Assailing what he called the school board’s lack of transparency, Grossmont Union High School District candidate Bill Weaver told a forum Monday night that he was running because he doesn’t trust the current board members.
“We have an expectation of what the bond’s going to be used for and then the smoke and mirrors come out,” said Weaver, a parent of Alpine students and an Alpine Education Foundation board member. “Our money’s not being spent the way you said it’s going to be spent.”
All six candidates running for two seats tackled the screened questions of roughly 30 attendees at the Grossmont Healthcare District conference center in La Mesa. The forum, moderated by the League of Women Voters, was sponsored by East County Magazine
Although a report of a Grand Jury investigation into the board majority’s use of bond monies wasn’t noted directly, many of the candidates’ responses addressed accusations that voter-approved bond money has been steered away from a promised new high school in Alpine.
Incumbent Priscilla Schreiber, a candidate who has championed building a 12th high school in Alpine, said she is often “marginalized” for speaking out on the issue during board meetings.
“Character is doing what you said you would do,” she said.
Voters passed Proposition H, a $274 million bond measure in 2004, and Proposition U, a $417 million bond measure in 2008, to repair and modernize district schools and construct a new high school in the Alpine/Blossom Valley area.
Candidate Jim Stieringer, a former La Mesa city treasurer and Grossmont Healthcare District director, said voters in the district clearly said they wanted a new high school.
“If I get elected, I’ll check and find out if there’s enough money left in that bond to do exactly that,” he said.
As a trustee, said incumbent Gary Woods, his job is to “fight for what’s best” for every student in the district. Woods added that he has refused to begin construction on a new school because the district hasn’t yet reached its target of 23,245 students.
In fact, the district has nearly 2,000 fewer students in now than in 2008, he said.
“When I first got on the board, I was real excited about all the potential of what we could do, and how we could develop a school that would be cutting edge in technology,” Woods said. “After I got on the board, I realized we are in a steep decline.”
Woods, who said he is honored to serve on the board, praised the district for its other achievements, including higher test scores and increased student participation.
“In the last four years, we have faced some of the hardest economic times in my lifetime, and Grossmont at the same time has made great strides,” he said. “But this board is continually attacked for breaking its promise.”
Another hot topic of the evening was whether the candidates support staff furlough days and expect furlough days during the school year.
“We can look at the budget and find better ways to save money,” said candidate Zach Miller, a San Diego State junior who graduated from El Cajon Valley High School in 2011. “We just have to take the time and effort into looking at what we don’t need.”
Schreiber agreed and said it was “deplorable” furlough days were even up for discussion.
Weaver said board members should support funding opportunities to prevent furloughs and other cuts, which is why he said he is in favor of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal for a temporary increase in income and sales taxes.
Of the six candidates, only Weaver and Miller said they were in favor of the proposition, which promises to prevent another $6 billion in cuts to schools and prevent college tuition hikes, according to www.yesonprop30.com.
“I can’t believe that a school board trustee could be against the propositions that are going to help prevent that from happening,” Weaver said.
Although candidate Barbara Stevens agreed that furloughs are a “horrible thing,” she said “taxpayers deserve their money, too.”
“It’s no more fair for a taxpayer to lose a couple days or a week or a month of pay than a teacher or a student losing their teaching days,” said Stevens, a writer/editor. “There’s a balance. It’s not unconnected, and we all have to consider that.”
Woods called the proposition a “Sacramento trick.”
Stieringer agreed, calling Brown “cynical.”
“Our school district will do whatever we have to do,” Stieringer said. “If we have to stop paying, we will stop paying. If we have to reduce our school days, we’ll do that.”