Now that the is open, the Culver City Unified School District Board of Education election season is officially under way. Board President Scott Zeidman discussed his vision for Culver City schools’ finances, facilities and the future in an exclusive interview with Patch.
Culver City Patch: Why should Culver City vote for you?
Scott Zeidman: Our funding has dropped about 20 percent in the last three years and our schools are doing better now than when I started.
We’ve hired the right superintendent in . We’ve hired the right principals. We’ve been able to maintain our classroom aides. I was largely responsible for the passage of Measure EE, raising $6 million for our schools.
We’ve done a lot of good. When I started on the board, we were dependent on LAUSD for . We’ve started the process of weaning that dependency to make us more fiscally sound. We’ve made a lot of good decisions and the schools are in a good position. But the work isn’t over yet.
Patch: What do you mean “the work isn’t over”?
Zeidman: We’re not done. We need to continue to push and make our schools better. All of the good that we’ve done can be undone with a number of bad decisions. We need to find ways to make our student experience better than it is today, to raise funds even when we can’t raise funds.
We still need to decrease our dependency on LAUSD. Any business that depends on one source for 15 to 20 percent for its product is destined to fail. It’s tough, but if LAUSD does pull permits, we won’t be hit as hard.
We have to take our capital improvement funds and use them. Sitting on capital improvement funds doesn’t make sense because the kids in school now won’t get the benefit for it. We can take the capital improvement funds, build something, rent it and use the revenue from that money.
Patch: Can you elaborate on the types of improvements you have in mind?
Zeidman: Let’s start with the . The building has no air conditioning, no heating and seats from 1961. The sound system is below par, and yet it’s a 1,200-seat theater on the Westside. Our students are going to get a better experience, our parents are going to get a better experience if we improve it. What about when the students aren’t using it? Can we bring in a church or temple on the weekend, rent it out and then use the money for the general fund, for things such as teacher salaries?
Patch: What are some of your goals for the district, if re-elected?
Zeidman: The fact that we’ve saved counselors and aides for three years is great, but if we lose them next year, it means nothing. We have to continue to work hard to keep those counselors and aides. We have to continue to keep an open and transparent budget process. If the public can see the budget, they can see where the money is going.
Patch: If you had it to do it all over again, would you change anything about your time on the Board of Education?
Zeidman: The first two years were a huge learning experience. I came on to the board thinking I could change the world, but I learned that things couldn’t change that quickly. If I could go back and change, I would be more patient and understand that things don’t change quickly just because I feel I am right. I have always been a leader, so it was different to be one of five. Now I understand better how it works.
Patch: How do you plan on improving relations between the labor unions and the board?
Zeidman: We need to continue the open and transparent budget process. We have to make certain that there is trust. When there are questions about where the money is, both sides have to understand where the money went. It has to be clear.
It may not seem like it, but we have improved the relationships. We brought our unions in as part of the hiring process for our superintendent. That was a fight with our search team and our attorney. I think the members appreciated that.
Patch: What is the district’s greatest need?
Zeidman: Money. We have incredible teachers and staff members. But these poor people haven’t had a raise since I have been elected. If the state would fund education like most other states do, I can imagine how great our district would be. Every time we lose a teacher or staff member to another district, it's a huge loss. Every time we have to take a furlough day, it doesn’t make sense. But yet that’s what we have to do in order to make things work because the state has decided that it won’t fund education.
Patch: What would be the most major goal that you have for the district?
Zeidman: We need to be fiscally sound and open and transparent with the budget. We have to balance the budget in a way that we don’t have massive layoffs and increased class sizes. You have to be fiscally sound, but you want to educate the kids. The school board doesn’t educate the kids; that's what our fantastic teachers do.
I want us to do our job in such a manner so that our students aren’t hurt by what our state is doing to our education system.