LCUSD Candidates Forum Debates Bond, Safety, Wellness

School safety, teacher retention and student wellness were on the minds of audience members who submitted handwritten questions at Monday’s candidates forum, where five La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board hopefuls sought to distinguish themselves before voters.
Over the course of 90 minutes, first-time candidates Joshua Gottheim, Joe Radabaugh, Christopher Salvo and incumbents Dan Jeffries and Kaitzer Puglia revealed mostly subtle differences in their approach to guiding one of California’s top school districts.
Three seats on the board — each for a four-year term — will be open in the Nov. 7 election, when voters also will weigh in on Measure LCF, a $149-million bond proposal that would be used for campus improvements. The proposal would not increase the tax rate, but would replace expiring bonds. Capped at $60 per $100,000 in assessed property value, it would be paid off within 30 years.
In developing the Facilities Master Plan that will guide those proposed updates last year, architects discussed security measures with stakeholders and learned that the community remains split on what type of enhancements are desired.
The topic of security arose almost immediately at Monday’s forum, which took place less than 24 hours after the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people and wounded more than 500.
Salvo addressed it in his opening remarks to the approximately 40 people at the La Cañada High School auditorium. “My heart and prayers go out to anyone struggling with this now. It puts this in perspective.”
Then, the second question of the evening dealt with whether the district’s campuses should be closed during school hours.
“We live in a world where evil does take action and we need to address it,” Salvo said. “In a community like this, we can fall into a sense of small town, it’s fine, and that doesn’t happen here, but everybody says that until it happens. So I would advocate for more [security] — but not a fortress mentality.”
None of the candidates supported gated, closed campuses.
Radabaugh said he thinks school safety deserves more focus within the district’s overall mission, but still he said, “I certainly don’t want to impede our students from getting out if they need to.”
Said Gottheim: “We can’t have a complete fortress mentality where schools are essentially prisons.”
Jeffries reminded the audience that when the Governing Board reviewed its security policies in 2014, it worked closely with L.A. County Sheriff’s personnel, who helped update the security plan at each of the district’s campuses.
Puglia said, after having watched news coverage of the attack into early morning hours Monday, she was motivated to revisit those security plans again.
“There are various ways we can address security,” she said. “It’s not just one solution.”
The candidates all expressed support for the bond measure, and defended the need for new classrooms.
“Our community has supported lower class sizes and that has created a need for classroom space,” said Jeffries, an assistant city attorney in Los Angeles who’s currently the board president. “The other thing is we’d like to replace our portables that are not portable in any sense of the word.”
Class size came up in a question from a student, who indicated there is a class at La Cañada High School that’s so full there are not enough chairs for the number of students enrolled.
Puglia, Radabaugh and Salvo said such a situation probably indicated the need for better planning while Jeffries noted that the traditional one-seat-per-student paradigm is evolving as students increasingly inhabit creative “maker spaces.”
Gottheim, a land use attorney, said the district should look into creating an avenue for students to report such issues.
“I would like to see a district ombudsman along the lines of what [Chief Technology Officer Jamie] Lewsadder has for tech issues,” Gottheim said. “You submit a ticket for other, non-tech issues to be resolved, and foster better communication and dialogue with students.”
Gottheim also was the sole candidate who wholeheartedly backed the notion of two-story classrooms proposed in the Facilities Master Plan.
While the others on stage insisted there would be ongoing dialogue about the height of new structures if the bond passes, Gottheim was clear: “Absolutely, 100%, two-story. We have two-story homes in the community, and we don’t want to use up our precious ballfields and limited land on our campuses. It’s a no-brainer, assuming we get ADA compliance with elevator access. Through the [California Environmental Quality Act] process, those comments will be carefully reviewed.”
Candidates also fielded a question related to retaining good teachers — and parting with those who perhaps aren’t up to par.
A veteran Pasadena City College professor in the field of education, special education and child development, Puglia said she would not discuss “how to get rid of teachers” in a public forum, but she would address how to keep them.
“Salary is a huge component, obviously,” said Puglia, who with her colleagues on the board reached an agreement with teachers in a contentious contract negotiation two years ago. “But the environment is extremely important, the resources available to teachers are extremely important, so is flexibility and some autonomy in how the curriculum is applied. Curriculum is a standard, a California law, but we have to give a value to our teachers who know what they’re doing.”
Countered Salvo, a manager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “Every company on the face of the planet faces a complex job of the subject of evaluating people’s performance. Yes, it’s complex and it’s hard, but there are ways to take an inherently subjective process and make it more objective. We can do that; we should face that challenge and not just say it’s too hard.”
As for the increased focus on student well-being and the negative stress associated with the district’s high-performing academic status: “It’s super, super important right now,” said Radabaugh, who recently retired as a division vice president who spent 27 years with Nestle.
“As I talk to folks around the community, the good news is we have highly engaged parents in La Cañada,” he continued. “And the bad news is we have highly engaged parents in La Cañada.
“People move here for this great school district, and that’s the culture we fall into, where the barometer of success is what school you get into.”
That’s why Radabaugh, like most of the candidates, advocated for the Challenge Success program, saying he hopes to see it tailored to fit the district.
Gottheim argued keeping a sharp focus on academics isn’t unhealthy: “It’s a dangerous trap to say that high-achievement goals mean high-stress. I’ve seen groups of kids who are performing at phenomenally high levels, and when they’re engaged and excited about what they’re doing, they have less stress than a kid who is bored in the back of the class.”
Monday’s forum was sponsored by the La Cañada Council of PTAs and run by the League of Women Voters, Pasadena Area, whose representative Robbie Davis closed the proceedings by encouraging those in attendance to get out the vote: “The world is run by people who show up,” she said.

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