Updated: Tuesday, October 20, 2015 – 1:22 PM
One of the City’s most important elections – the race for the Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education – is coming up on Nov. 3. The Courier has endorsed incumbents Lewis Hall and Noah Margo, along with newcomer Isabel Hacker.
There is no doubt that this is an important election for the Beverly Hills community, but not for many of the reasons you may have heard about in the back-and-forth propaganda that has been distributed during this election.
In having each of the five candidates in for interviews with The Courier’s Editorial Board, composed of Publisher Marcia Wilson Hobbs, Laura Coleman and Matt Lopez, along with viewing the various public forums and studying candidate-produced election materials, it became clear to The Courier that scare tactics are being heavily used in this election to drag the current school board through the mud, including grossly inaccurate numbers on district expenditures.
This newspaper strongly believes that things are nowhere near as bleak for the school district as some of the aforementioned stare tactics would have you believe. In Margo and Hall’s four-year tenures on the Board of Education, the district’s bond rating was upgraded to AA+ from Standard & Poor’s and Aa1 from Moody’s. The high credit ratings led to a quick purchase of the $76 million in General Obligation bonds the district put up for sale in August.
Under Margo and Hall’s watch, BHUSD Chief Administrative Officer LaTanya Kirk-Carter reported the district to be “financially healthy” heading into the 2015 school year at a September Board of Education meeting. The district, the only Basic Aid school district in L.A. County, ended its General Fund balance with $3.7 million, an increase of $376,007 from what was estimated. In addition, after that $3.7 million in appropriated General Fund balance money is moved to the District’s Endowment Fund, the district will have about $13 million sitting in that reserve fund. Does that sound like a financially unhealthy school district? Not to Kirk-Carter, who was sent by the State to Inglewood School District in 2012 after it fell under State Receivership, who told the Board of Education in September that she knows “what financially unstable looks like and we’re a very financially healthy district.”
Margo and Hall’s commitment to education is apparent. Under their watch, Steve Kessler was appointed Principal and AhYoung Chi was hired as Beverly Hills High School’s Dean of College Admissions and both have drawn rave reviews from students. Hawthorne School became a national “School to Watch,” one of only seven in California.
Margo and Hall both understand the importance of getting construction plans in place for retrofitting the District’s old and outdated school buildings, 14 of which have been deemed seismically unsafe and “subject to potential collapse” in a 3.5 or larger earthquake, according to the State. In their votes and actions, both Margo and Hall have demonstrated an understanding that work on making these campuses safe cannot be put off any longer. These buildings are, in many cases, seismically unsafe because of years of renovations not done by past school boards after previous earthquakes in Southern California.
In their Editorial Board interviews, both Margo and Hall reaffirmed their commitment to stopping the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from tunneling under BHHS. Metro litigation has not been cheap, but it has bought the District time to do the proper trenching and other work needed to state its case in front of a new-look Metro board as to why subway tunnels should not go under BHHS buildings.
Our Editorial Board believes that both men inherited seats four years ago on a school board that was just beginning to pull itself out of a grave dug by many previous school boards before then, and a revolving door of superintendents that had come and gone from the district over the last 20 years. Both men have shown a commitment to serving the students of the Beverly Hills School District – which should always be the primary objective.
With that being said, new blood is never a bad thing. For all the talk of “change” and a “new voice” in this election, Isabel Hacker is the only true “outsider” in this campaign. Hacker has more than a decade of public education sector experience, having managed state and local grants for Cerritos College while serving as a liaison for many K-12 districts in Southern California.
When she came in to meet with The Courier’s Editorial Board, Hacker impressed us with the amount of homework and studying she had clearly done on issues facing the District. She has a strong grasp of finances and doesn’t just throw out problems the District has, but actually presents solutions to fix them. Hacker has a “four-point plan” that is largely centered around implementing a strong District Plan, which she told The Courier’s Editorial Board she believes will set the District on the right path for further success. With three young children in BHUSD schools and years of working with other local politicians on their campaigns, Hacker is well-known in the Beverly Hills community. Despite that, she is not an “insider” and does not appear beholden to any political agendas. The Courier endorses Hacker because we believe she will take the time to perform due diligence on the issues that come before her, and make informed decisions as a new, independent voice on the Board of Education.
