Your school board candidates
Thursday, October 27, 2011 12:33 PM PDT
School board candidates are Dr. Dianna Chooljian, from left, Erin LaMonte,
and Larry Vanden Bos.
Residents living within the boundaries of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified
School District will choose two new Board of Education members on Nov. 8. Three
candidates, one of which is an incumbent, have actively hit the neighborhoods
seeking support. The News had four questions for each of the candidates; below
are their responses.
Dr. Dianna Chooljian
The News: Of all the entities on the Peninsula, the school district has the
largest budget and is the most dependent on the state for its funding. The
state’s finances are a mess. How will you lead the district through these tough
economic times and are you prepared to make tough decisions?
will lead the district through these tough economic times with “new energy and a
new vision.” I will look for means to increase revenues in our district through
grant proposals, corporate alliances and bridging better communication with our
residents. In addition to increasing our revenue, I will look with a “critical
eye” at each budget line item to assure that every dollar is being spent wisely.
Funds should be prioritized for our children and teachers in the classroom. I
believe we need to work better together, especially in these difficult economic
times. I will look for ways to consolidate our resources at every district level
from preschool through high school to prepare our children for a more
competitive and global world.
As a physician, I have made tough and
difficult decisions my entire career in making important diagnoses. As a retired
U.S. Army lieutenant colonel in charge of department budgets and well versed in
organizational dynamics and hierarchies, I have made challenging choices that
had far-reaching consequences. As a medical educator of medical interns,
residents and fellows, I have made selective decisions \[regarding\] health-care
education and the delivery of health care. In summary, I am very comfortable and
well versed in making difficult decisions and prioritizing those
The News: Each of the candidates has gone on record
“wholeheartedly” supporting Measure M. The loss of the parcel tax would be
terrible, but is the talk about potentially closing a school if it fails an
exaggeration? Is local funding that important to the school
Chooljian: Local funding is absolutely critical in our school
district due to PVPUSD being a “low-wealth” district based on the 1970s court
case of Serrano vs. Priest, which decided the average base revenue limit of our
district at $5,778.95. Our school district’s budget is comprised of
approximately 80 percent from state revenues, 6 percent from federal revenues,
and 14 percent from local revenue. Our state has already withheld approximately
$25 million in the last few years and adopted a continued “flat line budgeting”
approach that make our dependence on our local revenues even more critical. We
need Measure M to pass to provide $7.2 million directly to the students in our
community. We are fortunate that we have the PEF, which has pledged another $2.7
million to our schools this year. These local efforts to finance our schools are
imperative to strengthening our children’s education and growth especially in
times of our state’s economic crisis.
All budget line items need to be
examined. While closure of a school is a possibility in this economic crisis, I
would look at alternative means to reduce expenditures in our budget before
resorting to such drastic cost-saving measures. For instance, there is a $9.7
million line item in the school budget for “consulting fees and other” that is
not transparent to me. What do these costs include? A significant portion of
this item is due to attorney’s fees but the amount is unclear. While legal fees
are a part of any business, I believe that much of these costs may have been
averted and better anticipated with improved proactive communication with the
school board and our residential community.
The News: The divisive nature
of issues, such as the PVPUSD vs. PVHA, stadium lights and bleachers, has
created some rift between the school district and the community. If elected, how
do you plan to rebuild relationships and trust?
Chooljian: When elected,
I would rebuild relationships and trust with our residential community in
1) create liaisons with our school board members and respective
city leaders in all four cities;
2) hold monthly meetings with these
respective members to discuss current issues and better anticipate contentious
3) conduct town hall meetings with residents in the respective cities
with parties on both sides of contentious issues before they become a closed
session item or are placed on the agenda for an upcoming meeting;
more meetings at a time of day that is conducive to increased attendance and
participation within our community;
5) have, as much as possible, fewer items
discussed in closed session and more in the open session;
6) provide better
summaries of the discussions from the closed session items;
7) inform the
audience if a closed session is prolonged and an approximate time for the start
of the open session;
8) facilitate live televised broadcasts with Cox
9) make meeting agenda available to residents in ways other than the
Internet, i.e., in the local newspaper or a mailed newsletter; and
respectful to our audience members who have come to voice their opinions by
placing them earlier on the agenda especially for those who work the following
day. This is respectful to the needs and schedules of our residents,
administrators, educators and students who have elected us to serve them.
News: Once elected, what’s your first priority?
Chooljian: Once elected,
my first priority will be to scrutinize the budget line by line to eliminate
unnecessary waste and prioritize funds to our children and teachers in the
classroom. I can bring the energy and vision needed to think creatively,
optimize our resources so that every dollar is spent effectively toward our
children’s advancement. The school board needs to regain and earn the trust of
our residential community. I believe that open discussions regarding
scrutinizing our budget, actively seeking grants, collaborating with our
corporate community, forming liaisons with our city leaders, and proactively
meeting with these city leaders will all bring about the change that is needed
on our school board.
husband and I retired from the military, we settled in Palos Verdes because of
the excellent schools and education in our district. Our two children attended
the schools in our district, were both student representatives to the school
board, and now attend Ivy League schools.
