Four candidates are vying for three available seats on the school board of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District. The election will take place Tuesday, Nov. 5 at polling places in the city.
The candidates are incumbent Ellen Rosenberg and Kathleen Paralusz, Jennifer Cochran and Christine Cronin-Hurst.
Manhattan Beach Patch has asked each candidate to answer some questions. Here they are.
Manhattan Beach Patch: How many years have you lived in Manhattan Beach?
Christine Cronin-Hurst: 16 years.
Patch: Have you had or do you have children in the school district? If so, what schools are they in now and what grades did any who have graduated attend in MBUSD?
Cronin-Hurst: I have two children in the district. My daughter is at Grand View Elementary in first grade, my son is at Manhattan Beach Middle School in 7th grade.
Patch: In the last four years, what are the three biggest accomplishments of the current board?
Cronin-Hurst: Over the last four years, the lingering distrust between the community and the school board was repaired, and the new measure BB bond issue, that was passed in 2008, was successfully utilized to upgrade math and science facilities at the high school.Test scores improved district wide, especially at the high school, indicating a higher level of academic achievement among our students, and the district was ranked #3 in the state. A new writing program was successfully introduced K-8 that is dramatically improving the writing ability of our students.
Patch: What will you bring to the board?Cronin-Hurst:
- Financial Expertise: With Ida and Penny retiring, we need someone who really understands financial information. I worked for 22 years analyzing budgets and balance sheets. I have a degree in economics from Columbia College, an MBA in finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and I passed the CPA and CFA exams. I have the strongest financial background of the four candidates.
- A passion for education and knowledge of education systems outside of Manhattan Beach, be it through my involvement with KIPP Schools LA, TEDx, the Catholic Education Foundation, The United Way Education Summits, Vista Mar School, Access Books, and as a board member of the Museum of Latin American Art which partners with Long Beach Unified School District.
- An understanding of collaboration and team work, as exhibited in my 22-year career where I rose from analyst to associate to assistant vice president, vice president and senior vice president. This took a lot of team work and collaboration to be promoted all the way to senior vice president in blue chip finance organizations such as Morgan Stanley, Price Waterhouse, Fidelity Investments and the Capital Group. I successfully collaborated, analyzed information, made decisions and implemented programs in teams of people, not of my choosing. I also was a varsity team captain in college, where I led a group of talented women, to excel and be Ivy League and Eastern Seaboard Champions.
- I have the time to commit to the task at hand. My youngest child is in first grade attending school 8:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. I do not have any other employment outside the house, other than my volunteering for the school district.
- I’m a strong communicator, as exhibited verbally by my performances at the League of Women Voters and Mark Lipps’ candidate forums, and in written form in my candidate statement and the Beach Reporter Q&A. I think the ability to communicate effectively with the parents and teachers in our district is critical to having parents and teachers understand policies and respect and trust the leadership of the district.
- I can hit the ground running, as I have been a proven leader in our district and have an indepth understanding of the district’s policies and issues. I have been volunteering in the schools for eight years, I have served on the executive board of the Grand View PTA and the MBMS PTA, I have been a board member of the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation and a Grants Committee member, I have served on the board of the MB overall PTA, and have been a legislative representative at the middle school and Grand View, making numerous trips to Sacramento to meet with lawmakers on behalf of our district and students.
- Local Control Funding Formula compromise: I was a member of the district’s advocacy effort, as legislative representative on the MBMS PTA executive council, which sent district wide over 1,000 letters to Governor Jerry Brown in a grassroots effort which changed his funding formula for the LCFF and subsequently provided MBUSD with more funding. Here is what Edsource had to say about the results: “In a nod to suburban districts that argued they would be shortchanged, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders negotiated a new version of Brown’s plan for school finance reform that will increase the base funding level for all students… .“
- Managed largest elementary science expo in district: I co-chaired for two years the Grand View Science Expo (this year will be my third), coordinating over 65 volunteers, with over 900 parents and students in attendance (the Patch covered with video reporting the March, 2012 expo). The students and parents were engaged in scientific experiments, career exploration, animal shows, a portable planetarium and robotics demonstrations. It was a family fun way to engage young minds in scientific careers. I may have played a small part in helping a child find their calling as a scientist. This event demonstrates my ability to get things done, lead and collaborate but also my interest in helping spark the career interests, and expand the educational opportunities, for our students.
Patch: The current board has come under attack from the teachers union as to how funds are used as related to being funneled to teachers vs. other aspects of running a district. What is your comment in regards to this?
