On the Issues

Issue One: Maintain Fiscal Responsibility and Enhance Openness

First, as to the School District budget we have today, we must find a way to live within our means and limit deficit spending as much as possible. In Benicia, we are fortunate to have an appropriate reserve. However, given our abysmal treatment at the state level and the likelihood of more of the same in the near future, there is a great temptation to spend from the reserve in order maintain, and sometimes even expand, services.

While such is a choice we can make if truly warranted, all of us in the District community must be vigilant about our expenditures and shepherd our resources carefully. In other words, we are in this together and we must face very real financial concerns together.

I am passionate in my belief that in order to accomplish that the District must have absolute transparency in our financial dealings, as well as extensive opportunity for pubic input regarding the choices we as a Board make. Only after full disclosure and opportunity for comment from all stakeholders can we make the best reasoned decisions regarding the financial decisions that will affect us all. (More: Issues - Answering Critical Questions.)

Secondly, we need to be vocal about our concerns and about the local impacts that come as a result of the choices being made at the state and federal level. In other words, we need to speak up to our state representatives at the CSBA, the legislature, and the governors’ office and make clear our desires related to budget concerns, more effectively participating in the decisions that affect our funding.

Finally, at a broader more long term level, the question of how we as a nation prioritize, or more precisely fail to prioritize, education looms large. In truth, we need a tectonic shift in how we look at education funding of all kinds if we are to continue to compete in the global market place in the years to come. Though it is obviously hard to have an impact on such a large concern at a local level, board members in particular need to be open to the larger dialogue on necessary large scale change.

Issue Two: Prepare our children for life in the 21st Century

A second critical concern is the need to properly prepare our children for life in the 21st century, in particular the need for an emphasis on training them for 21st century jobs. Historically, we have focused the vast majority of our resources on prep for a 4-year college program. The availability of a 4-year college track for every student who desires such is an important goal. In fact, I believe we have an obligation to ensure that every child who wants to go to a 4- year college is ready to do so by the time they graduate from our school system.

However, such a plan alone is not reflective of our reality. A majority of our students do not advance through 4-year schools now, instead choosing a variety of paths that involve technical training or other just as valid options. Our obligation to those who are not college bound is no less significant.

In addition because of state budget constraints, it is very likely that fewer and fewer of our students will be admitted into state college programs, at least in the near years.

As a result of all of this, we need to ensure we have programs in place that meet the needs of all students in an equitable manner. In Benicia that means continuing to emphasis and offer appropriate college track programs while expanding opportunities for technical training in such areas as computer design, building trades, etc. While in recent years, we have increased our emphasis on this area, but more is needed.

I have worked hard for and will continue to support equitable efforts for college bound and non-college bound students, especially in the areas of green tech and other green careers, which I believe will better serve them in the future.

Issue Three: Provide a nurturing, secure and healthy environment

As a Trustee, a BUSD mom, local business owner, and attorney, I believe that our most important task is to provide a nurturing, safe environment in which our children can thrive, achieve high academic goals, and grow into caring, competent adults. We can do this, even in tough times, by using all of the important factors mentioned: detailed, thoughtful planning; careful, consistent oversight; and most importantly, the remarkable commitment of everyone in Benicia to the support of our schools and students.

If financial cutbacks become necessary in your term of office, where would you make them? (Please list by priority for cutback.)

My record demonstrates that I will not make knee jerk assessments when it comes to financial choices for the District.  In our two recent sets of cuts I was careful to weigh the risks and benefits involved with each decision, and I put an enormous amount of effort into making equitable choices.  Each choice has to be carefully considered based on the best information available at the time of the cuts. Anyone who can simply spout off a list of cuts is either not being genuine or not being realistic.

As I have indicated, an open process based on shared information is the real issue in the determination of what cuts to make where.  While the final decisions are within the Board’s discretion, we need to make decisions based on collective understanding of all stakeholders and, hopefully, consensus. This is particularly true during the difficult financial times we are faced with today.
Dana Dean, Attorney at Law, candidate for Trustee, Benicia Unified School District