I had the opportunity to attend
the school board meetings with my children during the past couple of years and
observe the board proceedings, discussions and protocols. I learned a great deal
from this process and realized that I had much to give back to education and our
community of which our family has been the beneficiary.
As a former
military physician currently in private practice, I have been a student and
educator my entire career. I have always made education a top priority and have
been active in PTSA in several premier school districts in our nation.
top three goals include: 1) ensuring strong fiscal management and accountability
in a challenging fiscal environment by scrutinizing each budget line item and
eliminating unnecessary waste; 2) strengthening our educational excellence and
best practices at all district levels; and 3) bridging better proactive
communication and relations with our student and residential
When elected, I pledge to serve you as an independent advocate
for educational excellence and improved communication with all of our
Occupation: Assistant to high school
The News: Of all the entities on the Peninsula, the
school district has the largest budget and is the most dependent on the state
for its funding. The state’s finances are a mess. How will you lead the district
through these tough economic times and are you prepared to make tough
LaMonte: Our public school system is a victim of the state of
California’s budget disaster. Eighty-five percent of our budget comes directly
from the state and approximately 87 percent of the district’s budget goes to
employee costs. Electing individuals who have the understanding and background
to enable them to make financial and budgetary decisions is the most important
factor to consider when marking your ballot. My business degree and professional
experience, coupled with my knowledge of the school district operations, make me
extremely qualified to lead the district. For the last eight years I have
represented you, the taxpayer, on the Citizen’s Oversight Committee assuring
proper expenditures of our locally raised monies for our school system. As
current president of a local homeowner association and past president of
multiple organizations, I know how to lead with strength, civility and
effectiveness. Experience in business and the school environment is what is
needed on our local Board of Education.
The News: Each of the candidates
has gone on record “wholeheartedly” supporting Measure M. The loss of the parcel
tax would be terrible, but is the talk about potentially closing a school if it
fails an exaggeration? Is local funding that important to the school
LaMonte: There has been no talk of “closing a school” as far as
I have heard. Student enrollment determines how many classrooms and desks are
needed and we are currently overall flat with a small decline in several
elementary level grades. Under normal circumstances, decisions regarding school
opening or closing would be based solely on enrollment. However, in these trying
economic times, and especially if Measure M does not pass, all options for
cutting costs must be on the table.
I support the decision that the residents
of this community should be able to vote to better control decisions on a local
basis. The school children of Palos Verdes are at the financial whim of the
state and by allowing the educated and informed voters of the Peninsula to
determine local funding through vehicles such as the parcel tax, through which
all of the monies remain in our district, we maintain the reputation and
standing of our school district. I believe voters should have the right to make
this decision, especially since the high quality of our schools keeps property
values high. Approximately 15 percent of the district’s budget comes from local
funding, which includes donations to PEF, donations to local schools and the
Measure P and V funds. Having served on the oversight committee, I can tell you
with absolute certainty that these local funds help maintain programs such as
our engineering, technology and college prep courses, which differentiate our
students when they compete for college acceptances.
The News: The
divisive nature of issues, such as the PVPUSD vs. PVHA, stadium lights and
bleachers, has created some rift between the school district and the community.
If elected, how do you plan to rebuild relationships and trust?
There have been a handful of issues that have garnered the headlines in the
local newspapers this past year. Living in a closely knit, caring community such
as ours, no one likes to experience divisive issues. The truth is that because
we are a dedicated and committed community, we can and do experience differences
of opinions. As an elected Board of Education member, the process that we follow
to engage, inform and involve our stakeholders would be of utmost importance to
me. I have experience as a volunteer leading the PVP Council of PTAs, as a
member of the Citizen’s Oversight Committee, as an employee and as a community
volunteer working with all stakeholders. While conflicting topics do arise and
never will everyone be pleased with all outcomes, community members should
continue to express their opinions and must be heard by elected officials.
Public meetings on topics of community interest should be held, notice of public
meetings should be well publicized, such as via email, and decisions should be
clearly explained. Finally, the school district must remember that our schools
are part of our local communities and we should always strive to be good
The News: Once elected, what’s your first
LaMonte: A large portion of my professional experience
consisted of consulting large corporations regarding organizational change. We
have remarkable resources in our staff, parents and community. These resources
can and should be tapped to help improve an already great school system. Since
budgets are tight, let’s use this talent to help implement best education
practices throughout the district while creating strategic plans for our
facilities and finances.
I am a
product of these schools having graduated in the 1970s. Furthermore, my husband,
Gary, and I opted to raise our family here. For the last 15 years, I have
committed to our schools in leadership roles, as a volunteer, employee and
parent. From serving on the Oversight Committee, serving as PTA president for
multiple years and sites, to serving on numerous districtwide committees, my
emphasis has been on serving all the children and families throughout the Palos
Verdes Peninsula. Asking the public to elect me on Nov. 8 to serve the community
by guiding our unified school district is the natural extension of my longtime
service to this community. This background, coupled with my business and
financial experience, qualifies me uniquely for this position. My knowledge of
the financial constraints our district faces and my proven leadership skills
will be an asset to the board as we face challenging times ahead.
