Coronado Board Candidates Contemplate the Vulnerable School Budget

Left to right school board candidates Maria Simon, Dawn Ovrom and Scott Barr. Ovrom is an incumbent. Two seats are available.

If propositions 30 and 38 fail, the Coronado Unified School District faces a crisis. Both measures would raise taxes, with at least a portion of money set aside to fund schools.

Right now the district has a $3 million structural deficit, though officials have built up enough of a reserve to carry through to June 2014.

After that the trustees face tough choices – firing teachers, closing school sites, increasing class sizes or limiting instructional days.

At a candidate forum sponsored by the Association of Coronado Teachers (ACT) Tuesday, the three school board candidates facing off Nov. 6 talked about the budget and what they would do if one or both initiatives on the same ballot fail.

There were no easy answers. 

“I don’t know what we are going to do, but I do know that we are going to do it together,” said incumbent trustee Dawn Ovrom, who is running for a second term. “We have a great relationship with teachers,” Ovrom added. “We have the ability to collaborate and communicate.”

Candidate Scott Barr agreed: What is done next will, he said, be “a collective decision” of the board. He also pointed out that the number one responsibility of a school board is “the fiscal health of the district.”

Maria Simon stressed the strength of the community. “People will figure out how to get money,” she said. “The [Coronado] Schools Foundation and this community won’t let school doors close.”

If that support doesn’t materialize, the candidates discussed what they would do should they win one of the two seats up for grabs next month.

Everyone rejected the idea of layoffs. “You can’t have a school without a staff,” Simon said. “We have to protect the staff.”

Indeed, in the past three years of shrinking revenues the district has not laid off one teacher, Ovrom pointed out, though they were asked to accept furlough days. None of the candidates left pay cuts off the table.

Increasing class size was one area that candidates were willing to consider.

“California has always had large class sizes compared to most states and we have fared well despite that,” Barr said, though he stressed that it was important to have small classes at lower grade levels, especially through third grade.

Ovrom and Simon agreed, with Simon suggesting that at the high school level class size should be subject-dependent. 

All valued what public schools in Coronado offer. Simon and Barr moved to Coronado because of the schools, they said.

Simon said her family could have lived in a larger house if they stayed in San Diego, but would have had to send their children to private schools to get the same quality of education that Coronado public schools offer.

“We have something special here,” Ovrom said, vowing to protect the “integrity of what we’ve got going.”

The candidates also touted their experience as a reason why they are qualified for the board.

Simon was the executive director of the San Diego Museum Council. She has spent the past 10 years volunteering in the district in various leadership roles, including serving as president of Parents and Teachers Together (PATT).

Barr is president of Coronado SAFE, which sponsors anti-drug and other education programs for students and parents. He has worked in education for 29 years and served two terms on the Alpine Union School District Governing Board.

Ovrom is an attorney who has served on the board for the past four years. All three have children in Coronado schools.

Some 50 people attended the forum at Granzer Hall at Coronado Middle School. ACT President Laura Noonan moderated.