EL SEGUNDO — Two parents with widely varying solutions to the school district's financial problems are vying to fill the school board seat vacated by Alan West, who was elected to the City Council in April with a year left to serve on the Board of Education.
Alan D. Leitch, a newcomer who has been endorsed by several parents' organizations, says the district should ask local industry and small businesses to step up efforts to finance programs that have been eliminated because of the district's declining enrollment.
"Education is not just the responsibility of the school board and the parents, it's the responsibility of the entire community," said Leitch, who has an optometry practice in Culver City.
Dennis Martin, a public librarian who has made three unsuccessful runs for the school board, says the district should try to recoup lost funds by leasing facilities that the school district now offers at no cost to the city and civic organizations.
"The district could earn millions of dollars if it stopped letting just anybody use school properties such as the cafeteria, the gymnasium and the playgrounds," he said, noting that school systems elsewhere charge for the use of school property.
The district now leases only facilities in schools that have been closed. Hughes Aircraft Co., for example, leases the former Imperial Elementary School site, and the Los Angeles Raiders have turned the former El Segundo Junior High School site into a training camp under a lease agreement with the school district.
With a 30% drop in enrollment since 1978, the El Segundo Unified School District has closed two schools and lost $2.5 million in state and federal funds that are linked to average daily attendance figures, said Supt. Richard Bertaine. The cuts also have forced the district to reduce the number of staff positions and scale back some educational and extracurricular programs.
If Martin is elected, the self-described political maverick may have a difficult time winning support for his leasing plan. School board members have rejected his leasing proposal several times since he introduced it for board consideration in 1981, saying that neither the city nor the citizens' and professional groups that use school facilities could afford to pay for them.
But Martin is convinced that he can create a groundswell of parental support to sway the board's opinion in favor of leasing school properties.
"The current board has been telling parents the same old thing for years and things have gotten worse instead of better," Martin said.
"The district is on the brink of financial ruin. I am offering a solution to the district's financial problems and I think people are going to listen because they are desperate for answers."
Although the four current school board members have not endorsed either candidate, their suggestions for increasing district revenues are more in line with those proposed by Leitch.
He would expand the district's Adopt-a-Class program, under which El Segundo firms provide equipment and expertise for educational programs. Leitch has suggested that the businesses also provide funding for those programs.
"I want to work with the current school board, not against it," Leitch said. "I think we all realize that El Segundo is an industrial city and we should tap into that resource to help our children."
Both candidates want the district to work to improve test scores and expand anti-drug and alcohol education programs.
According to recently released California Assessment Program test results, student scores in reading dropped in all four of El Segundo's schools. Scores of students in some grades declined in writing and math as well.
Leitch, who is married and has two children enrolled in El Segundo schools, said he is running for the board so he can "put something back into the community."
A 12-year resident, Leitch said he would like to start a program to improve students' test scores by giving them practice tests. "I think a lot of our kids just don't know how to take a test," he said.
Leitch, 41, said he also would encourage more parents to volunteer to help with extracurricular activities, since the district can no longer afford to pay teachers for those duties.
Martin, who is married with one son attending an El Segundo school, said that if he is elected, he also would try to get more parents to participate in school-related activities.
"A lot of parents have just written the school board off," Martin said. "They don't follow the issues or attend the meetings. I'd like to change all that and get them more involved."
Martin, 47, who has lived in El Segundo for 16 years, said the board could improve test scores by preparing students with intellectual exercises and practice tests.
He said he would also push for anti-drug programs at the elementary school level and an evaluation program under which teachers would be given raises based on merit instead of the across-the-board salary increase the board now grants.