lot of division and conflict. A body like that is more effective when they’re civil and can come to a civil understanding or agreement. There’s been some difficulty there I think. I am a very decisive person. I take time to understand all of the different components of a challenge and ask a lot of deep questions to get a broad viewpoint. I don’t like the ambiguity of not making a decision. A lot of things in our district are imperative to move forward on. I hope to bring decisive action and decision-making skills.
Winans: I don’t honestly know what everyone’s skills are who are on the board. I’ve had to deal with a lot of different budgets over the years being in entertainment. I’ve also dealt a lot with contracts, whether it’s recording contracts or publishing contracts. I’ve dealt with putting together budgets for projects, millions of dollars to hundreds of thousands. It obviously hasn’t been for schools, but I have an understanding and a relationship to the language of contracts, and to be thorough. There’s a certain understanding you need to have as parties in a contract and the relationship goes beyond the language on the paper. My communication background is something that I think is going to be one of my strongest suits.
BHC: What do you consider the top five challenges facing the district?
Marcus: One is the MTA and what’s happening with that right now. I commend the students for what they’re doing. There’s only one lawsuit left that can help the district. This is the one that deals with the national, and hopefully they can get the president or the FTA to hold back the funding. I don’t know that they can. They’ve litigated and I don’t know what’s going to happen. If it comes out against them, evidently they’ve really hit the end of the line, as far as I can tell. I commend the students for what they’re doing and for what they’re going to try to do next week. Maybe by pulling themselves together and rallying the troops, they may be able to get something that might happen in Washington that we through litigation could not. I hope that they can do it. The second thing is the money. Now that they’ve settled with the teachers union, how much did they give away? And how much did that hurt them in terms of the financial running a sustainable budget? They gave them a sizable increase to get rid of the salary formula and I don’t know what that’s going to do to the budget, but obviously it’s going to have a very big impact. I don’t know that we can rebound from that because it’s going to cost a lot of money. A third issue is the construction and how they’re going to proceed with that and get it going, in light of the MTA and what’s happening. The fourth issue is reconfiguration of the schools. I think that’s going to be a big issue. Which school do you use to reconfigure to? What happens with all the students? Well, do you maybe close a school? That’s a decision that the board has to make and they will make it based on whatever the demographics are and whatever the recommendations are and what they can see will be beneficial for all the students. But as far as I can see, we do need to go to a dedicated middle school. If they don’t go to a dedicated middle school, they’re going to be financially in even deeper trouble than if they don’t do it. They are well over-staffed. They have classes with less than 10 kids in it during the year, and that’s not sustainable. Number five, the reputation of the school district. Our reputation is not good. And we’re going to delude ourselves to think that people are going to buy their homes here, to send their kids to the schools the way they are right now and the way our schools are being operated. I think that’s a big issue and I think we have to change that image.
Walker-Shuman: First and foremost, we’re all here to educate the kids. That’s the entire purpose of the district and the board. Education should be priority one. Reevaluating how we deliver education, what programs we’re bringing in, what programs we can retire, how we’re training teachers. Focusing on education and what opportunities we can give the kids. Curriculum and education. We need to be able to move forward on all things facing the district right now. People seem to be happy with security, kind of at status quo right now. We’re waiting for information on Metro. I love that students are taking an active role. That type of involvement and social action is really important. I like that they’re driving this train. I think Metro coming under the high school is a travesty, but at same time it’s clear that’s where it’s headed. We need to focus on protecting students, making sure exposure is mitigated the best we can. If that means moving trailers, that’s something we should look at. If it means relocating the entire school, that would be another crisis to deal with. Overall financial stability issue, we need to look into ways to remedy that. I’ve been pretty public in sharing we need to bring in a CFO, whether as a consultant or full-time, to see how to restructure and change how we’re doing. I think it would be more effectively done with someone who has a really strong background. The oversight of the district is part of what’s frustrating the community, part of why we move one step forward, two steps back. I think if we had someone in a position with more experience in financial oversight, they could maybe drive different procedural choices, different, more structured path. We need to as a community be able to be on the same page in terms of what the facts are, data is, what the revenues are, what expenses are and where we can make change. If we’re having a hard time agreeing on those facts, very little forward motion can be made. Bringing in a CFO or someone that can function that way in a consultant role is important. Accountability issues is another, district-wide, from the superintendent and the board down to students and parents. If we all took more responsibility and ownership of choices we make, I think we would see a dynamic shift in the culture of our school community. We need strong administrators and proper evaluation of teachers under those administrators.
