By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
The Peoria Unified School District Governing Board got off to a bumpy start in its process to select members of the Citizens’ Bond Advisory Committee.
The committee is charged with recommending the specifics of a school bond for district improvements, technology and new schools planned for the November 2018 election.
The board narrowly approved a proposal by board member Monica Ceja Martinez that will allow each governing board member to select two bond committee members. Additionally, the proposal allows the administration to provide three other picks — an administrator, a certified employee and a classified employee. The superintendent can add any other committee members to serve as experts on the committee.
Two of the five governing board members opposed the proposal — Kathy Knecht and David Sandoval.
The proposal stemmed from Ms. Ceja Martinez’s desire to have all schools in the district better represented in the bond election. She said committee members who recommended the 2017 bond proposal lived in the northern part of the city where funds were proposed to go to new schools to alleviate overcrowding due to population growth. About 55 percent of the failed 2016 bond funds were proposed to go those schools.
About half of the 2017 bond committee members were taken from a previous committee, Ms. Ceja Martinez said.
“The last bond committee did not represent the south,” she said.
A combination of the board and the superintendent chose the last few committees.
CFO Kenneth Hicks said there is no one way to appoint an advisory committee. To learn more about how other districts create a bond committee, Mr. Hicks, who will chair the Citizens’ Bond Advisory Committee, reached out to about 20 districts to learn about their process. He said about 15 districts responded and the majority of districts don’t use advisory bond committees for bond elections, but when they do the average size is about 14 people. Instead, most districts use staff recommendations for bonds that the governing board approves, he said of the district he researched.
In PUSD, Mr. Hicks said, bond money has always been based on data and where the greatest need is, not geography.
“We’ve never been territorial. We are going to look at everything. We don’t say, ‘let’s look at the north, south, east, and west.’ We look at everything,” Mr. Hicks said. “There is no magical group. If you have everybody on the committee from the south, that doesn’t mean they are going to ignore the North. It is going to be the data. That is what we look at. So we need to have people that are willing to be there and have an open mind.”
Leading up to the school year, the board approved a form proposed by Ms. Ceja Martinez distributed to parents and PUSD employees to gain their interest in becoming a committee member, with the goal of having a pool of new candidates to choose from. However, only 10 people have submitted forms.
Ms. Knecht said the proposed change was a “power grab” shifting representation from the community at large to the board members. Having board members choose committee members brings people onto the committee who will have a bias to think like the people who picked them.
“Members of the committee should not be hand-selected and come to the table with preconceived notions. I want them to come to the discussion and be open to the information they receive,” she said. “It is a waste of people’s time if their decision is already made. And that is what I have often heard about committees throughout my tenure. If there is a direction or a decision made before the committee is convened, then you’re just wasting people’s time. And I respect people more than that.”
Ms. Ceja Martinez disagreed.
“We cannot ignore the fact that this is a political arena and if we keep doing that, we are going to lose every time. Every time,” she said. “Educators need to get political and that is the end of the story.”
Board member Judy Doane agreed with Ms. Ceja Martinez’s proposal.
“I don’t know about Ms. Knecht, but I have not made up my mind. I don’t have preconceived notions. That is the reason for this committee,” Ms. Doane said. “I am looking for people who will look at all the information and give me the information I need. That is the purpose of the committee.”
Searching for a compromise, Superintendent Darwin Stiffler offered to bring a list of qualified candidates to the governing board for their approval, but the majority sided with Ms. Ceja Martinez’s proposal.
“We didn’t pass the last bond, but we passed many other bonds in this district for a very long time without concerns arising on how the committee was built,” Mr. Stiffler said.
In May, the governing board rejected, with a 3-2 vote, putting a $198 million bond on the November ballot to fund new schools and facility improvements. Last November, voters rejected a bond of the same amount. The predicament has left the district in a sense of urgency to fund growing needs throughout the district.
Recently PUSD placed the interest form on their website to gain a database of diverse candidates for committees.
The first use of this form came when creating the Calendar Committee, which is charged with developing and recommended school calendars to the Governing Board for approval. They recommend the school start date, end date, breaks and other important dates for the school year, and present calendars three years in advance.
Spokeswoman Danielle Airey said the district pushed the form at that time and received about 25 applications and then whittled the committee down to 15 based on geographic area, employees vs. parents, kids in elementary school vs. high school, other criteria.
Their recommendations will be on the Oct. 12 Governing Board agenda.
The district will use the interest form for the Citizens’ Bond Advisory Committee that is expected to be formed in November.
“We will share a bit about the process, expectation via outreach through all of our channels. We’ll set a deadline to respond and then attempt the process the board voted on to try to solidify the committee,” Ms. Airey said. “I expect we will see an increase in forms, but it is often difficult to get volunteers.”
Ms. Ceja Martinez said she is not worried about getting enough candidates for the committee. Now a process is in place, soliciting for new members can begin. She said she has started getting the word out.
“(The district has) not solicited for the bond committee yet. That is why the number is low. But with a district of 4,000 employees, if this is something the district values, they, as well, will be soliciting,” she said. “The most common feedback I get is: I never knew I could be part of committee. Here is a place we can close that gap.”
Join a committee
The Peoria Unified Governing Board is seeking passionate parents, district employees and community members interested in serving on the Citizens’ Bond Advisory Committee.
Meetings: About 10 times over a five-month period, beginning in November, to look at the district’s growth projections, as well as facilities and technology needs across the district. Meeting duration: About two hours eachFinal: The committee will ultimately present a recommendation to the governing board in the spring.
To serve: Visit peoriaunified.org to access interest forms in English or Spanish. Completed forms can be returned to the District Administration Center at 6330 W. Thunderbird Rd. Glendale, or be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline: Oct. 16, 2017
Final: The committee will ultimately present a recommendation to the governing board in the spring.
To serve: Visit peoriaunified.org to access interest forms in English or Spanish. Completed forms can be returned to the District Administration Center at 6330 W. Thunderbird Rd. Glendale, or be emailed to email@example.com.
Deadline: Oct. 16, 2017