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?
Kathleen Paralusz: 14 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?
Paralusz: My daughter will start kindergarten next year, most likely at Meadows.
Patch: In the last four years, what are the three biggest accomplishments of the current board?
Paralusz: In my opinion, the current board’s three biggest accomplishments are: (1) completing Phase 1 of the Measure BB bond project (Mira Costa’s new math and science building) on time and on budget; (2) managing the district’s budget to ensure that there were no teacher furloughs or layoffs AND providing MBUSD teachers with a 3 percent raise last year; and (3) investing in ensuring wifi connectivity across the district. That investment was prescient--with the wifi technology in place, the district will be able to use the one-time funding of approximately $1.4 million in Common Core funding for professional development of district teachers rather than putting it toward technology required to implement Common Core’s online assessments.
Patch: What will you bring to the board?Paralusz: Experienced oversight, a passion for public service, proven leadership and a fresh perspective.
Public service is my passion. Since moving to Manhattan Beach in 1999, I have been an active volunteer and held leadership positions in numerous organizations supporting our schools, students and the community my family and I love. I have served two terms on the Measure BB Bond Oversight Committee, helping to oversee the expenditure of $54 million in bond funds, directly contributing to the completion of the math and science building--on time and on budget. When the district was entering into contracts with XXX, I also helped review and provided feedback to tweak several provisions in order to minimize risk to the district. I’m also on the program team for the Mayor’s Youth Council Program, and a director of Soroptimist International Manhattan Beach, which sponsors Mira Costa’s S Club.
Having been a planning commissioner for almost six years, I have demonstrated proven leadership, working as a member of a five-person public decision-making body to balance public input with municipal policy. During my tenure on the commission, including one year as chair, I have and continue to work collaboratively with my colleagues to build consensus to create solutions. We all have different backgrounds and different viewpoints--sometimes we don’t all agree on a particular issue--but we work well together because we respect each other’s opinions and are open to new ways of thinking during discussion.
Finally, I bring a fresh perspective to the board. As a senior contracts attorney for Northrop Grumman, I have the legal expertise which is critical to carrying out much of the board’s responsibilities. Board agendas typically require review and approval of contracts and board policies to ensure compliance with the state’s education code. As an attorney, I have extensive experience identifying, evaluating and minimizing legal risk, and ensuring compliance with government regulations. These skills will be critical to helping the district navigate and successfully implement the Common Core standards and Local Control Funding Formula in the years ahead.
In addition, because my daughter is entering the district next fall, I have an eye to the future and a vested interest in the long term success of the district. My focus will be on ensuring that we continue to provide our children with an excellent public education and the tools they need to succeed not just five years from now but 10 and 15 years into the future.
Patch: What to date are your two biggest personal accomplishments as a member of a board, commission or volunteer organization in Manhattan Beach?
Paralusz: My two biggest personal accomplishments as a volunteer have been as a member of the district’s Measure BB Bond Oversight Committee and as a member of the city’s planning commission.
I am currently serving my second term on the bond oversight committee, which is comprised of 11 residents charged with providing oversight over the district’s execution and planning of the $54 million Mira Costa modernization project and reporting its findings back to the public at large. I was appointed to my first term shortly after Measure BB passed and served from 2009–2011. After sitting out for one year, per the committee bylaws, I applied for and was appointed to a second term that began in 2012. The committee’s work is important in that we confirm that bond funds are being expended only on voter-approved projects, receive expenditure updates and review and report on the progress of current and pending projects. Phase 1 of the project--the new math and science building--was completed on time and on budget. Phases 2 and 3 are underway and I expect those phases will also be completed on time and on budget.
Since 2008 I also have been honored to serve on the city’s planning commission, which is responsible for long-range planning activities, including major use permits, residential and commercial planned development and permits, zone changes, code amendments, and modification to long-range planning documents, including the city’s General Plan and Local Coastal Plan. Over the past five and a half years, I have been involved in reviewing and approving a wide variety of projects, both residential and commercial. However, I consider my biggest accomplishment to have been reviewing and voting to approve the Manhattan Village Mall expansion because it will impact our entire community.
Over the course of seven public hearings between June 2012 and July 2013, my colleagues and I took public testimony and spent hours of discussion evaluating issues such as the project’s size, traffic and parking impacts, safety, lighting and the potential impact to adjacent neighborhoods, among others. During the course of those meetings, we worked with staff, the developer and the public, to reshape the project to address the concerns of the commission and other residents and hopefully ensure that the final project will be something that will enhance the mall’s value to our community. This was truly a collaborative process at its best--many viewpoints and opinions were shared, considered and improved upon over seven meetings, and the result was a much stronger project than the one first presented in June 2012.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?
Paralusz: I am not sure what the teacher’s union’s direct concern is but as a board member I would want to make sure that our teachers are paid equal to if not higher than teachers in close neighboring districts. Teachers and staff salaries and benefits currently make up approximately 80 percent of the district’s budget. As for other expenses, the board has spent comparatively little beyond the afore-mentioned wifi connectivity expansion, which was necessary to support 21st century learning methods. Ipads have been for the most part paid for by parents or via a grant. I am unaware of any other large expenses last year besides the three percent salary increase that our teachers received.
