First published in the Oct. 20 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The 2022 General Election is only weeks away and on the ballot for La Cañada Flintridge residents will have a say in who will be on the Governing Board of the La Cañada Unified School District.
Four candidates, two of whom are seeking reelection, are vying for three open seats: Debra Barsom, Octavia Thuss, incumbent Dan Jeffries and incumbent Joe Radabaugh.
With Los Angeles County mailing ballots earlier this month, most if not all residents can already vote.
LCF voters can submit the ballots sent via mail with no postage necessary or can drop them off at the official county ballot drop box located in front of the La Cañada Flintridge Library. Residents will have an opportunity to submit their ballots in person. City Hall will serve a flex vote center on Monday, Oct. 31, from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and the LCUSD office on Cornishon Avenue will be an official voting center for four consecutive days from Nov. 5-8. LCF residents can vote in person at the district office Nov. 5-7 from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., and from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on Election Day.
The Outlook Valley Sun asked each candidate to provide an introduction and answer three pressing questions surrounding issues that have been discussed at school board meetings this year.
Barsom: I’m a mom of three, a wife and an attorney. I practice employment law, helping businesses and employees find common ground. I’ve served on LCE’s PTA Board, as chair of LCPC’s Parent Education Program, and as president of Kidspace’s Circle of Friends. Now, I want to serve all LCUSD families:
• I will listen and be a strong advocate for all parents;
• I’m vested for the long term, as my youngest is LCHS Class of 2034;
• I will be a voice for elementary families, an under-represented group on the board;
• I’m committed to improved district communication, transparency and fiscal accountability.
Jeffries: It has been an honor and a privilege to serve nine years on the LCUSD School Board. I am seeking reelection to continue the progress that we have made. I am proud of my track record and my dedication: nine years on your School Board, over 35 years of experience as a prosecutor, and over 25 years with AYSO Region 13 as a coach, referee, board member and Safety Director. I have met many wonderful families in La Cañada, and my civic engagement has been deeply rewarding. Thank you for allowing me to give back to our community as a member of our school board.
Radabaugh: Joe Radabaugh here, and I am excited to be running for reelection to the LCUSD Board! It has been the honor of a lifetime serving our community in this role, and I’m more committed than ever in ensuring our amazing schools and beloved community continue to thrive.
I’m incredibly proud of all that we’ve accomplished the last four plus years (e.g., strong academic achievements, new safety and security measures, visible bond progress, new Wellness Center, etc.), but am just as proud of our leadership during challenging times (e.g., COVID, Devil’s Gate, fiscal challenges, etc.).
I’m ready to put my judgment, skills and experience back to work for our kids.
Thuss: I am a resident of La Cañada Flintridge with my husband, Charles, since 2010, and an experienced educator who is running for LCUSD School Board. I am the only candidate with K-12 experience as a former teacher. I am the mother to three children, who have attended or are attending LCUSD schools. I have firsthand knowledge of LCUSD from TK to high school graduation, particularly with regard to the complexity of our 7th-12th grade programs.
I believe in collaboration in planning and problem solving using data, facts and input from all community members. I appreciate the extraordinary strengths of LCUSD schools and the cooperation between schools, parents and the community with the shared goal of meeting the needs of all students. Through my proven experience and dedication, I am confident that I will make an effective member of the LCUSD Governing Board.
Q: How do you plan to address the rising cost of construction and the growing needs for renovations at each LCUSD school during your term?
Barsom: I think it’s safe to say that we want the best for our LCUSD students, including the best facilities for their use. I am concerned, however, about cost overruns in the construction and modernization projects within our district, funded mostly by $149 million in Measure LCF bond funds. Simply put, our dollars are not going as far as originally intended. Cost overruns force the district to make design trade-offs in construction projects and drop items from our Facilities Master Plan (or FMP), which was developed five years ago and is currently being updated and revised. For example, at a recent FMP Workshop, focused just on projects at La Cañada High School, the Program Manager identified approximately $91 million in unfunded projects not covered by Measure LCF funds, $40 million of which were unknown or unanticipated when the FMP was created. Again, we’re talking about $91 million in unfunded projects just at the high school!
Undoubtedly, supply chain shortages and rising construction costs factor into the cost overruns. We all see this in our own lives. But design changes and unanticipated projects are also to blame. We’re currently discussing making $17 million in seismic upgrades at LCHS and the need to replace/rehab HVAC equipment because a refrigerant is used that was banned more than a decade ago. These projects and issues should have been provided for long ago. My concern is that these issues will continue with future projects, leaving even more needed repairs and projects off our future wish list. We should review why projects were either unanticipated or continue to exceed original estimates, and we need to act on the results of that review. Now.
