Culver City School Board Candidate Vernon Taylor, Jr. to focus on ‘Fiscal Responsibility, Equity’ in Schools
By Shirley Hawkins
On November 5th, Culver City residents will vote for three school board members, and 15-year Culver City resident Vernon Taylor, Jr. is among the candidates vying for a seat. Passionate and committed, Taylor, a banking executive who has spent over a decade volunteering in Culver City schools, has twice served on the Culver City school site council. The former boy scout leader and father of three sons has attracted a lengthy roster of public and civic endorsements, including the Culver City teacher’s union and the classified employees union. Former L.A. City Controller Rick Tuttle, vice president of the school board Patricia Siever, former board president Saundra Davis and Congressional Rep. Karen Bass (D-Culver City) are supporting Taylor in his bid. The Los Angeles Post spoke to Taylor about his vision for Culver City Schools.
What sets Vernon Taylor, Jr. apart from the other candidates running for the school board?
I haven’t heard any other candidates talk about their community involvement and ties to the community. I would look at the diversity of expertise. I have over 25 years of experience as an executive in banking and finance. Educational programming is important, however, it is pretty much dictated to you by the state or federal agencies. For example, the new common core standards are dictated by the state. So what becomes even more important is how we pay for our education in terms of who gets what, how much, and where the money is spent so that we are raising the standards for all of our children. That’s why you need someone with a clear understanding of financial matters on the board to serve the community.
I know about finances, the location of resources, and strategic planning, and I want to focus on what the school district will look like not only for now, but also five to 10 years from now so that our district and children will have the resources they need in the future.
If elected, what would be your long term and short term goals?
The school district has $165 million dollars in deferred maintenance and capital improvements, which puts our district at risk for being able to deliver excellence in education 5, 10, 15 year from now. Some of our schools are crumbling. We’re a small school district with strengths and weaknesses. The strength is that we’re small and we should be able to deliver a personalized, high quality educational experience for all of our children. However, the weakness is when we don’t manage our finances and let our maintenance and other issues get out of control which puts our ability to deliver educational excellence to our children at risk.
It is critical that the students’ experiences are good. Students can’t study if classrooms are cold and there is no heat. If it’s 96 degrees in the classroom, you can’t focus on your schoolwork. You can’t learn if it’s raining and water is dripping on your head or if termites are flying around in the classroom because of rotten wood. I’ve heard students say, ‘Mr. Taylor, I don’t want to go to the restroom’ because the restrooms aren’t clean.’ The students wait to go home in order to use the restroom. That is because the district has experienced drastic cut backs in janitorial services.
I also want to focus on the large population of transfer students. Approximately 35 to 38 percent of the students in the Culver City school district are intra district permit students, and there seems to be a feeling that they don’t matter as much, but they have every right and expectation to get educated. It’s a situation that poses hard questions that no one on the board seems to want to address.
Do you find a lack of equity in the schools and how would you rectify that issue?
One, I do believe a lack of equity does exist in our Culver City schools. There are schools in the district that are highly performing schools and others that aren’t as high performing. The school board has a duty and an obligation to ensure that what’s working in one school should be made to work in all the other schools. It’s important to ensure that all of our children and all of our schools are receiving the same approximate amount of resources and interests so that there is equity for all.
What is your platform for improving Culver City schools?
There are three priorities. The first priority is that our schools are safe, sanitary and that there is an environment that is conducive to learning. Anything that enhances, ensures or expands educational opportunities or excellence for all of our students and schools will be the first filter through which my decisions will be funneled through. That’s important. The second priority is to enhance, expand and improve. It’s important to maintain a learning environment that is conducive to learning. Kids have to feel good about coming to school. My third priority is to be a good steward of the resources—to make sure that the district meets educational goals but is poised to achieve educational success for the people that follow. I want to pass something on for the other students so that they will have something to build upon in the future.
How would you improve conditions for Culver City teachers and classified employees?
Teachers in the Culver City school district are paid below the median average compared to teachers in other school districts. How we attract and retain great teachers to our district has to be addressed and solved. We have to find a way to get a competitive compensation level to our teachers so that we can compete for educational professionals in the marketplace. I want to utilize interest based bargaining whereby we come to the bargaining table with respect for and understanding of each other’s interests and we bargain to make sure that we are both working towards our mutual goal of achieving and providing excellence in education for all of our children in all of our schools.
I know you are passionate about arts programming and special education. How would you improve those programs in the schools?
If we could get additional funding, I would like to reboot and partner with some of the arts establishments throughout our city. I would like to see the district partner with the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Modern Art (LACMA), Loyola Marymount, or West Los Angeles College to augment and supplement arts programs.
I want to reach out to universities, the county museum of art and national arts foundations and start a program that can be integrated into our schools and provide a chance for these children to experience as well as to communicate through the arts.
You are losing that opportunity to stimulate that child’s imagination. Art is a way of communicating and a form of expression that children could tap into. Sometimes, art is the only way to reach a child that might stop him or her from dropping out of school.
I also want to tackle the issue of special education. When it comes to special education, there’s controversy among the school board. There are some board members who want to play the role of gatekeepers and hire lawyers to limit the resources the district provides for special education students. But as a school district, we have an obligation to educate all children. I know the cost of special education is a consideration, but we need to find creative ways to meet the obligations of educating these wonderful children as well. This issue is personal for me because I have a child in special education.
The Culver City schools are facing a fiscal crisis. How would you handle school finances?
We have a $57 million dollar budget. Ninety-seven percent of that budget goes to paying teachers, classified employees and management salaries, benefits, pensions as well as teacher development costs. That leaves only three percent of the budget for the students. Many of our current school board members and certain candidates have announced that the district Has a $1 million dollar surplus. However, how can you have a surplus when you have over $165 million dollars in deferred expenses and capital improvements? The last time I checked, $1.5 million dollars minus $165 million dollars is a negative number. So it is critical to have someone on the board that can not only ask the right questions, but also know when they are not hearing the right answers.
In closing, could you sum up why residents should elect you for the school board?
For one, I am passionate when it comes to providing a good education and resources to all of our children in all of our schools. I am not necessarily running against anyone, but what I am running for is the protection and enhancement of the very teacher your child is trying to be prepared for. Two, I believe I am the candidate best qualified to bring a different point of view in financial experience–to be a watchful eye over our district’s finances and budgets. Lastly, there’s an organization called the United Parents of Culver City (UPCC) who do not represent the PTA or the Culver City Education Foundation and have not been elected by a broad base of the community to represent their children or their community view at large. We need to be careful about allowing organizations with unknown agendas to take control of our school board. The UPCC, if their slate of candidates is elected, will control the Culver City school board with four of the five board seats controlled by UPCC members. I feel it is imperative to elect me to the school board to ensure that a diversity of opinion and experience is in the best interest of all of our children in all of our schools. On a last parting note, I hope that you will please vote for me this November 5th.
Vernon Taylor’s website is at www.vernonltaylor4ccusd2013.com.