Answers to CEPS Candidate Interview Questions – SCHOOL BOARD — 2012
Ben Allen serves currently and President of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education and is running for his second term as a member of the Board.
What is your record or your personal accomplishments over the last four years in promoting these ideals of shared community vision and collaboration?
I have worked hard over the past four years to be an engaged, collaborative, and community-oriented school board member. That has included regular attendance at CEPS and DAC meetings, community events, being available for meetings and conversations with anyone who calls or writes, and being an active and engaged listener and solicitor of feedback and opinion. I worked with CEPS and others to negotiate the 10-year extension of the School District’s contract with the City of Santa Monica, hosted the most recent parcel tax campaign’s campaign committee meetings at my offices, have spoken at countless community and District events on behalf of our public schools, and been actively engaged in broader public education advocacy causes, with the California School Boards Association, the Los Angeles County School Trustees Association, as well as Democratic Party organizations and other progressive organizations such as People for the American Way.
In what additional ways do you think that the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu can work with SMMUSD to support educational opportunities? How would you work with the cities to advance these initiatives?
There are lots of ways. I’m very excited about the latest initiative that we’re engaged with involving early childhood programming and expanding broader cradle-to-career opportunities. The bond and other future measures might provide additional places for collaboration between our cities that could bring in additional revenues for operations and also expand programming options and opportunities. It is all about being flexible, creative, and proactive in leaving no stone unturned in the quest for new revenue sources, and new ways of providing enriching programs and experiences for youth in our community.
What educational program or issue would you like to focus on in the next term? What steps would you take?
One focus is going to be on early childhood, helping to move along the already exciting process that has begun with the City of Santa Monica, and seeing the extent to which it can be extended to Malibu. Another area would be continuing the expansion of access to AP programs for all of our students. I want to make sure that we minimize increases in class size, preserve key arts and enrichment programs, continue summer school and other critical intervention programs, and get a new and robust teacher evaluation program off the ground that will provide meaningful feedback to our teachers, reward good teaching, and have stronger support and accountability measures in place for those who are struggling.
What is your position on districtwide fundraising? Now that the board has put the policy in place, has your position changed and how would you advance that position?
I supported the policy along with the rest of the Board, and we need to make sure that it’s successful. The Superintendent has worked incredibly hard to bring various folks together to build a workable policy that will be rolled out in a careful way. I am committed to making the program work. I am going to work with, counsel, and support the Superintendent on this, as I have confidence in her sense of the difficulty and complications in implementation of the program, her commitment to the program’s goals, and also her political sensitivity and skills.
What is your position on SMMUSD’s bond measure on November’s ballot? If you support the measure would you carry that support on your campaign literature?
I voted to put the bond on the ballot, and am an enthusiastic supporter. I serve on the bond campaign committee, have already been working hard on the ballot statements for the bond, trying to round up folks to sign our arguments. I have already made several press comments in various publications in support of the bond, and am speaking on behalf of the bond at the next North of Montana Association meeting along with Ted Winterer. I am going to be walking precincts in support of the bond, and will get my supporters to do the same. I’m excited about sitting down with some of the bond campaign leadership and CEPS to talk about how we can work together to get good messaging out about the bond that can also help our campaigns for school board. I’m certainly open to carrying support on my lit, though I am in the process of finalizing my lit strategy and plans.
What is your position on Prop 30 and Prop 38? If the measures both fail, what do you foresee doing, as a School Board member? What options do you foresee? What might you propose?
I support both measures, and put an item on the board’s agenda getting the board’s unanimous support for both measures. Passing at least one of these measures has to be an absolutely critical priority for anyone who cares about public education in California. If these fail, we will be looking at a $10 million annual structural deficit as a District, and will be faced with incredibly difficult decisions, from potential class size increases to drastic program cuts. We will also obviously have to look closely at options for increased revenues, either through a new initiative with the City of Santa Monica (and possibly Malibu), a new possible tax, increasing fundraising efforts both in and out of the Education Foundation, creative use of bond monies, looking at an array of options, including branding and support from our developer, hotel, and business communities.
Do you feel you can fairly and adequately represent the needs and interests of students in both Malibu and Santa Monica? What have you done to date to work with families and students in both cities?
I certainly try to. I work hard to attend events and meetings in both communities, and stay closely in touch with leaders both on- and off- of our campuses in both communities. I have attend Malibu High School basketball and football games, MHS and Webster PTA meetings, MHS awards and commencement-related events, have regular meetings in Malibu, have relationships with Malibu city leadership, including a recent surfing lesson with newly elected City Councilman Skylar Peak! There is unfortunately a great deal of mistrust and misunderstanding between our two communities. This campaign has made me especially sensitive to the differences that exist, and have gotten me thinking a lot about new ways that we might improve relations.
What would be/have been your priorities if you win/as a current School Board member? Why are you running (again)? How do you think you have had or would have an impact on the BOE?
My priorities are:
- Setting high academic expectations and standards
- Looking out for all students, finding ways to improve outcomes and opportunities for students from every background
- Preserving the core programs that make our District great: from the arts and athletics to strong academic programs
- Pushing for environmentally sustainable practices
- Addressing the needs of both Santa Monica and Malibu
- Early childhood
- New revenues
- Teacher evaluations
I am running for reelection because I have been hard at work on these issues, and would like to see them pushed further along. I think that I have made a difference in all sorts of ways large and small, from policy changes to communicating and relationship-building that helps the District. I have brought up questions and concerns about our litigation strategy that I believe has saved the District significant amounts of money. I have tweaked our permit policy to strengthen our District’s relationships with older residents, have supported progressive programming, have fought to preserve programs, and have been a part of the District’s efforts to bring in new monies to help our operations. I’ve also worked hard to put out countless fires. It has been a rather exhausting experience, but I think it has been worthwhile, particularly when one thinks about problems that were avoided!
What is your position on “unification” of the district? Since the exploration of “unification” and the process that follow could take years, what ideas do you have for improving the working relationships between the Malibu and SM parts of the District in the meantime, and possibly permanently?
I think that conceptually, it makes a lot of sense to separate the District. We are two communities with different values and different political cultures. I do not believe that Malibu has been significantly underserved or shortchanged by its relationship with SMMUSD—indeed it has some of the highest performing schools in the state. That being said, I do believe that there is a lot to be said for Malibu having the opportunity to control its own destiny. If we’re able to find a mutually beneficial way of separating, I would be in favor of it.
Your second question is a very smart one, however. A lot of folks are so focused on separation that they fail to recognize that the prospect of separation is still less likely than likely—there are so many different groups and folks that would need to sign off on the idea, from labor to the legislature to the state board of education to the voters. We must keep working to strengthen the District for all of our students, from both of our communities. If we emerge from this campaign without someone from Malibu on the Board, I really want to sit down with smart folks who care about the District to think about ways that we can meaningfully increase a sense of input and representation for Malibu. I had thought that a DAC for Malibu would be a good way of doing this, but was told by a leader in Malibu that that idea was/is insulting, because Malibu is “not a special interest group.” So we’ve got to figure out some kind of mechanism that would address some of these real concerns about input and representation for Malibu, and I am very interested in having that conversation with some of the smart folks around the CEPS table, AMPS, and other groups.