The district will have to go back to taxpayers in the near future to ask for another bond. The board has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of La Cañada to spend its money prudently. We need to understand why projects are exceeding estimates, explore new funding sources, and make management and plan adjustments. Let’s learn from the past, be agile, and make improvements for the future.
Jeffries: It is crucial to approach the construction needs of our schools with a thoughtful and fiscally prudent approach. In 2016, I led the board’s top-to-bottom review of all of the district’s physical facilities and infrastructure to allow for efficient allocation of resources over the short and long term. This was an intense effort by the full governing board and district leadership, with tremendous community involvement, and it will serve as a guide to the board’s efforts over the next 10-15 years.
We determined that the best way to implement the Facilities Master Plan was to use a two-phase approach, prioritizing those projects that had an immediate need. Doing so allowed us to ask our community to support the issuance of new bonds without raising taxes.
Measure LCF projects include the beautiful and recently completed state-of-the-art, two-story classroom building at Palm Crest; the soon-to-be-completed South Campus Improvement Project at the high school, with a new aquatic and water polo facility center, lunch areas, and an amphitheater/basketball court; and a new classroom building at Paradise Canyon Elementary School about to break ground.
Knowing that all the identified projects could not be completed with the initial bond measure, I plan to convene a group of residents to determine if there is support for another bond measure to complete the items identified in the Facilities Master Plan.
Radabaugh: Escalating construction costs are a huge challenge that won’t be going away soon, and we are addressing it with strong leadership and a sustained sense of urgency to maximize our purchasing power.
From day one after the bond was approved, the board and staff have aggressively managed available funds to combat escalating costs by executing with speed, as evidenced by $40 million in completed projects (e.g., New Palm Crest building, LCHS cafeteria, band room, and varsity softball field improvements, New PCY lunch shelter, LCE playground improvements, new perimeter fencing at all elementary sites, district-wide technology upgrades, and more) as well as another $79 million in other projects currently underway or in advanced planning phases (new LCHS pool, new LCHS JV baseball field, new College and Career Center, new Paradise Canyon building, and more).
However, given escalating costs continue to erode our purchasing power in combination with new unforeseen critical needs (e.g., HVAC systems, utility upgrades, seismic retrofitting, etc.), the board and staff are currently in a proactive process to reassess and reprioritize $30-plus million in remaining funds. That means some tough decisions must be made to ensure the most critical needs of our various sites are covered and that budget contingencies are set at the right levels for financial protections.
New needs will certainly continue to surface, and I suspect that at some point, the district and community will need to explore a future bond so that La Cañada can continue to sustain great schools.
Thuss: We must look at the best long-term use of the money available. We must consider our options, prioritize needs with remaining bond dollars and identify the projects that will meet the widest programmatic needs. These are collaborative efforts and don’t come easily. Each site lists priorities and there will be difficult decisions that delay a favored project.
Decisions must be made with deliberation and in a thorough manner with the help of our bond partners. Seeking matching grants and consideration of a future bond are also ways of funding current projects and those not able to be completed this round. Our community has been incredibly generous in supporting the need for this current bond and I wish to thank them for their support. My sons have benefited directly from these projects, and I am grateful for our community’s willingness to invest in our current and future students.
Q: After much discourse between LCUSD and the community, the district continues to roll out its diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. What are your thoughts on the process so far, and what would you like to see in the implementation of DEI?
Barsom: When I speak to La Cañada residents about the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative at the schools, I hear a familiar refrain — namely, every single person I’ve spoken with believes in Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. They, and I, understand the immense benefits of children being exposed to a diverse community of people. They, and I, remember what it was like to be a child in K-12, and how hard it can be to fit in. The program, however, has become a lightning rod in the community. I think this is due, in large part, to the initial communication about the program, which polarized our school families from the start. The program is now in its second year of implementation. The district is definitely trying to right those first missteps, but more needs to be done.
Key tenets that I believe we should keep top of mind as we find a path forward:
• We should celebrate diversity, celebrate our differences and focus on what brings us together.
• It is essential to more fully invite parents into the discussion, perhaps via town halls or meetings over coffee, similar to the coffees hosted last year.