Winans: Security and safety of the children is a top issue. Metro is obviously a top issue. I think the teacher relationship, the union relationship, with the board is a top issue. The reconfiguration conversation is obviously a top issue; middle level grades I would characterize as more of the issue as opposed to reconfiguration. The overall community relationship with the district and the board of eduction, really making it better and really resolving some of the distrust that is in the district in the past, whether it’s lack of communication or failures or misunderstanding. I think it’s important in order to establish a foundation in order to work on other things, we have to actually get the relationship a little bit better so that parents are more informed and that the district understands what the problem is.
BHC: Are you going to advocate against Metro’s staging area adjacent to the high school?
Marcus: I’m advocating against it. I don’t like it. I wish they would stop. The only thing I wonder is why did we not move the portable classrooms and get it away from that area? I heard that at one board meeting. It was brought up and it was dropped. And I don’t know what happened.
Walker-Shuman: Metro bought this property years ago and the intent was known all along. I would love for them to move it, I’m just not sure what the path is to get there. They seem pretty resistant to doing anything we want as a district or community. We’re going to make decisions to protect the kids that don’t require them to change much. The biggest thing is different equipment, if they were using level 4 equipment. That being said, I don’t know that that’s really a potentially successful place to direct our energy. If Metro won’t move the staging area, and won’t use level 4 equipment, we have to change, make sure kids are protected – we have no choice. Whether it’s moving our trailers, whatever those options are, we have to examine. Leaving the kids there and having the Metro staging there is not an option. We have to find some alternative.
Winans: I would love to help in this scenario and that’s what I’ve tried to do already. I mentioned that I was at the White House, and there was an opportunity to get a letter to the President about Metro. That’s not the one and only thing that’s going to solve it, but I’ve got relationships now directly to the people in power at the White House and I plan on using that and continuing to use that. I understand that there’s been a sordid relationship with Erin Brockovich in the past, but for me, I thought it would be helpful to try and get Erin Brockovich here. I’ve worked with her on another project. I will advocate, I want to help with the kids. I will walk out with them.
BHC: Walk us through the budget.
Marcus: Well right now we’re in deficit spending. I was looking at the budget the other day, and this was before the settlement with the teachers, and the revenues were around 69 million and the expenditures are at 71 million. And I don’t know what’s going to happen when LACOE hears that we gave 5 percent, which was not in that budget, what it’s going to do to that budget. And the only way we can do anything about it, as far as I’m concerned, is we’ve got to get that middle school up and running, because we can get rid of teachers that we don’t need. And I’m sorry, I feel bad about it. But the bottom line is that if we don’t, we will be running so much in deficit spending that come two years from now we will not be our own school district, we will be taken over because we will not have the proper percentage of savings in our bank account.
Walker-Shuman: I can’t weigh in on that because I’m not part of conversations on the contract. I don’t know what changes we can make this year that would significantly impact where we’re going to net out at the end of June. I haven’t been in the meetings. As part of the FFST, the numbers we received from the district absolutely looked like there was a projected deficit. I don’t think it’s gone away.
Winans: I think that we don’t do a good job of projecting the budget from the beginning. Because of the deficits we project, we kind of allow ourselves to get in a position where it can be politicized. If you have a deficit spend projected, people will say, well, we need to make drastic changes because we’re obviously going to lose money this year. And we’re forced to do these three year projections which makes it look even worse. And you really can’t tell what’s going to happen in three years. And we miss opportunities to benefit our children when we plan not to use that money. I think the budget has been, for at least the last eight years, been doing really well. We’ve been adding money to the ending balance every year, so we’re not in a jam.
BHC: How can you move BHUSD forward in confronting the challenges you see the district facing?
Marcus: I don’t see myself as aligning with anyone, but I’d like to think we’d all work collaboratively to solve the issues which would be the best interest of the kids. I honestly believe if we could get that middle school so it is dynamic and has a lot of vitality and the kids get a great education, they get prepared for the high school, they get a chance at electives, and enrichments and what have you. If we could keep these kids in sixth and seventh grades from going to the private schools, I think that we will change a little bit about the reputation of the school district and we might be able to bring some students back based on the fact that parents will see this really vital, dynamic middle school, with opportunities galore and unified classes and critical masses of students and some wonderful electives.
Walker-Shuman: It begins with a conversation about what the challenges are. Let’s see what the superintendent comes back with. The only way to move BHUSD forward is to commit completely to resolving the issues in front of us. Methodically, in a disciplined and structured manner moving forward one step at a time. We don’t have the luxury of focusing only on one issue. We must be running parallel paths until we have resolution with a deadline in mind. This is not a time to rest on our hands and be afraid to make decisions.
Winans: I’m a steady person, and I like to listen before I speak. I’m measured, and I think I handle pressure pretty well. Being in my industry I’ve been on stages, and I’ve had to be in front of people, I’ve been on the camera literally speaking to the president at the White House. I’ve dealt with pressure and I deal with pressure, making decision on sets or productions. I feel that I’m really good at those things. So if people are coming and want to yell, I can really read through emotion and make sure that we still make the decision based on the merits.
