• Name: Karen Farrer
• Age: 55
• Occupation: Community volunteer
• Neighborhood in which you live: Point Dume
• Own or rent: Own
• Marital status/kids: Married 29 years/three children.
• If you have children, do they attend local public schools? If yes, which ones?
My two older children attended Malibu schools. My youngest daughter is currently in seventh grade at Malibu High School.
• Education: Where did you attend and what degrees do you have? UCLA, B.A. in sociology
• Why are you running for the school board and what do you want to accomplish if elected?
I do not have political aspirations beyond the improvement of the Santa Monica and Malibu schools. If elected, I would work to pass a motion to “unify” the Malibu schools as quickly as possible. By doing so, we could increase our collective revenues allowing us to hire 20 new teachers in Santa Monica and 10 in Malibu. Lowering class size is a primary goal of mine and of the reform slate. Each community should be able to give its students the best education possible.
• What do you believe is the role the school board should play?
The school board needs to admit that it is rife with insider relationships throughout Santa Monica and serves its Santa Monica constituents to the constant detriment of Malibu.
• What was your favorite subject in grade school and why?
English and American literature. I am intrigued by the interpretation and articulation of the human experience.
• Prop. 30, Prop. 38, or neither?
Both. We must work to improve all of our public schools and public services.
• Everyone’s a critic, especially a parent when it comes to their child’s cafeteria. How would you rate the food served in Santa Monica-Malibu public schools?
Not as good as it could or should be.
• What’s your position on chocolate milk? The school board heard from parents who wanted it banned because of the sugar. The board decided to leave it on the menu and give parents the option of having their kids opt out. How did you vote (incumbents) or how would you have voted if on the dais?
I believe it should be removed, but the fact that our school board spent as much time as it did on this matter is indicative of its misguided priorities.
• What is the right amount of homework for students in middle school and high school?
I believe in appropriate reinforcement and relevant assignments. I do not believe in throwing the entire family out of orbit with too many hours of homework.
• If elected, what would you do to close the achievement gap? Does it come down to something as simple as more tutoring and after-school help, or something more significant, such as new, culturally-relevant curriculum?
The biggest gap I see is in what parents expect from their kids. Our schools need to do everything possible to help parents understand what is expected and provide the resources to motivate and help students to succeed.
• Where do you stand on inter-district permits? How many should Santa Monica-Malibu Unified issue each year?
I am in favor of inter-district permitting to level local enrollment fluctuations. There has been a problem of transparency at the district level with regard to site-by-site permits.
• Some residents in both Santa Monica and Malibu have called for the break-up of the school district. Would you or would you not support such an effort if elected and why?
I strongly believe Malibu should separate. The economic advantage for both cities has been acknowledged by the SMMUSD CFO Jan Maez. Aside from that, most of us in Malibu are really tired of our stepchild status.
Travel, exercise, reading, attending live performing arts events.
• What are you reading?
“The Social Animal,” by David Brooks.
• If you could ride the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier with three people in history, who would they be and what would you want to talk about?
Benjamin Franklin for many reasons, among them his opinions and advice regarding education and colonial unity. Phoebe Apperson Hearst and Alice McLellan Birney, the founders of the Parent Teacher Association. I would love for them to see the progress of their seminal work and ask their advice on further advancement in the parent-school relationship. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo. I think he would be amazed to see California today and I would like him to know that his name has an honored place here, including at one of our Malibu elementary schools.
• What will you do to ensure that our public schools are safe?
Malibu has a history of natural disasters and resultant lack of access — wildfires, mudslides and road closures. It has no hospital, only a part-time urgent care clinic. Pacific Coast Highway is our only major transportation artery and when it closes or backs up severely, emergency personnel are delayed. The safety issues in Santa Monica are different, but both communities would benefit from increased participation with other civic organizations.
• How can schools cut down on the amount of drop-off, pick-up traffic? What would you do to cut down on car trips to and from our schools?
We need more carpooling and more district buses in Malibu. Biking and walking are not options for most Malibu students. The distances are often too great and the canyons and PCH are too dangerous.
• What’s the right way to address the parking problems at Samohi?
Carpooling, biking, walking and staggered start times.
• What are your plans to help make the school district more sustainable?
The district needs to stop being penny-wise and pound-foolish. The Point Dume School solar panel project is a perfect example of how not to handle things. What could have been a comprehensive alternative power source model was watered down to the point of being almost meaningless — not to mention delayed — by many years by our then-superintendent and administration.
• Should the school board place another parcel tax on the ballot in 2014 if statewide tax measures fail to pass in November? If they fail, district officials are predicting cuts in the millions. What’s the best way to deal with the potential deficit?
Again, bifurcating our district along city lines would bring much needed revenue to both sides. The placement of any future parcel tax measures must include all stakeholders, unlike the process which just took place in the decision to put Measure ES on the November ballot.
• Districtwide fundraising is not without controversy. What are your thoughts on the decision to move to districtwide fundraising? Do you support the model or feel there’s one better?
I was, and am, against districtwide fundraising. Many of us in both Santa Monica and Malibu advised against it in numerous Board of Education meetings but it became evident that the board’s and the superintendent’s decision was predetermined. I later served on the Superintendent’s Advisory Group and my opinions — and those of many others in both Santa Monica and Malibu — were ignored. Furthermore, it was exasperating to hear the paid consultants give point-by-point the recommendations that many of us had stated repeatedly for free. The plan cannot commence until and unless the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation finds alternative funding.
• What is the appropriate level of discipline for a student who is caught: bullying; with drugs or alcohol on campus; selling drugs; fighting; cheating; or vandalizing school property?
I do not believe in one strike and you’re out. Even a model student may make a mistake and I would work to draft policy to help students learn from mistakes, make reparations if necessary and continue to move forward.
• What role do you envision playing on the school board?
I would serve to make student achievement the primary goal.
• How would you address concerns that there are racial and or gang tensions at Santa Monica High School?
Community involvement is the only way to address this concern: Greater parental involvement, increased education of parents and guardians and the ability of children to have a sense of hopefulness about their future and themselves. Bringing peer-to-peer programs to Samohi along with increased efforts by the board to encourage site-based councils that can help direct this type of activity. There is no better group than the school’s parents to assist in finding a solution to this vexing problem.
• What are some things the school board could do to get the business community engaged in fundraising as well as working directly with students?
Again, I believe our schools would be better served if separated. Community identity is key to both Santa Monica and Malibu, especially in the business community. Only then would each entity have the necessary motivation to partner with local schools. Certainly in the area of naming rights this would make a significant difference.
• If elected, would you vote to close smaller schools and consolidate to save money?
Absolutely not. Savings can be found in the bloated bureaucracy at 1651 16th St. SMMUSD spends double in administrative costs what some similar-size districts in our area do, such as Oak Park Unified School District in the Conejo County.