• Let’s partner with one another, listen and engage in respectful discussions, to find a way forward that the vast majority of us can accept. This partnership includes students, teachers, parents and administrators.
• Let’s rebuild trusted relationships between parents and teachers. Transparency is key. Parents want to know what is going on in their kids’ schools. After all, parents are charged with raising their own children. We should respect those relationships.
• Similarly, let’s be cognizant of the admirable work being done by our teachers and administrators. My kids have had wonderful, dedicated teachers, some of whom are friends. Teachers are not our enemies, they’re partners.
• Let’s also consider that bullying of kids [who] may not be defined as marginalized and minority groups remains a critical issue. We need to serve kids with learning differences and remember that depression and anxiety in all children is a rising concern. I’d like to focus on this large population of kids, too.
Jeffries: The district formed the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Oversight Committee Meeting Group composed of a diverse group of community members with a wide variety of points of view represented. Under the leadership of committee chair Hugo Tzec, this group has begun the important process of initial civil dialogue and discourse to identify common terms, definitions and goals. I have been very impressed with the work of the committee and the high level of discussion held so far, and I have great hope that this committee will continue to make significant progress.
The ultimate goal in implementation is to promote and sustain positive school cultures where all students and staff feel welcome, safe, supported and included on campus to enable a world-class education.
Radabaugh: The community spoke … we listened.
In hindsight, we misstepped by not securing more upfront community input before we started, which certainly fueled some of the discourse. Since then, we slowed down and have worked so hard to course-correct, seeking deeper/more balanced community input, refining our objectives and definitions, developing a plan that is a better fit for the circumstances and values of La Cañada, and ensuring visible long-term oversight by parents, staff and students.
We landed on the primary objectives of our efforts being to better prepare our kids for life in a diverse world and that they demonstrate empathy for others along the way. We’re now in year two of our three-year diversity plan, and I’m pleased that things have settled down and that we’re moving along. I’m extremely grateful for the high level of community collaboration that has been invested along the way.
In terms of what I’d like to see in the implementation of the plan … besides implementing the actions already called for, I’m hoping folks will stay engaged and keep an open mind. Ultimately, my hope is that we won’t need a separate stand-alone focus on DEI, and that the principles simply integrate into who we are day to day.
We’ve come a long way in terms of coming together, healing the divisiveness, and building back trust.
More to do, for sure.
Thuss: The process has been challenging. The district has received the support of the community while considering, with great sensitivity, the voices of those less enthusiastic. While speaking to potential voters, DEI remains a focus for many, and the vast majority are supportive of the work.
I am particularly interested in the measurability of the plan. We must work to determine how students, families, and staff are feeling about the work intended to be done. What has improved? What remains to be addressed? I am also interested in learning more about the long-term program beyond the three-year plan. Building an inclusive community of schools takes a serious commitment — a long-term commitment.
As parent of three children who have been in our schools, the plan must focus on earliest implementation intended to mitigate bullying. We must continue to emphasize the value of acceptance of others not just tolerance when addressing bullying on our campuses. The playground can be a brutal experience and DEI can address that. Start young, build trust, build inclusion and you have a healthier school community. With a well thought out DEI plan, students engage in learning, school staff works more responsively, and parents participate. These are the cornerstone of a healthy school district. This is why La Cañada Unified is so special.
Q: What are your objectives when it comes to school safety and traffic at school sites?
Barsom: As Angelenos, we are hyper-aware of safety and traffic issues. Here in La Cañada, traffic issues around our schools and in our drop-off and pick-up lines are a persistent problem, and sadly, it’s getting worse. Increased parking for our high school drivers this year is helpful, but only a solution to one of many issues.
School safety is, without a doubt, on the minds of parents and students in these times. Years ago, the district hired Chameleon Associates to conduct an audit of our schools. They’ve analyzed our campuses and conducted specific training of our teachers and staff members. We need to continue being vigilant. Likewise, the district partners with the city, via a Joint Use Commission, where they discuss issues like traffic. This is good work.
Let’s also consider the following ideas:
General School Safety:
• Continue training our staff members to be cognizant of warning signs and conduct regular audits and check-ins with Chameleon Associates.
• Consider age-appropriate training for our students. Let’s teach, not frighten. Studies show that constant messaging to kids about school shooters can contribute to increased student anxiety and lower academic performance.
• Continue partnering with the Sheriff’s Department, improve communication systems, and ensure our school resource officer has the tools needed to respond.