BHC: You’re now a member of the Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education – At the end of four years, what do you hope to have accomplished?
Marcus: I hope that we have a middle school that is par excellence that our students want to go to. That will bring our students back or keep them from leaving the district so we will have a very dynamic, very hot, really great middle school with something for every child. And maybe at that point they’ll begin to look at possibilities for what they want to do with their future and start to think about colleges and things like that. And get them interested in something and get them ready for the high school. Number one, more than anything, I want that middle school to be the best in the country. And I hope also that at the end of the four years we have a balanced budget. And I would hope that we’re almost finished with the construction, that we’re able to move along and complete El Rodeo and finish the high school.
Walker-Shuman: Improving education is the most important thing we can do. We need a new innovative program to elevate achievement district-wide. FFST – our conclusion was reconfiguring to a dedicated middle school. I believe this current board will make a decision on reconfiguration before the election. I understand what they’ve said, I happen to think they’re going to make a decision on that, which they have a right to do. We’ll work with that. Hopefully what we will yield is better education, more successfully careers in vocational environments. If they’re not going on to college, let’s give them a pathway to step into a career out of high school. My background is in business and manufacturing. We have logo-wear committees, every year new people who come on, it’s own little revolving-door. When it’s generating revenue, you want to maximize the potential upside. Would it not be an opportunity for the students to get involved if logo-wear was a CTE course? I don’t know if the conversation is going on at the school, something I’m hearing a lot about is parents feeling kids are not prepared to go out and do. Kids need to be able to weigh in. We need a lot more conversations now about alternatives post high school graduation that don’t necessarily resemble a four-year college. Not to say that should be our goal, but it’s something we should do. Improving education, the construction program, the bond measure – we don’t want to miss a beat on that. We need to make sure programs are fully implemented. We went sideways in years past by not paying enough attention to details that were going on with change orders.
Winans: Kumbaya – that everyone will be happy. That’s a true symptom of problems, when there’s relationship distrust and there’s fighting and bickering. There’s a lot of issues between the community, the district and the board. I want to have established some character and some things back into our discourse and our conversation and hopefully respect. You know what, if I leave this board in four years and people are saying, ‘I like the board!’ you know what, I would feel I’ve done a great job.
BHC: What is your previous experience on boards and/or commissions?
Rachelle Marcus: I’ve never been on a commission. I’ve been on boards at the temple. I was president of the sisterhood at the temple and was on the Board at the Sinai Temple for 13 years. In the school district, I was on BHEA before it was a union, so I was on the board of directors there. So I’ve not been on a lot of commissions, but I don’t think that should work too much against me because I’m willing to put in the hours and the effort. I have the time now to put in the time to do what it takes. I personally was very busy teaching. I loved teaching and that was my life. Tristen
Walker-Shuman: I’ve been involved in the PTA for the last 10 years. I also served on the Future Focused Schools Team and served on the bond measure as co-chair.
Marvin Winans Jr.: The FFST was really one of the first committees that I’ve really served on. I’m PTA vice president at Beverly Vista. I’m part of a church, and I’ve done stuff for my church for years.
BHC: What do you want the community to know beyond all else?
Marcus: That I’m a passionate and I’m dedicated. I’ve got time and I will do for the school board and as a member of the school board hopefully what i did as a teacher, and that is to be an outstanding member of the school board. I’m there for the students; I’m there mostly for the students, but I always want to make things better. And I will continue to communicate with the community, be transparent, be honest, and just be a good school board member. I’m all about students first.
Walker-Shuman: I hope to have a better working relationship with the City and programs that reflect better reciprocity with the City. I keep hearing what people perceive to be my point to be on the middle school – that I’m for it, and would like to see it at El Rodeo in three years. The presumption in the community is I want dedicated middle school yesterday and I don’t care where it goes. That’s not an accurate reflection of my position. I’m all about integrity, honesty, being accurate in information you share. I don’t believe in putting things out that are not 100 percent bullet proof. I don’t believe in things that are not 100 percent accurate and truthful. How you act reflects how your values are.
Winans: I would call myself the optimistic candidate. I’ve taken the negative, and I believe it doesn’t resonate. No matter what we’ve gone through, no matter what the problems have been in the past, no matter the distrust, I believe that we can actually move forward, we can actually make our schools the greatest they’ve ever been. I think we can give our students the greatest education in the world. I believe our facilities can be completed and made great for our students and our teachers can be happy. I’m very optimistic. I believe that things can be great in this district and I won’t take no for an answer.