From 10/21/09 issue
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
Q. Why do you want to run for another term on the MUSD board?
David Smith: I believe we all have a responsibility to be involved with the community. I’m fortunate to have support from home, and to have the kind of job that gives me the flexibility to be involved.
I feel that I have something to offer. It’s been a very good experience so far.
Q. Since January, how many MUSD board meetings have you attended?
Smith: I’ve been to every one. I’m taking some evening courses to finish my college degree. Even when my evening courses conflicted with my school board responsibilities, I was dutiful, and took care of my school board responsibilities.
Q. The state budget is still very unstable. In case further cuts are necessary, what programs would you reduce or eliminate?
Smith: That’s hard to say. When we have to make specific cuts, we try to involve the community and different stakeholders. We end up with a priority list, and do what we’ve got to do to make the budget work.
Fortunately, we’ve been able to hire back many of the people who got lay-off notices.
We looked at several contracts we have, where we out-sourced for our services, to if we can reduce expenses by handling it in-house. We saved about $35,000 to $40,000 a year by taking back our own Special Ed transportation program.
Q. Do you have any other ideas for raising money or improving the finances of the school district?
Smith: One item that has to do with finances is enrollment. A lot of people choose to send their children to school elsewhere, and that’s a concern.
We also have a good number of people who choose to come here, whether it’s for the immersion program or a variety of other reasons.
We should try to make our schools as attractive as possible, with different enrichment programs.
Q. Did you support the idea of making Morris a full language immersion school? How do you feel it is working out?
Smith: That was a very difficult issue. Initially they recommended that we reconfigure by grade level so there would be a mixture of immersion classes and traditional classes at both school sites. That generated a lot of strong emotion. So we decided to make Morris just be the immersion program, and bring all the [other] kids to Dow’s Prairie. I felt that was a worthy compromise.
About 75 students were significantly impacted; they were attending Morris School and were then switched to Dow’s Prairie. For some of them, it was a difficult transition, but for the most part, the kids were accepted and have been integrated into the group. It’s gone very smoothly.
Q. Do you believe that the Citizens Oversight Committee should meet more than once a year, or have any more authority than it already does?
Smith: I feel confident that the system the way it’s set up will work efficiently. The committee is functioning within its realm and within its authority.
Q. What would you do to improve staff morale?
Smith: Is there a problem with staff morale? It’s important that everybody feel that their opinions are looked at and that their contribution is important. When our financial and employment situation is more secure, as this budget situation gets dealt with at the state level, and people see that down the road compensation and benefits can keep pace with inflation, that will help.
Q. Parents sometimes transfer their children in other districts, to take advantage of what they perceive as better educational opportunities. What would you do to improve education for McKinleyville’s gifted children?
Smith: That’s one of the things we’re trying to look at as a board: what are different enrichment programs that we can offer? The problem is always funding.
The site committees and PTO’s have a lot of latitude to think outside the box, and on a local level to be able to implement programs and come up with funding ideas for them. As a board, we encourage that greatly, and support it as much as we can.
Of the 40 people who have transferred into our district from other districts, about 30% of them said on the application that they were coming here specifically for the language immersion program.
Q. In the past two years, what decisions of the board have you agreed with? Which have you disagreed with, and why?
Smith: Once a decision is made and once a vote is passed, it is important that the board as a whole support it. During the public comment period, if I’m opposed to something I’ll talk about it, but once the decision is made, that’s the will of the board, whether it passes five to zero, or three to two.
One policy I supported was keeping a 10% level of funding in our reserve account, even though state law requires that we only have a 3% reserve. Over the years, as a board, we’ve stuck to our guns about keeping 10% in reserve.
Within the last year, we had to make a transfer out of our reserves in order to cover payroll costs. If we did not have that 10% reserve, we would not have been able to meet those needs.
Q. What is your occupation?
Smith: I own an insurance agency.
Q. How long have you lived in McKinleyville?
Smith: Since 1989. Just over 20 years.
Q. If re-elected, what changes, if any, would you try to make?
Smith: We need to take a hard look at the different programs that we outsource, and see if there are things we can handle in-house that would net us savings.
Parents should be able to go on to a website and get information about how their child is doing. There should be a seamless, instantaneous way for parents to get that feedback.