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Candidates Talk Education in CEPS-LEAD Forum:

Nine candidates for Santa Monica City Council fielded questions about schools, education, and related issues at a forum held September 22 by community organizations CEPS and LEAD.

CEPS (Community For Excellence in Public Schools) is a group dedicated to preserving and improving schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. LEAD (Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability, Direction) was formed earlier this year by community members concerned over the School Board’s actions on financial and leadership issues.

Participating candidates were John Blakely, a recent college graduate, eight-time candidate Jon Mann, Treesaver advocates Susan Hartley, Linda Piera-Avila, and Jerry Rubin, OPA president Ted Winterer, and incumbents Ken Genser, Richard Bloom, and Bobby Shriver.

Candidates were first asked if the joint funding agreement between SMMUSD and the City should be renewed in 2009 and should the contract be made permanent?

Hartley, a former teacher, said: “I definitely support renewal in 2009 and I would even increase the amount.”

Mann, also a former teacher, was against the agreement. “I’m probably the only one who has the courage to say that.” He felt that spending and “bureaucracy” needed to be reduced.

The other candidates favored the agreement although some were hesitant about making the contract permanent.

The next question concerned the City’s Council’s withholding of $530,000 in school funds pending investigation of confidentiality agreements by parents of special education students. If elected, when and how would they release the funds, and should there be an oversight of funds?

Piera-Avila said she had learned of an independent consultant’s report on this issue and would want to see a copy of it before making her decision to release the money. She also thought there should be an oversight committee or task force.

Bloom said he wants to see the money get to the schools, but that the Council made its decision in response to concern from the community that appropriate action be taken for the situation. “Parents have a right to not feel intimidated by the school environment.”

Other questions were given to specific candidates. Rubin, Shriver, Winterer, and Blakely were asked how they would create more green space.

Rubin, of course, advocated adding more trees, but also said that he supports the Civic Center Plan, with the added green areas it will create. “But we must make sure to have underground parking!”

Shriver gave support to the Memorial Park expansion and the Civic Center plan, adding “I love the idea of pocket parks.”

Winterer urged the creation of more recreational space and more projects like the Beach Green space, a converted parking lot.

Blakely thought a good idea would be a trolley or shuttle service to all the parks.

Several candidates were asked if they had supported Measure R, the revenue and permanent parcel tax. Rubin, Winterer, Blakely, Genser, and Hartley supported it; Mann reiterated his opposition to any kind of tax (except to businesses).

The last question was the candidates’ position on Proposition T (the traffic initiative).

Blakely wasn’t sure that the initiative was the best way to solve the dual issues of traffic and over-development. Shriver said he had been “studying” the issue and was concerned about the charge that passage of Prop T would hurt school funding. His perception was that some school funds would not be affected during the year of passage, but might be affected “down the road.”

Bloom was “adamantly opposed” to Prop T and joked that the T stood, not for traffic but for “terrible.” Hartley said “I adamantly support Prop T. I’m all for eliminating growth and height in the City.”

Genser was against the initiative. “It will not affect traffic.”

Rubin was opposed, saying that there were better ways to fight traffic, such as “getting people out of their cars and using the Blue Bus and bikes.”

Mann gave his support and said he would even shut down the Santa Monica Airport and “give the land back to the people.”

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