• Name: Ralph Mechur
• Age: 60
• Occupation: Architect
• Marital status/children: Divorced/3 grown children, all Santa Monica High School graduates
• Your neighborhood? How long have you lived there?: Ocean Park from 1973 to 1980; Sunset Park from 1980 to 2010; North of Wilshire from 2010 to the present.
• Own or rent? Both
• Public school or private?: Both; public school through eighth grade and high school in a “Goodbye Mr.Chips” setting.
• 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?
The number of permit students has been reduced from over 2,700 in 2004 to less than 1,500 this year due to the district’s Permit Policy restricting new permits to specific grades and categories, such as children of employees of the district, City Hall and Santa Monica College, and their siblings. Permit students are required to remain in good academic standing or their permits can be revoked. This year approximately 1 percent of permits were not renewed due to non-compliance. Permit students are subject to the same regulations as other students regarding violence. We have a progressive discipline policy depending on the infraction.
• Should teacher evaluations be made public?
Teacher evaluations should be used to understand the effectiveness of classroom material and instruction and lead to informative dialogue with principals and in-service assistance. Teacher evaluations should consist of a series of tools, including observations of the classroom environment, teaching technique and student success. This is not information that should be shared with the public.
• 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?
Our public schools need consistent reliable funding to allow the district to sustain and grow existing programs, attract and maintain excellent teachers and to address students who are not achieving at satisfactory levels. The state is now funding public education at the 2004-05 level and California has gone from top 10 in the 1970s to the bottom three the last few years. We have squeezed administration and support staff and have had to increase class sizes. Measures Y and YY will provide a steady stream of revenue. It is an excellent idea that uses the capacity of the community to support a key component of our democratic society — public education.
Annual fundraising within the community is also necessary, particularly to provide services that have disappeared over the years.
• How much homework is too much for a student in middle school and high school?
The district’s homework policy is that students should have the grade level times 10 plus 10 minutes, so seventh graders should have 80 minutes and eighth graders 90 minutes for all classes combined. Homework should reinforce classroom work.
Our high schools are required to have a Homework Plan, so that each night students can finish their homework in a reasonable time. Obviously, students taking honors and AP courses will have additional assignments to cover the curriculum.
Too much homework can affect students’ health and well-being when they consistently have insufficient sleep and inadequate physical activity. Principals need to monitor compliance with the Homework Policy.
• 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?
The Equity Fund contributions are distributed to all schools on a weighted-student formula. Each school’s governance team allocates the funds through their Single Plan for Achievement to intervention programs best suited for that school. The policy is important because it allows schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to better address lower achieving student needs. The issue of fundraising will be addressed later this year by the PTA, Education Foundation and superintendent, working with a facilitator. Any changes to the policy should come out of this effort.
• What do you think is the appropriate class size for elementary, middle, and high school students?
It would be great if we could reduce our K-3 classes back to 20:1, fourth and fifth grades to 25:1, the middle schools to 27:1 and high school to 30:1. Even these are higher than in many parts of the U.S., but we have shown that at these levels we provide an education that prepares our students for the top colleges and universities.
• What role should the district play in ensuring there is more affordable, workforce housing for teachers/staff?
The district should look at its land resources and assess if there are sites that can be used for workforce housing. We should be working with City Hall to determine the desire of key personnel — police, fire, teachers, nurses — to live in Santa Monica and together develop a project. Nonprofit and for-profit housing developers have worked with cities and school districts elsewhere in California to accomplish this.
• In remodeling campuses, what should be the top priority?
Our campuses need to provide a secure environment with well-lit and naturally-ventilated classrooms based on sustainable principles. Health and safety of students and employees are paramount. Classrooms should be flexible to accommodate new technology as it is developed and provide for community-use during non-school hours.
• How do you propose closing the achievement gap?
We need to develop early intervention programs that provide our students with the math and literacy skills to achieve at grade level or above. We need to help our students gain confidence in their ability to be successful.
• How can Santa Monica-Malibu remain competitive with private schools such as Crossroads, St. Monicas, Wildwood, New Roads, etc.?
Our public schools have been competitive with local private schools. Our students have similar course offerings and our graduates go to the same four-year colleges. To remain competitive we need to maintain programs and staff. We can only do that with a reliable financial base. We cannot cut our way out of the current financial crisis. We need to pass measures Y and YY to ensure our public schools can remain competitive.
• What qualities make you a good candidate for school board?
I have experience, am responsive and reliable and absolutely believe in public education. I have co-chaired parcel tax and capital bond measure campaigns, helped develop the relationship with the City Hall resulting in its almost $8 million annual support and, as a board member, worked to bring stability back to the district.
• Administrator and teacher salaries are among the highest in the state. How will you keep these and other personnel costs under control?
Our salaries are in the top quartile in L.A. County, which is among the most expensive areas to live in the state. To remain competitive and attract and maintain the best teachers and administrators, we need to provide appropriate compensation packages.
• What will you do about teachers’ union president, Harry Keiley’s “No show” job that costs the district a minimum $55,000 per year?
People do business from everywhere these days. If his constituents support him and he is appropriately communicating with district administration he is doing his job. He is also on the STRS Board and they pay the district up to two days per week when he is doing their business.
We may be one of a few districts that provide the salary for our bargaining unit presidents but that doesn’t make it wrong. It should be a sign that we recognize their leadership and welcome them as a partner in providing an excellent education with access and opportunity for all our students.
• If elected, what would you change about the food that is fed to our students?
My preference would be to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in the daily meals of our students from regional resources. We need to be cognizant of nutritional requirements as we move away from the food industry components that harm produce and the environment.