Editor’s Note: Chris Bley contacted the Mirror after this story was posted to the website and had the following rebuttal to Mechur and de la Torre. “Because, first of all, besides each of us having 11,600 more kids, if you look at my article on Huffington Post, we controlled for the differences. And there’s still $16.5 million that we spent worse than they did … On top of that, their total budget on instruction is 65 percent, ours is 63 percent. Their budget on general administrative costs is 4.6 percent and ours is 5.6 percent.”.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board members Ralph Mechur and Oscar de Torre, both of whom are running for reelection Nov. 2, have addressed rival candidate Chris Bley’s accusations of mismanagement.
Using publicly available data on the California Department of Education website, Bley has compared Santa Monica-Malibu with Las Virgenes Unified school districts. On his website, Bley describes his findings are based on the premise that Las Virgenes is “a nearby district of comparable size and make-up” as Santa Monica-Malibu, and has cut its general administration expenditures by 7.7 percent (from $3.9 million to $3.6 million) during the same time period that Santa Monica-Malibu has increased its expenditures by 4.5 percent, to $6.9 million. Las Virgenes, according to Bley’s review of the data, had a budget surplus of $20,000 in that time period.
Bley, who is a teacher at Brentwood School, wasn’t immediately available to speak with the Mirror. However, his campaign manager, Jean Cedillos, said that Bley outlines his points in two Huffington Post articles. Follow the Money to 1651 16th Street was published Oct. 18 while the other, Coveting Our Neighbor’s Asset Management, was posted on Oct. 25.
In an interview with the Mirror immediately after the State of Our Schools presentation on Oct. 25, Mechur said the Las Virgenes and Santa Monica-Malibu are within 100 students of each other population-wise but “are very different” otherwise. He pointed out that Santa Monica-Malibu is 40 percent minority compared to Las Virgenes 15 percent minority population [Editor’s note: In his State of Our School presentation, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Superintendent Tim Cuneo emphasized that the district must work towards the closure of the test score-measured achievement gap found between Black and Hispanic students and their Asian and White peers].
Budgeting and accounting systems used by Las Virgenes are likely different from those at Santa Monica-Malibu altogether, Mechur said. “They are being encoded differently,” he said, adding that he has emailed Las Virgenes’ chief financial officer to find out, for instance, that ‘library services’ are categorized under ‘media services.’
Mechur conceded that Santa Monica-Malibu spends more than $20 million more per year than Las Virgenes, for which “we thank the good graces of our community, parcel tax and the city,” he said. “The administration budget as percentage of our total budget is within one percent” of Las Virgenes’, Mechur said. “We have 86 more teachers than they do and our number of students per teacher is 20.1 as opposed to 24.3.”
Incumbent school board member Oscar de la Torre, who is also seeking reelection Nov. 2, told the Mirror that comparing Las Virgenes to to Santa Monica-Malibu is akin to comparing “apples and oranges,” citing the demographic and financial differences that Mechur pointed out.
“Obviously it is [politically motivated],” de la Torre said of Bley’s accusations.