California State Assemblywoman Julia Brownley was a guest speaker at “The State Of Our Schools” report that was held at the Santa Monica Main Library. The former Santa Monica-Malibu School Board President noted that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District “far outpaces the rest of the state” and “has a reputation throughout the state for excellence and innovation that is envied by many other Districts.”
Brownley also gave a perspective on the state’s policy for public school funding. She said, “Based on the most current data, which is 2005-2006 data…compiled by the Legislative Analyst Office, California schools still lag other states in every statistical measurement.” For example, California ranks 34th for K-12 per pupil spending and is “spending approximately $960 less per student than the U.S. as a whole.” When one looks at class size, California is 48th in the nation because it has one of the highest student-teacher ratios.
The Assemblywoman, who served on the District’s School Board for three terms, then mentioned that the outlook for state funding for schools for next year is “not looking very good because the state will be looking at a [budget] shortfall.” However, the “good news” is there has been new money identified that will be available down the road. She wants the state to plan for educational finance reform when that money becomes available. Said Brownley, “California’s current school finance system is arcane, it’s irrational, and it doesn’t support student success.” She wants the state to “look at the money we have and use it more wisely by connecting our expenditures with student outcomes and their achievement” based upon research.
Superintendent Dianne Talarico also spoke at the November 5 event and explained that this year the District has five goals:
1. To improve teamwork.
2. To improve mathematics achievement district-wide by five percent.
3. To increase student attendance by one percent.
4. To expand options for high school students to pursue college level work.
5. To study the feasibility of opening a small high school to meet the needs of those students who don’t do well in a large comprehensive campus environment.
The Superintendent reported that the District’s bond rating has improved so the District will have to pay less interest on the bonds it sells to help finance the District’s Facilities Master Plan. She attributed the improved rating to “the strong tax base in our cities, the significant improvement in the District’s finances, and the high level of community support.”
Talarico also noted that the District spends $2,500 per student per year above the state’s $5,627.83 per student annual contribution and that these additional funds are received from local funding sources, including parcel taxes, contributions from the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu, and contributions from the PTA.
Lastly, the Superintendent remarked that the Academic Performance Index (API) for the District over the last five years has shown strides in “narrowing the achievement gap” for student groups who traditionally don’t do well in school.
Other speakers included Santa Monica High School Principal Dr. Hugo Pedroza, School Board President Kathy Wisnicki, School Board Vice President Oscar de la Torre, and several students.