Dear Editor – School Subjects & Community Concerns

Dear Editor – 

It’s understandable that Culver City Unified School District’s separation with Superintendent Quoc Tran has generated lots of public opinion with little public information. Our deep concern about the education of our kids and expectations of government transparency cannot be fully satisfied while protecting the confidentiality of personnel decisions. It’s for this reason that the hiring and firing of key employees are among the core duties of our elected officials.

We vote for these moments, trusting that those we’ve elected will exercise informed discretion consistent with the values and vision that they professed in their campaigns. So, while strong opinions are totally understandable, I don’t have one despite the gravity of the decision. I do, however, have larger concerns about the handling of this change in direction.

One of the few areas of broad consensus of late has been that our school facilities are in desperate need of investment. The challenge, unfortunately, isn’t building model learning centers of tomorrow. Culver City campuses need to repair or replace the basics—things like plumbing, electrical, structural, and life safety systems. That means a school bond, and that means an election.

Passing a school bond should be an easy win. First, good schools increase land values citywide, to the benefit of our most reliable voters and our city’s politically assertive real estate interests. School bonds also only need 55% approval to pass. Additionally, our community has generally been supportive of revenue measures. And we still retain a loose consensus that something must be done about our deteriorating schools.

Unfortunately, local bond measures will face some significant headwinds in 2024. Most importantly, there are already up to $80 billion in statewide bonds vying for space on the November 2024 ballot addressing important priorities like homelessness and mental health. Of this, only about $26 billion is likely to be presented to voters, but we’re going to be asked to approve significant new borrowing at interest rates that we haven’t seen in a long time.

Second, the City Council is considering a substantial parks bond, and has already locked in $300,000 of spending just to study the feasibility of park improvements. Parks could be an easy winner too. The juxtaposition of $4 million homes and 70 year old park facilities could itself win a campaign. But the city council is not proposing to invest in all of our parks. They intend instead to improve just two parks, possibly with the bulk of the money being dedicated to a second pool. This plan has been developed without community input or outreach, a needs assessment, or an updated parks master plan, and, most damningly, without coordination with the schools. (The fact that the parks slated for improvement happen to be located a stone’s throw from land owned by some council members and their political benefactors could all by itself sink the council’s plan.) A park bond conceived like this simply is not well-positioned to garner the required two-thirds support, and its failure could easily drag down any effort to fund our schools. When confronted with significant new spending and even a little controversy, voters tend to say no to everything.

The final challenge brings us back to the district’s separation with Superintendent Tran. Since COVID, education controversies have been fraying public support for schools in communities across the nation. We are not immune, and we cannot blindly trust that Culver City’s historical willingness to financially support our own school district will continue. The choice to shoulder the cost and uncertainty of hiring a new superintendent suggests a coming change in direction from where the district was headed during the last election. If the district intends to pass a facilities bond in 2024, it can improve its chances by communicating very clearly and with one voice the details of this course adjustment and the vision of the intended destination.

Physical infrastructure is of course different from the district’s policy approach to teaching kids, but that difference is immaterial to most voters. Reminding the community of both the guiding values and specific plans for nurturing our youth will reassure voters that the district will make good on an investment in the places where public education happens. I urge the School Board to engage the community in its superintendent search and draw a clear map of the path ahead.

Alex Fisch

The Actors' Gang