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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund

Smart Voter
Los Angeles County, CA May 19, 2015 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
Board Member; Los Angeles Unified School District; District 3

The questions were prepared by the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles and asked of all candidates for this office.     See below for questions on Most Important Issue, Role of Board, Teacher Evaluation

Click on a name for candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

? 1. What is the single most important issue facing LAUSD today? As a Board Member, what would you do to deal with it?

Answer from Scott Mark Schmerelson:

Class size is too large. Just this last semester I was employed as a substitute assistant principal at a comprehensive high school in Reseda. I also taught a Spanish class because of a delay in hiring a Spanish teacher. My class had 42 students. Other classes had even more students. I saw first hand how difficult it was to individualize instruction in such a large class. It was difficult to reach every student during the class period. As a Spanish teacher, I tried to interact with each student to develop their comprehension and speaking skills. This was not possible with so many students. Besides the teaching time, the grading of papers and other necessary mandatory tasks involving the students, was extremely difficult.

Answer from Tamar Galatzan:

The budget is unquestionably the most critical issue because it impacts everything we're able to do for our students, families, employees and schools. LAUSD faced a financial crisis of its own during the recession, when the state cut the district's funding by a half-billion dollars. The recovering economy has helped, along with the voters' approval of Proposition 30, but we still face a deficit for the coming years and competing priorities over how to spend the money that is available. The new Local Control Funding Formula provides additional money specifically to serve disadvantaged students, who make up nearly 80 percent of the district's enrollment. But LCFF also limits our flexibility in developing a budget, since we cannot spend that supplemental money areas that are needed like employee raises and benefits, lowering class sizes or paying off our $320 million deficit. Those expenses have to be covered by our base funding, which has also been tapped by a number of multimillion-dollar programs pushed through by my board colleagues outside of the regular budgeting process. As we develop a spending plan for 2015-16 and beyond, we need to take a hard look at our liabilities and priorities, and make the very difficult decisions about what we can afford and what we cannot. We have to make sure that all of our K-12 schools have high-quality teachers and the resources they need to help our students succeed. Equally important, the board must halt the reckless practice of passing costly resolutions after the budget has been approved. There are many worthwhile programs, but we cannot afford them all. Like every family in Los Angeles Unified, we simply must live within our means.

? 2. What is the role of the Board, and what is the role of the Superintendent? How should they interact?

Answer from Scott Mark Schmerelson:

The Board's role is to ensure that our students receive the best education possible. The Board chooses the Superintendent. I intend to make sure, as a former teacher and principal, that the the person chosen as the Superintendent has the best interest and welfare of our students as first priority. The Board members work to ensure that the public is guaranteed that all decisions made are in the best fiscal and moral interest of the people. The selection of the Superintendent is just as vital because it sets the tone for student achievement. The Board must choose a Superintendent with whom they can communicate the importance of a quality education for all students. Politics should never interfere with our goal of a superior education for all our children.

Answer from Tamar Galatzan:

The seven members of the Los Angeles Unified board each represent a large swath of Los Angeles, most encompassing about 100 schools and tens of thousands of students. Our role is to set a direction for LAUSD -- with the input of parents, labor partners and district staff -- so that our students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and the workforce.

The superintendent answers directly to the board and is responsible for implementing policies and programs to fulfill our goals. We have no direct authority over the day-to-day operations of the district or our schools. Decisions about classroom assignments, attendance boundaries, personnel and the like are made by the administration.

This governing structure means the superintendent essentially has seven bosses, each with their own set of priorities and their own vision for how the district should be run. Because we each represent vastly different constituencies and come from different backgrounds, it can be very difficult to achieve consensus on important issues.

Since I was first elected in 2007, I have worked with a number of different board members and with four superintendents (twice with the current superintendent, Ramon Cortines). These experiences have helped me realize the importance of open and honest communication among board members, and between the board and the superintendent. This transparency is key to holding our leaders accountable and building trust and respect among people who may have opposing points of view.

It is also imperative that board members be willing to compromise as a way to build consensus on a long-term vision for the district. We all must be open to incremental change as a way to keep LAUSD moving forward and helping our students succeed.

? 3. What are your criteria for an effective teacher evaluation plan?

Answer from Tamar Galatzan:

Every student deserves to have a great teacher in the classroom, and the performance evaluation is an important tool for making this happen. It's also important that we use this tool in a constructive way so that we are helping our teachers develop and hone their professional skills.
The evaluation should include several factors, including self-assessment, classroom observation, parent and student input and student achievement scores. There needs to be a lot of feedback, so that teachers know what techniques are effective and what areas need more work. Even veteran educators should be evaluated every three to five years so that we know their skills are keeping pace with new techniques.
There has been a lot of debate over the use of student achievement scores in the evaluation process, and I believe those results should be considered in gauging a teacher's effectiveness. Research has shown that classroom teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement than any other aspect of schooling. However, student achievement scores should be one of many other factors in evaluating teachers. I believe classroom observation should carry the greatest weight in the process, with multiple opportunities for review. We've heard from our principals that classroom observation is a very time-consuming process, so we must get them some help and also create an evaluation process that isn't so burdensome. We must explore possibilities to allow other school-site and District personnel to be trained on the process to alleviate the burden placed on our principals. Finally, the evaluation needs to have at least three classifications in order to make the system transparent and meaningful. A system that provides only two ratings -- satisfactory and unsatisfactory -- makes it difficult to support a teacher in improving his/her practice. In addition, a three-tiered evaluation would allow the district to continue meeting the requirements for millions of dollars in federal grants that it needs to fund academic programs. After a teacher is given an overall performance rating, it is critical that the training, support, and feedback given to him/her specifically addresses the areas in which he/she need to grow and improve. Ultimately, the evaluation is merely a tool to help ensure that our teachers are effective and successful at educating our children.

Answer from Scott Mark Schmerelson:

The best observer and evaluator for a teacher is a combination of a highly qualified and successful teacher along with the school administrator. Who knows better how students learn and achieve than a highly qualified and successful fellow teacher? As principal, I often would have teachers, who in my opinion, needed to observe a highly qualified and successful teacher in action. They would observe selected teachers and then consult with them. The teacher who was being observed, would then observe the class of the selected teacher. This, in my opinion, was the best plan to have teachers improve their effectiveness.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' answers are presented as submitted.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily. Candidates who did not respond are not listed on this page.

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Created: July 23, 2015 11:01 PDT
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