Larry Vanden Bos
Occupation: CEO of a food
The News: Of all the entities on the
Peninsula, the school district has the largest budget and is the most dependent
on the state for its funding. The state’s finances are a mess. How will you lead
the district through these tough economic times and are you prepared to make
Vanden Bos: The current PVPUSD 2011-12 budget assumes
$71 million in current state funding. This level is about $7 million less than
when I was first elected to the board and it may be decreased by up to a further
$3 million in January. During this same period our student population has
remained about the same. Nonetheless, we have educated our students at the same
high level with lower per pupil funding each year. Despite these challenges, we
have been able to maintain a dwindling but still prudent reserve for economic
uncertainty, and no educational programs have been eliminated.
with all of our stakeholders, PVPUSD has been able to remain solvent through the
generosity of the community (“Save Our Teachers,” Measure V and increasing PEF
donations), the sacrifice of our staff (increased class sizes, unpaid furlough
days, reduced administrative staff), one-time federal jobs monies and the
reduction of all possible expenditures (utilities, supplies, et cetera). In
addition, we have eliminated many district positions and reorganized district
staff. I will continue to work with all of these parties in the most
constructive, collaborative way possible to achieve the best possible balance of
all of the interests of each group, even when these interests do not always
align. With any compromise, however, I will always to keep two guiding
principles in mind — that the board is the steward of the community’s money and
that the primary job of the district is to educate students.
Each of the candidates has gone on record “wholeheartedly” supporting Measure M.
The loss of the parcel tax would be terrible, but is the talk about potentially
closing a school if it fails an exaggeration? Is local funding that important to
the school district?
Vanden Bos: The PVPUSD 2011-12 budget includes $88
million in total revenue, of which Measures P and V (which Measure M would
replace) provide roughly $7 million. As I stated above, the district has been
able to maintain a prudent reserve for economic uncertainty and no programs have
been eliminated despite continuing decreases in state funding.
delicate balancing act, however, will evaporate without parcel tax funding. The
district’s reserves would be reduced below the legally required minimum in less
than one year without significant and ongoing cost reductions. Since employee
costs comprise almost 82 percent of the district’s budget, every employee group
would have to be slashed in order to generate needed savings.
has the fourth lowest administrative overhead per student of the 47 unified
districts in Los Angeles County, so unless school sites are combined to save
costs, the bulk of the cuts would necessarily have to come from the classroom.
Class sizes would have to dramatically increase and many of our most enriching
programs would have to be eliminated. The district will be fundamentally altered
in a way that our community would not recognize.
The News: The divisive
nature of issues, such as the PVPUSD vs. PVHA, stadium lights and bleachers, has
created some rift between the school district and the community. If re-elected,
how do you plan to rebuild relationships and trust?
Vanden Bos: The
board, as the policy-making body for the district, must spearhead the effort to
achieve better communication with the community in order to avoid and/or better
manage issues that affect the community. We should re-examine our own
communications policies and goals (keeping in mind the constraints of the Brown
Act) and we should examine some of the existing board policies affecting issues
such as capital campaigns and school construction projects. We should see what
measures that we can take beyond those legally necessary and already in place to
better inform our constituents of a pending project or upcoming issue.
policy-setting body, we should also encourage active and open communication
between the board, the district administration, site administrations and the
community. One step we have already taken is the “Superintendent’s Update” sent
to every school family. It is impossible for the board to know everything going
on within the district and the community at all times, but it is our
responsibility to ensure that there is an open and honest dialog within the
district, and between the district and the community. This can only be
accomplished when the board leads by its own example.
The News: Once
re-elected, what’s your first priority?
Vanden Bos: My first priority —
and that of the board — has to be to establish a financial framework for the
future years. By law, every PVPUSD budget must be balanced, and we must submit a
budget to the L.A. County Office of Education for two years into the future.
State funding wreaks havoc on those plans, even during the current academic
year. My colleagues have told me they look to me for guidance on those fiscal
matters, and I hope to continue to bring my business and finance background to
these very tough economic and budgetary issues. Beyond that, I plan to continue
to explore ways to leverage taxpayer funds in our ongoing facilities
construction program. I also plan to re-evaluate our policies that impact
relations with our community and other stakeholders, to ensure that all
viewpoints are heard and respected before a decision is
I grew up on the Peninsula.
In fact, I live in the house in which I was raised. My three children graduated
from PVPUSD, as did I. My education prepared me for the life I lead, and I feel
privileged to be able to give back by serving on the school board. I have had
impact already, I believe, on improving relations among the board and district,
and on ongoing district projects. For example, I helped leverage existing bond
funding for construction from Measures R and S into more classrooms than
originally planned at both large high schools. We are fortunate to have such a
great school system, and two great comprehensive high schools that offer
students the same quality education. Our district, and our community, is best
served when we all work together toward the goal of providing our children the
best education we can to prepare them for life beyond high school. With the
voters’ approval, I hope to continue to serve that