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School Board Challenger: "Too Much Complacency"
Layoffs, reorganizations, programs stretched or ended, class sizes soaring.
"I know the board members care,'' Steiger says. "And they have worked hard to handle this crisis but I think we've been just taking it all too quietly. There is a complacency and a willingness to accept it rather than looking for ways to respond.''
The district has held parent information meetings on the crisis but attendance has been mixed and they were generally quiet affairs, Steiger says, focusing solely on fiscal matters when more than money challenges face the schools. "The complacency goes in too many directions," he says. ". . .We need to bring passion back to what we're doing here.''
So Steiger threw his hat into the ring, challenging two incumbents for one of the two seats up for grabs in November's election. He will face Emma Turner and Bill Baber, two long-serving board members with deep roots in the local school community.
Turner and Baber have presented themselves as representatives of the hard-working, collegial board that has kept the ship afloat in very stormy seas. Experience is key to continuing success they said in a recent interview. Steiger, who previously ran unsuccessfully for the board, has been active in Parents Association leadership roles since 2005 and has served on the district's budget study committee. He has two children in the school system and, as a single Dad, is heavily involved in their education.
As an example of board quiescence on important issues, Steiger says he believes the district is largely ignoring what is behind the growing charter school movement.
"We’re losing too many of our good students to too many charter schools,'' Steiger says. "Our sixth grade classes are measurably down. We’ can’t just blame the state for cutting off our funding, we have to look inward as well. Those charters that are succeeding, we should engage with them, see what makes them successful and see what we can replicate.''
Charters are public schools, but they operate largely independently from the local school district. Yet, for every student that leaves a La Mesa-Spring Valley school, that child's state-aid goes along to the charter school with that student, diminishing the district's revenues.
For example, more than 200 families -- many of them from La Mesa -- send their middle school-age children to a new charter located in a modest church basement on Jackson Drive. It is a largely no-frills school that features uniforms, emphasizes college preparation and generates superior test scores. College Preparatory Middle School may benefit on the test score front from attracting the kind of family that is more involved and will participate in their children's education, but Steiger says he doesn't believe the La Mesa-Spring Valley district engages enough to know what College Prep is doing and why their parents appear more satisfied -- even without access to the full range of facilities -- gyms, cafeterias, full music programs, grassy playgrounds and other elements district schools can offer.
Though College Preparatory Middle School serves many La Mesa-Spring Valley families, the school's charter was actually obtained through the Empire School District where the College Prep founders said they were encouraged to go by local school officials.
Steiger, a computer software specialist, said he has visited most schools in the district and he intends to use that familiarity and his years of volunteer efforts for the district in his campaign.
"I know it is a lot of commitment of time,'' he said. "I do believe there are a lot of great things being done in the district that need to be publicized too. We need more passion. Enthusiasm is something that can be spread.''