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School Deficit Is Focus of Beverly Hills Race

October 20, 1985|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

Four candidates for two seats on the Beverly Hills Board of Education have made the central issue of their campaigns a $5-million deficit the district expects to face at the end of 1987.

School board President Fred Stern is the only incumbent seeking reelection. Jerry Weinstein, the other member of the board up for reelection, decided against seeking another term. The other three candidates are Lora Klinger, a former teacher who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the board two years ago; Rhea Kohan, a novelist, and Dana Tomarken, executive director of the Beverly Hills Education Foundation, an organization that raises funds for the district.

School officials said that finances have become a major issue because over the next few years the board will have to make several difficult budgeting decisions. The candidates have been debating the district's budgeting options in their campaigns for the Nov. 5 election.

School officials predict a deficit of $5 million in the district's $25-million 1986-87 budget. The district will have to raise money to maintain the high cost of its current program or cut back, they said.

One of the most talked-about options under consideration is the imposition of a tax on each parcel of land in the city. The district is also considering leasing the land used for the high school parking lot. It may also try to increase the production of oil from the wells on the high school campus. Other options the district is considering include increasing class sizes, closing schools and eliminating some educational programs.

Another pressing issue is the negotiations with the teachers' representative, the Beverly Hills Education Assn. Negotiations have been stalled since August and the district has refused to resume the talks until the teachers make concessions in the deadlock over hours, salary and other issues.

The teachers' association, in a newsletter recently distributed to parents, criticized Stern for the board's failure to reach a contract agreement. The association accused the board and its president of taking actions that "weaken the educational structure of our school."

Stern and the other candidates said they are in favor of trying to raise money for the district before making cuts. Stern said that if cuts had to be made, he would cut in areas such as athletics, art programs, and foreign languages.

"I would love it if a parcel tax could be put together," Stern said. "That is a reliable income." Stern said that the board has not decided whether to ask the voters to approve a parcel tax to help relieve the district's financial troubles.

Candidate Klinger questioned the board's ability to get approval for a tax. "The board believes more in miracles than in sound management," she said. Even though "financial problems overshadow the district," the board suffers from a "credibility problem" that would hurt the chances for approval of a parcel tax, she said.

Klinger said that a management audit of the district two years ago by Arthur Young & Co. criticized the district for overstating its expenses and under reporting its revenues. "For too long the district has been crying wolf and people are not going to believe it" when school officials say they need a parcel tax, she said.

Tomarken disagreed. "It's easy to take pot shots at the board," she said, adding that she did not believe that the board suffered from a credibility problem. "The audit was not a secret; the district ordered it itself so it could find ways to save money," she said.

Tomarken said she supports the current efforts by the board to raise revenue.

Rhea Kohan said the district has not done enough to look at its own inefficiencies and that it would have to eliminate mismanagement before asking voters to approve a tax.

She expressed concern that the financial difficulties were affecting the education of Beverly Hills students. "I am disturbed at what is happening to the quality of eduction in our community," she said. "I believe the quality of education has gone down.

"I don't think that the schools reflect the excellence that is within our community," she said.

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