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Candidates Offer Plans for Schools : Education: Among the new board's challenges will be a shrinking budget and eroding public confidence. The fate of Glendale High School's expansion will be decided.

April 01, 1993|ROBIN GREENE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLENDALE — All nine candidates for the Glendale Board of Education's three vacant seats agree on the need--despite a serious money crunch--to provide quality education in an environment free of the problems afflicting inner-city schools.

But in a PTA-sponsored forum Tuesday night and in interviews with the candidates, differences emerged in what they envision for the district, especially on the issue of expanding Glendale High School.

"There can be very little doubt that there has been an erosion of public confidence in the schools," said one candidate, attorney Brenda Hamer. "Parents believe their kids can't go to public schools anymore. We need to reverse that."

Shoring up public confidence in the schools, which are trying to serve a growing and culturally diverse student body, is only one of the challenges the new school board will face. Weapons in the classroom, AIDS education and a shortage of teachers and counselors are others.

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All those problems, the candidates agree, come down to one issue: money.

"No one can pull more money out of Sacramento," said candidate Lynda Rocamora, who runs a small business with her husband. "But we can pull from the community to give backup to our teachers in the classroom."

The election Tuesday will fill three vacancies on the five-member board, which is responsible for the district's $110-million budget. Board members receive a small stipend, no more than $400 a month, to compensate them for their time--typically 20 to 25 hours a week--and expenses, said Vic Pallos, the district's public information officer.

The winning candidates will be sworn in April 12 and will attend their first public meeting April 20.

A number of candidates are hoping that when the board reconvenes with its new members that the community will have more input into district business.

"We need to open up the board meeting process to make public participation more meaningful," said one candidate, attorney Deborah Dentler. "We need to bring more parents to the meetings."

Dentler advocates more parent participation on all fronts and wants parents to work with senior citizens and the business community to solve some of the district's problems.

"I have called for a dramatic expansion of volunteerism," Dentler said. "We need an office of volunteers to provide links to the schools. We need to bring private dollars into our schools wherever possible."

Spending public dollars tops the list of concerns facing the board, and the priority will be a proposed extension of Glendale High School, which was last rebuilt in 1968.

Plans already have been approved to move ninth-graders from two middle schools into Glendale High, raising the school population from 2,350 to about 3,000, Pallos said.

If the Glendale school district goes ahead with construction, the state will pay half the cost, originally estimated at $10 million but now expected to be considerably less, Pallos said. Final bids on the project will be released at a school board meeting in late April.

Every candidate except Carol Melton, a small-business owner, supports an extension for the school.

Melton believes the district did not consider enough alternatives, such as using vacant buildings elsewhere in Glendale for technical classes.

"How do we know this is the answer if that's all we have on the platter?" Melton asked. "Let's look into more alternatives and not put the district into extreme debt."

Most of the candidates disagree.

"We have a window of opportunity to build because interest rates are low and construction costs are dropping," said another candidate, business owner Sid Jurman.

Hamer, who favors construction, said that "with state funding, we will get a $10-million extension for less than half the cost."

And John A. (Al) Forthmann IV, a principal in Redondo Beach, added: "We need a safe and secure campus. We need to turn it into a gorgeous place where kids will feel good about going to school."

Jane Whitaker, the only incumbent running for reelection, and candidate Jeanne Bentley, a school counselor, support the construction project but expressed reservations about taking on added debt.

Whitaker opposed the extension while serving on the board, but now she believes the time may be right to add on to the school. But she warned about financing construction before enough money is allocated for the building.

"We know times are very tough and they're going to get tougher," Whitaker said. "We must exercise caution."

Bentley said she initially opposed the extension but changed her mind after researching the project. Yet, she also expressed concern about spending such a large sum of money in tight times.

"We need to be responsible in following the bids carefully," Bentley said. "With wise and careful spending now, we will save on increased fees that would come about later."

Another candidate, Louise Foote, a teacher in Sherman Oaks, suggested that spending conservatively, using less expensive vendors and contractors, and dropping the bilingual program could free more money for other priorities.

"I would like to raise teacher salaries 2% or 3% to give them a cost-of-living increase," Foote said in expressing the wish list of most of the candidates. "I'd like to reduce class size in all grades and produce the personnel necessary to keep the schools safe."

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