Saying that the district must change to improve the quality of education, Oxnard School District trustees on Wednesday are expected to consider hiring an outside company to evaluate district operations.
The proposal is to assess every department, including personnel, curriculum and the superintendent's office. The project could cost up to $10,000, said Supt. Bernard Korenstein.
If approved, the evaluation would be the first such performance review for the district, which serves about 13,000 students from kindergarten to 8th grade, Korenstein said.
Trustee Arthur Lopez, who suggested the assessment, said it is long overdue.
"We need to review everything," Lopez said. "This is a new board, a new administration, and we all need to know where we are heading."
Despite Lopez's enthusiasm and the support of Trustees Susan Alvarez and Mary Barreto, the project is opposed by Trustees James Suter and Dorothie Sterling.
"I don't understand why we should be assessed," Suter said. "I think that our district is doing absolutely well, and I certainly won't vote for it."
Sterling also questions the wisdom of the expense.
"If it depended on me alone," she said, "I would rather spend the money somewhere else."
Korenstein said he plans to provide the board with a report Wednesday on three companies that specialize in such evaluations.
They are Educational Research Consultants and School Services of California, both based in Sacramento, and the Center for Education Research and Services at Cal State Fresno.
If the board approves the plan, the assessment would be conducted as early as July, and the district's general fund would pay for it, Korenstein said.
Lopez, who assumed office in December, said he suggested the evaluation because both the board and Korenstein, who became superintendent in July, need a better understanding of the operation of the district.
"I don't think that the superintendent can lead unless the board provides him with clear directions," Lopez said. "And at this point, the board cannot do so because we don't fully understand what's going on."
In the past five months, the board has held additional meetings in an attempt to conduct its own assessment, Lopez said, but those sessions have not been successful because of the district's size and complexity.
The district has 1,134 employees working at its administration office and its 17 schools. The campuses include 12 elementary schools, two junior highs, two special-education schools and one intersection school, where year-round students can attend optional courses during their vacation periods.
"The district is a very large organization, and we can't review everything ourselves," Lopez said. "We need an outside company to evaluate us."
Lopez also plans to ask the board to create a committee of parents and residents to help evaluate the district.
Among other things, the evaluation company would provide the district with recommendations on whether the district should continue its current curriculum in mathematics, Korenstein said. It would also recommend steps to improve its computer-based teaching techniques.
Christy White, director of School Services of California, said that her company told the district it would do the assessment for $5,750, but that price would not include evaluating the curriculum.
"The price, and the length of time, depends on what the district wants us to do," she said. "The way I see it now, it would take us about three months to look into the district's finances and personnel."
Generally, White's company would send two or three evaluators to observe the district's operations. The company would then write a report recommending ways to improve the operations and would hold a series of meetings with employees, parents and students.
Korenstein said the school board will review the bids before making a final decision on the performance audit.
"We have many issues that we are not sure on how to proceed, and the opinion of an outside consultant would be worth the expense," he said.
But Suter says the district has made similar decisions on its own for years and he doesn't understand why the entire district has to be assessed.
"It does not make sense to me at all," Suter said. "If it were just assessing our curriculum, I would not have a problem--but everything?"
Barreto said she sees the evaluation as a preventive measure.
"This is like going to the doctor and having a physical," she said. "We need to find out whether we are stable and what we need to do to improve."