With their small class sizes, diverse curriculums and generous foundation support, Lamorinda's three school districts sometimes seem immune to most of the problems plaguing others in California.
But candidates vying for open school board seats in this November's general election say their districts have plenty to work to do, including grappling with possible budget cuts if two tax measures fail at the polls.
Lafayette and Orinda school board candidates sat down recently in Martinez with Contra Costa Times political reporter Lisa Vorderbrueggen to discuss a variety of issues including the implications of Proposition 30 and 38, a pair of competing measures that if passed would increase education funding by raising taxes. Moraga candidates chose not to participate in the televised forums but discussed the tax proposal and other issues at a separate round-table Oct. 1.
Orinda school board candidate Bekki Van Voorhis-Gilbert said the district has set aside $1 million to cover gaps in funding should the measures fail. Still, she is supporting Prop. 30, which the state has estimated will generate $6 billion through sales and income tax hikes. She also backs Prop. 38, which proponents says could raise about $10 billion.
"We need some sort of structural solution to the funding problems that we are facing in the state," Gilbert said.
Candidates Sarah Butler, Jason Lurie and current board President Matthew Moran agreed, although the incumbent had a more critical take on Prop. 30 than his challengers.
"I resent the Governor and Senator (Darrell) Steinberg holding the students of California hostage and literally threatening to pull the trigger if we don't vote for these tax increases," Moran said. Cuts to K-12, community college and university funding would automatically go into effect should the tax measure fail.
Candidate Sarah Butler talked about the difficulty of finding places to cut, and about how so many cuts had already been made. And while she didn't offer specific ideas for what to eliminate, she said a collaborative budget process is needed in order for the district to find solutions. Candidate Jason Lurie agreed and said that although more than 80 percent of the budget goes toward teachers, he didn't think anybody would argue that there is an overage of teachers.
Lafayette school board hopefuls hashed out the issue at their roundtable forum, at which they also discussed employee reforms.
Cuts will hit should the measures not pass, but school district jobs must be saved, said candidate Don Wolff. He suggested consolidation of some departments and services, and public and private collaboration as a way to reduce expenses.
Candidate Quinlan Tom said he was more inclined to support Prop. 30 than 38 because it would provide a more immediate influx of cash. Still, cuts would likely happen in the classroom should either fail, he said.
Jean Follmer feels neither proposition is "perfect" and said she would continue to advocate for real solutions in Sacramento while keeping cuts away from the classroom. Nancy Wallace suggested looking at alternative funding scenarios as a means of raising much needed revenue and talked about her experience raising money for special needs students in the district.
In Moraga, where challengers Parker Colvin and Shari cumbent are trying to unseat incumbent Dexter Louie, the candidates talked about how each would use their experience to grapple with the potential financial crunch.
Colvin touted his work in finance and his expertise in helping school districts access capital markets as an inroad to finding additional funding and suggested a future local tax measure. Louie said 14 years of experience as a trustee had taught him that school financing is a collaborative process involving more than the board, and that cuts need to be made as far away from the classroom as possible. Simon said prudent and wise investments in technology and a strong stragetic plan would enable the district to make decisions.
The Orinda and Lafayette forums are airing on Central County Channel 26 Fridays and Sundays beginning today. A second Moraga school candidates forum will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Joaquin Moraga Intermediate school auditorium, 1010 Camino Pablo.
Watch the debates
The Orinda School Board roundtable airs 9 p.m. Thursdays and 6:30 Sundays, beginning Oct. 7.
The Lafayette School Board roundtable airs 7:30 p.m. Fridays beginning tonight and 7:30 p.m., Sundays beginning Oct. 7.
View the forums online at www.contracostatimes.com/elections