Superintendent’s Comments 9/24/2019 Board Meeting

Good evening board members, SB Unified staff, and community members.

Last week, I had the privilege of participating in a leadership conference with people from all over the country.  It was inspiring to hear about all of the good work taking place in schools and the challenge of creating space for civil discourse in our society.  Our public comment section in our meetings is really important and is an opportunity to create discourse. Tonight, I am going to offer some of my comments about the topics that have been raised over the last couple of board meetings, as well as thoughts on my mind as I continue my 40th year in education.

First of all, the Williams Act is an important law and is designed to ensure that students have access to appropriate instructional materials and clean, safe facilities.  We have heard concerns raised about our facilities over the last three to four meetings, so let me respond to some of those.  Regarding the PA (Public Address) systems at Dos Pueblos High School and Goleta Valley Junior High; the contractors are out there, they are pulling the wires. DP should be operational by the end of October and GVJH sometime mid-November.  By the way, as a veteran high school Principal and school administrator, a PA system is important and is valuable for day-to-day operations, but in today’s 21st Century, fast moving world, we can not depend on a PA system to communicate with every student and our community in a minute or a couple of minutes. We are implementing CrisisGo, an online platform that will tie together staff, parents, our public safety responders, and our students, using smartphones that virtually everyone has in their pocket and with that we will be able to message instantaneously.

Second, there have been comments about the condition of windows at Santa Barbara High School (SBHS). I want the community to know that we are doing an assessment of all the historic windows at SBHS, McKinley Elementary, Santa Barbara Junior High, and La Cumbre Junior High School. We have actually done a pilot at SBHS replacing the historic windows with modern fiberglass windows because we want them to last for 50, 60 years. That assessment is in process and we will be executing a replacement plan in due time.

Third, regarding the complaint about bathrooms at SBHS, I actually went out there yesterday and walked through those bathrooms with Principal Elise Simmons and I viewed the setting in which these complaints have come. I saw the toilet stall (mentioned in the complaint). The reason why that stall is not working is the sewer-line is not working, so we are going to gut and replace that bathroom next summer. If we were to replace that bathroom at this point, we would have to rip out all of the concrete, replace it, and we would have to do it all over again next summer. In my opinion, tax-payer dollars are important, so we are going to tackle this in the summer of 2020 in both bathrooms. 

At the last school board meeting, there was public comment about the lack of student achievement at three schools – Cleveland, McKinley, and Harding elementary schools. I just want to say I am extremely proud of the staff at these schools, the students at these schools, and we are putting systems in place to bring quality instruction at those three schools but also at ALL of our schools.  By the way, the speaker did not mention Franklin Elementary. Under the leadership of principal Casie Kilgore, the campus has proven that we can achieve excellent academic outcomes in a school that serves high concentrations of low-income students. Adams Elementary has been a model turn-around school for a decade and last January, Adams was recognized at the national Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) conference by the federal government as one of only two schools in California to receive this recognition.  We have a lot of work to do in our schools; we know that you are going to see it in the data report tonight. But we are committed to changing the narrative in Santa Barbara Unified. Tonight, you will hear about the significant growth at Harding Elementary under principal Veronica Binkley which is another proof point that you can take a school under challenging circumstances and bring about systemic improvements.

Tonight, I want to educate our community about the financial challenges we face in Santa Barbara Unified. I often get this, “oh you are Superintendent in Santa Barbara Unified, what a beautiful place” and it is. The perception is that we are a high wealth district and we are not … and we feel this in every classroom every day in our schools.  Recently, DP Principal Bill Woodard and GVJH Principal Mauricio Ortega and I went and toured Goleta Union Schools … it’s a really great school district. I was struck with class sizes, and the space that they have. But here is the big difference: Goleta gets 30% more money than we do (per student/year) and I saw it right in front of my face. Wow! What a difference in our neighboring school district. 

The largest part of our income comes from local property taxes and here is the amount that our five local districts receive per year, per student:  Montecito, $32,484; Cold Spring, $28,625; Goleta, $10,145; Hope, $9,571; Santa Barbara, $7,775. Hope receives $1,800 dollars more than we do. Goleta Union receives $2,370 dollars more and Montecito receives $24,709 dollars more per student. I repeat, we feel the challenge of funding every day in every classroom in our district.  As a public school district, we do our best to educate every student who walks in our doors with the resources that our community provides. I am proud of the staff of Santa Barbara Unified as we work hard to overcome many challenges that we face and work in the lowest funded district in our city.  

Yes, we have problems to solve in Santa Barbara Unified.  The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.  I started my comments with an appeal to civil discourse and focusing on what we can do together as a community to support all of our students.  One of the fundamental challenges we face in Santa Barbara Unified is funding and I will be asking the school board for direction about next steps when it comes to helping the funding and equities in our school district.