WHY WE CANNOT ENDORSE MEL SPITZ AND CARTER PAYSINGER…
When we mentioned misinformation and scare tactics earlier, we unfortunately have to start with Mel Spitz. The misinformation starts with a video uploaded to Spitz’s YouTube page over the weekend, where he erroneously mentions that the District has spent $26 million on legal fees over the last four years. It is difficult to figure out exactly how, and where, Spitz looked to dig up these numbers, but they don’t appear to be based in reality. The Courier has asked, and nobody in the District’s financial office seems to have any clue where that number came from. According to the Citizens Oversight Committee’s annual report in 2014, the legal fees spent “to date” from 2008 to Dec. 31, 2014 were $10.6 million. According to information from Kirk-Carter, District General Legal Fund expenditures since 2012 have totaled $6.7 million. Additionally, the video mentions the District moving forward with school construction “without an approved SDA plan.” The Courier has checked, and there doesn’t appear to be any organization called the SDA. Spitz’s video may have been alluding to the DSA, Division of State Architect, but those kind of inaccuracies in content produced and released by Spitz’s own campaign make The Courier seriously question if he is the right man for the Beverly Hills Board of Education in 2015 and beyond.
In his tenure on the Board of Education from 1971-79, Spitz sat on a board that made no seismic upgrades to any of the school campuses in the wake of earthquakes, such as 1971’s San Fernando quake, which notched a 6.7 on the richter scale. Spitz told The Courier unequivocally that he does not believe the money used in litigation with Metro to defend the BHHS campus from subway tunnels was well spent. The Courier does not believe Spitz has the strong conviction on this issue needed to get the Purple Line Extension re-routed out from under BHHS buildings. We respect Spitz’s prior years service to the Board of Education and District Finance Committee. He has clearly been dedicated to serving the Beverly Hills community, where he has lived for decades. We believe, however, that his actions and statements in this election cycle have demonstrated that Spitz is simply not the right man to serve on the Beverly Hills Board of Education in 2015.
Carter Paysinger has been involved in the BHUSD community for nearly 50 years. He graduated from BHHS in 1974 and worked at the school for 36 years as a teacher, coach, athletic director and principal. That is precisely why The Courier cannot endorse him for a seat on the Beverly Hills Board of Education. As we go back to the talk dominating this campaign cycle of new blood, new voices and new perspectives, we wonder how electing a man who worked in the District for 36 years accomplishes that goal? Paysinger’s time with the district is well-respected, as it should be, and those who studied under him revere him, as they should, but the fact remains that his time at some of the highest levels of the district totem pole make Paysinger about as much of an “insider” as one could possibly be.
How can one mention BHHS’ declining test scores and floundering graduation rates without wondering what hand Paysinger, who became principal in 2010, had in those failures?
Paysinger has publicly tried to pass the buck, saying those were District-wide issues and that students were not coming out of Beverly Hills’ K-8 schools as prepared as they should have been. We question this line of thinking, and wonder how Paysinger can promise to improve Beverly Hills education standards as a board member when he appeared unable to do it as principal of Beverly Hills High? This is of course, to say nothing of the Beverly Hills Sports Academy, a for-profit camp that Paysinger and two other school employees operated for years on the BHHS campus.
A district-funded probe revealed that Paysinger failed to report more than $40,000 in earnings on his tax forms and violated conflict-of-interest rules, ethics rules and others. Paysinger later sued the school district in a federal discrimination lawsuit and was awarded a $685,000 settlement. Paysinger has dutifully devoted a large chunk of his life to working for the Beverly Hills Unified School District, but at the end of the day, The Courier does not believe that work has produced a result academically or ethically that makes him a suitable candidate to sit on the Board of Education.