The Hermosa Beach City Council and School Board came together on Jan. 23 to discuss the state of the city and the school system. The purpose of the meeting was to help keep each public body abreast of local issues and navigate the upcoming year.
Board member Jack Burns led the school portion of the evening. He underlined the issues the school district is facing with increased enrollment.
“Money makes the school work,” Burns said. “You can see that test scores verses dollars per student, California is at the very bottom nationally… We’ve got a long track record of lagging the nation when it comes to funding the schools… despite that, we’ve bucked the trend and gone the other way in Hermosa. Our test scores are going up and we’re at the top five percent of all school districts in the state despite the shortfall. Even the revenue we get is less than some schools in the state and we still manage to do well.”
He said that to handle the economic downturn the school district has logged many hours analyzing every possible avenue to save money by doing things differently. They have streamlined operations by combining positions and bargained with the local unions. The passage of Proposition 30 eliminated the need for furlough days to keep a balanced budget.
“We’ve scrutinized all our expenses,” said Burns. “We left no stone unturned… We’ve found ways to save a tremendous amount of money, just in $1,000 increments here and there, but boy does it pay off.”
Over the past few years, Burns said that despite the economy, enrollment in Hermosa Beach has been steadily growing. Since June 2002, enrollment has increased by 302 students.
“We’re in a weak economy, why would that happen?” Burns asked. “Perhaps people pull their kid from private schools and go to public schools, or move to Hermosa to enroll in better schools. Lots of localized transfers came locally.”
To cater to the increased campus enrollment at View and Valley, the board wants to be proactive and analyze their last remaining asset: the 6-acre oddly configured North school. Their options are to remodel or rebuild, or acquired additional land or exchange land within the city for a more cohesive parcel. In the prospective new school, the district would have many options, including a for-fee preschool, a school for proactive special education, a school for adult education or even commercial applications.
“We need to have an open dialogue,” said Burns. “We need some planning.”
Councilmember Michael DiVirgilio commended the school board on their foresight and planning.
“This seems to be an incredibly unexplored opportunity however it turns out,” said DiVirgilio. “Finding out what could be done, not how hard it would be to do something.”
Burns emphasized that they want to take action on the planning sooner than later, and that past school and city officials saw the usage problem and the configuration of North school as too big of a project to tackle.
“We are a school district with new leadership and vision, and community perspective will be part of our process,” said Burns.
The board hopes to begin the decision-making process immediately.
“We have some tough decisions to make,” said School Board Member Lisa Claypoole. “But we’re obviously going to need space at some point.”