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School Funding Heads Priority List for Manhattan Beach Candidates

October 29, 1987|CURTIS L. TAYLOR | Times Staff Writer

Faced with the challenge of increasing revenue for a financially strapped district, three candidates are campaigning for two seats on the Manhattan Beach school board in Tuesday's election.

Only one incumbent, Kathy Campbell, a 45-year-old housewife, is seeking reelection. Campbell was elected to the five-member board in 1983. (The other incumbent, Priscilla Schillinger, is not seeking reelection after serving eight years.)

Other candidates are Barbara Dunsmoor, housewife and president of the Manhattan Beach Educational Foundation, which raises private money for the district, and Mary A. Rogers, manager of Gary Rogers Auto Body, a family-owned business.

The candidates all agree that the district's main problem is money.

Dwindling Reserves

State aid is based on the number of students, and the district's enrollment has declined steadily during the last 15 years. Last year the district lost 210 students and has a current enrollment of 21,093. The district has four elementary schools, one intermediate school and one child development center for preschoolers.

As enrollment shrinks, so has the district's reserve account. Last fiscal year, the district had a reserve of about $440,000, but this year it is expected to shrivel to $136,000. The district's budget for 1987-88 is $7.8 million.

To compensate for the decline in revenue, the district was forced to eliminate school programs in music, fine arts, computers and reading.

The candidates all say that until more help arrives from Sacramento, maintaining the district's classroom programs and academic standards will depend on how well it manages its property assets.

School board members sold the former district headquarters for $3.6 million last year. (The board recently received a waiver from the state to place $1.6 million of the money from the sale into its general fund. Usually, such money must be set aside for capital needs.) The district also expects to earn $409,000 a year by leasing five unused school sites and other properties.

Rogers, a 20-year resident of Manhattan Beach, said: "We are forced to look at other sources of revenue to keep the district going. We have a lot of property assets, but the board needs to develop a property and fiscal plan as quickly as possible so that they can go forward with developing the kind of district we need."

Rogers, who has two boys enrolled in the district, said she opposes selling any district property until a master plan is in place.

"We must consider creative ways of leasing to ensure that the property gains revenue for the district. . . . Our schoolchildren are being seriously shortchanged. Moving forward right now is not really the issue; staying alive is."

Rogers said that if she is elected, she would like to start an education newsletter or weekly column in a local newspaper to keep residents informed of positive things happening in the district.

Dunsmoor, 43, said the financial problems are affecting all schools in California.

"Some serious problems in education have to be faced," she said. "California is lagging behind in an awful lot of areas, and our children are not going to be able to compete with the rest of the country if we are not careful.

"The district needs a financial program that will allow it to put back more and more of the programs that the district has had to cut. We constantly need to revise our programs and look at them, but when you don't have money, it's difficult."

A former teacher who has two children in district schools and one who has graduated, Dunsmoor said she would work on creating a well-rounded curriculum that would include fine arts programs.

Streamline Operations

"An awful lot of people feel fine arts is a frivolous thing in education when in fact it isn't," she said. "We need to have strong math and reading programs, but learning to read music is a logical skill that hones the mind. We need to turn out children that not only know how to read and write and do math, but know how to think, how to make decisions."

A 13-year resident of Manhattan Beach, Dunsmoor said she would like to streamline district operations.

"Our personnel spends a lot of time on property management issues rather than on educational issues, but right now we don't have a choice. We need to look into the possibility of contracting out some of our management duties so that our people can spend their time working with our children and providing them with the education they need," Dunsmoor said.

Campbell, 45, the incumbent, said this is an important election for the district because of the financial crisis and a need to fill key personnel positions.

She said her experience on the board would be important when replacements are hired for two principals expected to retire in the next few years. The district is searching for a new assistant superintendent and a business manager.

Campbell said money could be generated from district properties, but she is strongly opposed to spending money obtained from the sale of the property.

"Some of the members on the board want to spend some of the principal to maintain existing programs. Once the principal is spent it is no longer there. They want to spend the money so we can deliver the best possible education today, but the money must be used for the future," said Campbell, who has two sons enrolled in the district. She also has two sons attending college who graduated from the district.

If elected, Campbell said, her top priorities will be refurbishing the district's aging schools and restoring programs cut last year. Campbell said she will concentrate on improving the district's only intermediate school because all of the students in the district will attend the school.

Campbell said she also would look to the business community for help by establishing an "adopt-a-school program" to provide additional revenues.

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