Cronin-Hurst: It’s always difficult to balance finite resources in a school district among teachers' salaries, facilities maintenance, supplies and new expenditures; however, there is an easy way to resolve the “attack” as you call it by the union--provide transparency on the finances going forward and respond to the union’s requests for financial data in the PERB complaint. We’ve been more open and transparent in the past with our expenses and our union relationship was better because of it.
Patch: The current board and the one that included Amy Howorth have seemed very cohesive. What are the positives and negatives of a board that works well together?
Cronin-Hurst: If elected, I look forward to working with Bill, Karin and the two other school board members the voters choose on Nov. 5th with the goal of building better schools in Manhattan Beach. My promise is to serve the public’s interest on our school board, which means representing students, parents, residents, homeowners, teachers, etc. When it makes sense, cohesiveness helps the board work together but that shouldn’t be the goal of our school board makeup. Cohesiveness cannot rule over sound decision making, supporting innovation and doing the right thing for our schools.We must keep in mind that the Brown Act limits the extent to which school board members can work together. For instance, at no time can three of our board members meet to discuss board issues, as this is a violation of the Brown Act. Cohesiveness can’t replace following the law. The positive of a cohesive board is that they work respectfully together toward a common good with public input. I think a board that respects and welcomes the expression of different opinions, ideas and thought processes, works well together and is a positive environment for maintaining and improving the schools in our district is best. I think the negatives of a board that is too cohesive is that it can also be unapproachable, exclusive and exhibit group think, innovation can be stifled and different perspectives can become unwelcome, not valued or sought.
Patch: Is a diversity of opinion important on this board? Why or why not?
Cronin-Hurst: Education in the 21st century will see some of the biggest changes and challenges in 100 years--technology in the classrooms is transforming learning but it’s still emerging and the applications are not fully tested or realized. This type of change requires leadership in many forms--a diversity of abilities, skills and opinions. It’s vital that we have diversity of opinion to challenge each other to make the MBUSD the best it can be.
Patch: What is important as a district moving forward?
- Exercising responsible fiscal oversight to maintain adequate reserves to keep our district solvent, while not being overly restrictive.
- Improving teacher-administration relations.
- Introducing new technology and improving the implementation and adoption of current technology.
- Overseeing the successful transition and implementation of Common Core Standards and LCFF.
- Exploring alternatives to finance new initiatives be it through collaboration with surrounding corporations, new grant money or working with members of the community.
Patch: Much is said about each candidate's financial background. Why do you think a financial background is important, and what skills beyond financial ones are important for a board member to have?
Cronin-Hurst: MBUSD currently is running a deficit, tapping its reserves to fund ongoing operating expenses. Unfortunately, this is not sustainable and needs to be addressed. The MBUSD board bylaws lay out the role of the board as establishing the budget priorities, adopting the budget, monitoring and adjusting district finances. Strong financial skills are essential to do this, especially in light of the cuts to the overall education budget we have seen in recent years in California. The two members who are retiring had very strong financial skills, one was a CPA and the other a CFO--we need to replenish this essential skill set on the board.In addition, an innovative and knowledgeable approach to education, and a collaborative instinct to improve the relations between the teachers and the district administration are also essential. I believe these are skills I bring to the position.
Patch: What is the duty of a school board and district as you see it?
Cronin-Hurst: The “duty” of the school board is laid out in the school board bylaws as: setting the direction for the district through a process that involves community, parents/guardians, students and staff and is focused on learning and achievement. The bylaws also say the board employs the superintendent, establishes academic expectations and adopts the curriculum and instructional materials, establishes budget priorities and adopts the budget, monitors and adjusts district finances, provides safe, adequate facilities, sets parameters for negotiations with the union and monitors the collective bargaining process, serves as a judicial appeals body, monitor student achievement and program effectiveness, and last but not least, provides the community leadership and advocacy on behalf of students, the district’s educational program, and public education in order to build support within the local community and at the state and national levels.
Basically, I see the duty of the school board as setting the vision for our district and schools, overseeing the operations, establishing and monitoring the curriculum and academic performance, and communicating it effectively to the community.
Patch: Anything else you'd like to add?
Cronin-Hurst: I want to represent the voice of residents, students, parents and teachers of Manhattan Beach on the school board. I’m an independent thinker with vision, ethics, strong skills and determination to get things done. If elected, I will take my job of oversight and fiscal management seriously and I will continue to listen as I’ve done while knocking on doors and meeting hundreds of residents while campaigning. Thank you for your consideration and please vote for me on Nov. 5th.