• Name: Nimish Patel
• Age: 41
• Occupation: Small business owner, JD/MBA/CPA
• Marital status/children: Married with two children in our public schools
• Your neighborhood? How long have you lived there?: Montana Neighborhood/six years
• Own or rent? Own
• Public school or private? Public schools
• Do you believe the district should cut in half the number of permit students admitted each year? Should permit students be required to maintain a certain GPA to remain in Santa Monica-Malibu schools? Should there be a zero tolerance policy for permit students when it comes to fighting or other acts of violence?
For each permit student that attends our schools, Sacramento gives $5,500 to our district. We have 1,200 permit students which represent $6.6 million in annual funding by the state. Just on financial reasons alone, we cannot afford to lose a significant portion of our permit students at this juncture. Equally important, we must show compassion to our existing permit students, some of whom have been in our district for many years and have built strong friendships with their peers, teachers and our community.
Allowing permit students to attend our world class schools should be a privilege that comes with responsibilities. They should be required to maintain a minimum GPA and be good citizens in our community. Assuming a fair hearing and adequate due process is afforded, any permit student charged with a serious act of violence should have the permit revoked and expelled from our district.
• Should teacher evaluations be made public?
I do not believe student test scores alone should be the sole measurement of a teacher’s effectiveness in a classroom. It is but one factor among many factors that must be evaluated over a relevant period of time. An evaluation that consists of multiple factors should be available to the public. The sole purpose of transparency is to improve our children’s quality of education.
• Given state funding insecurity and the failure of a recent parcel tax, what should be done to increase local funding for schools? Is a parcel tax the right approach? What other ways would you recommend to raise revenue for the district? Will you look to City Hall for more funding?
I believe a parcel tax is the preferable method to raise local funds for our public schools because the district controls the money and it’s a more stable and reliable form of funding. However, the 2/3 supermajority required for a school district parcel tax is a very difficult threshold to overcome. Because of the recent failure of Measure A, I am in support of measures Y and YY; it will provide an immediate and meaningful amount of revenue to our school district and only requires simple majority to pass.
I serve on our district’s Financial Oversight Committee and for the past several years we have recommended to the school board that they implement certain revenue enhancements. For example, we have recommended community-wide fundraising and the employment of a development officer for grant writing and alumni outreach; naming rights and responsible and age appropriate advertising on school buildings; and leasing of underutilized school facilities during non-school hours. Based on what other school districts have done, it is estimated that our district can generate $3 to $5 million in additional annual revenue.
If the ideas above are implemented, the school district will not need to look to City Hall for more funding.
• How much homework is too much for a student in middle school and high school?
Homework should not be about quantity, but rather about quality and effectiveness. We need our children to become critical thinkers not to simply regurgitate answers to questions.
• The district requires PTAs and other fundraising groups at individual school sites to contribute a certain percentage to an equity fund, which is then distributed to schools in poorer neighborhoods where parents do not raise as much money on their own. Do you believe this policy should continue? What percentage do you think is fair?
I support the current policy of having the individual school PTA’s contribute 15 percent into the district Equity Fund. It is a natural parent instinct to prefer to donate to the school where their children attend. Dramatically changing the percentage would lead to a decrease in overall contribution which will have far worse consequences to the district as a whole.
However, we need to also think bigger than just our school PTA parents. Currently only 20 percent of the residents in our community have children in our school district. The other 80 percent may not have children in the school system, but there is clearly a community benefit in having good schools such as lower crime rates and higher property values. Targeting this untapped 80 percent for contribution into our Equity Fund will allow the district to allocate greater resources to less affluent schools.
• What do you think is the appropriate class size for elementary, middle, and high school students?
Research shows that class size ratio of 20 students to 1 teacher especially for grades K-3 provides for an appropriate teaching environment that is conducive to learning. Our district has a ratio of 23 to 1 for the K-3 grades and significantly higher for grades 4 through 12. The board needs to make it a top priority to reduce the class size ratios.
• What role should the district play in ensuring there is more affordable, workforce housing for teachers/staff?
Santa Monica and Malibu are wonderful cities, but unfortunately our teachers cannot afford to live in our community because of the high cost of housing. This sometimes becomes a barrier in attracting and retaining the best teachers. Our district should develop a long-term plan to work collaboratively with City Hall and Santa Monica College. As our economy improves, we can provide affordable housing to the workforce that is critical to our community’s future.
• In remodeling campuses, what should be the top priority?
The top priority for remodeling our campuses is to make the schools safer for our children and teachers.
• How do you propose closing the achievement gap?
To narrow and eliminate the achievement gap, it must be addressed at preschool and K-3 grade levels where research shows we can have the most impact. We need to implement more effective intervention and remedial programs that are properly funded. We also need to find ways to increase parental involvement. Research and common sense tells us that students do better when parents participate in their education. We need to leverage technology so parents can connect and monitor the progress of their children weekly and not at the end of the school year when it’s too late.
• How can Santa Monica-Malibu remain competitive with private schools such as Crossroads, St. Monicas, Wildwood, New Roads, etc..?
We have some of the best public schools in California and our music program is the best in the country. In some respect, it is the private schools that must compete with us. However, there is still much we can do such as lowering our class size ratios and offering unique education programs. We are also fortunate to have Santa Monica College within our district boundaries. Allowing our students to take college-like courses during high school will give them a competitive edge when they graduate to college.
• What qualities make you a good candidate for school board?
As a business owner, I have hands on experience operating with limited resources, making tough decisions, and finding unique solutions. I built my business from the ground up for the past 10 years. I have been through the ups and downs of the economy but I have always provided the vision and strong leadership that was needed to weather any storm.
I have two young children in our school district; a constant reminder why great schools are critical to our future. Our school district is facing its worst financial crisis in its history. I have degrees in accounting, business, and law and will proactively and creatively work to protect and preserve our great public schools.
• Administrator and teachers salaries are among the highest in the state, How will you keep these and other personnel costs under control?
Other than parents, teachers play the most vital role in the development and education of our children. We want to attract the best and most qualified teachers to our district so that they can teach our children to be critical thinkers and global citizens. The administrators play a secondary role and therefore we must constantly justify their position and scrutinize their cost.
Las Virgenes Unified School District which has approximately the same number of students as our district, has an administrator to pupil ratio of 1 to 678. Our school district has a ratio of 1 to 199 (the data is for the school year 2008-2009). Why does our school district have so many administrators compared to the number of students? There may be a good explanation, but it’s a question I will seek an answer to if I am on the school board.
• What will you do about teachers’ union president, Harry Keiley’s “No show” job that costs the district a minimum $55,000 per year?
I think during this fiscal crisis every non-classroom expenditure should be on the table for reduction or elimination.
• If elected, what would you change about the food that is fed to our students?
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in our country. We need to make sure our children are being educated about eating healthy and our district is promoting healthy diets. I would like to see our district make better choices that affect our young kids. On the other hand, I am pleased that we work with our local Farmers’ Market to serve fresh organic salads and vegetables.