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?
Paralusz: I think a board that works well together can only be a positive for the district. Working well together does not mean that everyone has the same approach or the same opinions. On the contrary, it means creating an environment of respect and open communication, collaboration and encouraging expression of different viewpoints to ensure a well-rounded discussion and informed decision-making. When those components are present and board members share the same goal of working together to provide the best education for our children, the chances for successful administration of district policies and sound fiscal management increase exponentially.
Patch: Is a diversity of opinion important on this board? Why or why not?
Paralusz: Diversity of opinion, and for that matter, diversity of background and skillset, are integral to the success of the board. When board members share the same experiences, the same opinions, the same skillsets, the same resumes, they are limited in their ability to evaluate and consider other ideas, risk factors and solutions that might be more productive in furthering district goals. As a member of the planning commission, I have served with commissioners from a variety of different backgrounds – architects, engineers, developers, HR managers and at one point with two other attorneys. I found that the most robust and well-rounded discussions often arose not when there were three attorneys present on the commission but rather when I was the only attorney and my colleagues each had different viewpoints and backgrounds to draw upon during our discussion of the issues before us.
Likewise, in the corporate environment, I am part of a highly skilled, multi-discipline team of professionals, e.g., engineering, human resources, quality, contracts, legal, finance, program management, etc. that works together on a daily basis to review proposals and issues from every angle to ensure the enterprise makes sound business decisions. When you have diversity of opinions and backgrounds involved in the decision-making process, the process itself is made stronger as a result.
Patch: What is important as a district moving forward?Paralusz: Certainly the successful implementation of the Common Core standards curriculum and online assessments are one of the biggest challenges we will face as a district. The other is the simultaneous implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula, which completely changes the way California’s public school districts are funded and is the biggest change in state school funding in 30 years. Either of these alone presents great change, let alone both simultaneously. In order to implement these successfully, it will be critical to also build better teacher relations, to include engaging teachers in assessment of their needs and ensuring they have the proper training and resources to assure an effective rollout. We also must continue our focus on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, math) and providing a 21st century-based curriculum so that our students have the tools and training they will need to succeed in college and careers after they graduate.
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?
Paralusz: I believe the remaining members of the current board both have some financial background. While a financial experience is important to helping manage the district budget, it is also important that the board contain a diverse mix of backgrounds, skill sets and professional experiences in order to make well-rounded, well-informed decisions. That includes having someone with a legal background to help other board members identify, evaluate and minimize legal and financial risk to the district (when left unchecked, legal risk can lead to financial risk so the two go hand in hand). None of the current board members and none of the other candidates besides me have the legal training and experience to do that. As an attorney for Northrop Grumman, it’s what I do for a living. Moreover, while the district has a business department and employees with strong financial skills, it currently outsources its legal needs. I can help fill the role by bringing an additional eye to identifying and mitigating legal issues in our contracts, board policies and personnel decisions.Patch: What is the duty of a school board and district as you see it?
Paralusz: The board’s bylaws establish the board’s roles and responsibilities, i.e., to provide leadership and citizen oversight of the district. Those roles and responsibilities include:
- setting the direction for the district through a process that involves the community, parents/guardians, students and staff and is focused on student learning and achievement;
- establishing an effective and efficient organizational structure for the district by employing the superintendent and setting policy for hiring of other personnel;
- overseeing the development and adoption of policies;
- establishing academic expectations and adopting the curriculum and instructional materials;
- providing safe, adequate facilities and safe environment that support the district's instructional program;
- setting parameters for negotiations with employee organizations and ratifying collective bargaining agreements;
- provide support to the superintendent and staff as they carry out the board's direction by establishing and adhering to standards of responsible governance, making decisions and providing resources that support district priorities and goals, and upholding board policies;
- being knowledgeable about district programs and efforts in order to serve as effective spokespersons to the community;
- ensuring accountability to the public for the performance of the district's schools by evaluating the superintendent and setting policy for the evaluation of other personnel, monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of policies, serving as a judicial (hearing) and appeals body in accordance with law, board policies, and negotiated agreements, monitoring student achievement and program effectiveness and requiring program changes as necessary;
- monitoring and adjusting district finances;
- monitoring the collective bargaining process; and
- providing 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.
Patch: Anything else you'd like to add?
Paralusz: When people ask why I’m running for Manhattan Beach school board, the answer is easy. It’s the same reason I’ve gotten involved in other community organizations I’m a member of--to make a difference. There’s no greater responsibility or honor than working to ensure the excellence of our children’s education. I believe that the combination of my civic and professional experience, my passion for public service, proven leadership and fresh perspective will be an asset to the board. On Nov. 5th, residents can vote for up to three candidates for school board--I would be honored to have one of those votes.