• Contract an outside traffic expert to conduct a comprehensive audit of all 5 schools during peak times, then take those results back to the City to implement suggested solutions.
• We need more eyes and assistance at drop-off and pick-up.
• Contract with more crossing guards to manage car lines, and reevaluate placement of current guards (particularly at late bird times);
• Our administrators are busy, but when they oversee drop-off and pick-up, drivers behave better;
• Seek more community and parent volunteers. Let’s approach service organizations in our city that are dedicated to kids and schools.
• Station Sheriff’s cars at problem points to encourage improved driving behavior;
• Encourage carpooling, walking, biking and use of the free city bus. Work with the city to get more buses, so they’ll be less crowded, and kids won’t dash across busy streets to catch them.
Jeffries: As a career prosecutor who worked my way through college and law school as an ambulance emergency medical technician and as a bodyguard, safety has always been one of my highest priorities.
Working with our security consultants at Chameleon Associates, we have reviewed security and safety at each of our schools and have provided staff training and age-appropriate student training. We have completed fencing at the elementary schools and have implemented a visitor ID and management system at all of our campuses. This new visitor management system allows for positive identification of visitors and notifications to the teacher or staff member being visited. The new visitor identification system and our new cameras at each school allow for proactive monitoring and are designed to incorporate AI features to secure our campuses day and night.
At La Cañada High School, the number of entrances has been significantly reduced, allowing for better monitoring of the campus by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy assigned to the campus and by campus security personnel. Upon completion of the South Campus improvement project, we will be able to further reduce the number of access points at the high school.
If reelected, I will continue to work closely with our city partners to improve traffic around the school sites. I led a district committee that worked with city staff to examine the traffic and pedestrian safety around Paradise Canyon Elementary school, resulting in a number of significant improvements, including a sidewalk to allow safe access to school via Gould Avenue. We will next turn our focus to working with city staff to improve traffic conditions at the other schools. The city of La Cañada provides law enforcement, traffic enforcement and crossing guards to our schools, and we have asked the city through the Joint Use Committee to increase police presence and traffic enforcement around our schools with the goal of reducing traffic and improving pedestrian safety.
Radabaugh: First off, my No. 1 priority on the board has always been the safety and security of our students and staff.
If our kids and staff can’t come to school feeling safe, it impacts everything else we hope to do.
During my first year on the board, the Parkland tragedy occurred. It was a wake-up call for us all. If that type of devasting event could happen in an affluent community like Parkland, then there is a real possibility it could happen here in La Cañada. We mobilized to create a LCUSD Safety and Security Taskforce, comprised of parents, board members, staff, first responders and external consultants, charged with creating a roadmap to significantly strengthen our safety and security efforts. We quickly realized that enhancing safety and security would be a multi-faceted/multi-year effort and would take investment in such areas as campus security, student wellness and traffic. The outcome of the taskforce was a robust plan, that continues to be our guiding roadmap today.
If reelected, my safety and security objectives would stay laser focused in these areas:
- Improving Campus Security:
• Improve our ability to deter and detect (via advanced cameras, visitor mgmt. system, fencing, etc.)
• Continually assess our campus’ security readiness (via retaining our security consultant for periodic audits and best practice sharing)
• Be prepared for emergencies (via recurring emergency training and leveraging our new communication tools)
- Focusing on Student Wellness:
• Ensure we can identify and provide services to those in need (via our Tip Line, Peer Support Classes, and Wellness Center)
• Help students de-stress while also creating a culture of belongingness (via thriving extracurriculars and clubs)
• Drive more awareness on the dangers of Fentanyl and other drugs. (via focused education efforts)
• Help kids deal with the pressures of academics (via our continued partnership with Stanford’s Challenge Success program)
- Addressing Traffic Conditions (flow and safety):
• Collaborate closely with city on traffic optimization and mitigation opportunities (via conducting school site specific town halls, developing site plans, etc.)
• Collaborate closely with city on implementing identified traffic improvements (via prioritized investment list)
• Educate parents on behavior expectations, in and around school sites (via clear instructions on traffic flow routes, drop-off procedures, etc.)
Thuss: This topic is near and dear to me. Sending a child to school for the first time invokes an unmatched level of anxiety for many parents and caregivers. I can never forget those early years at La Cañada Elementary. Our district has taken great measures to provide for the safety of all students, though there is always room for improvement.
I have attended multiple safety presentations given by Chameleon, our district security consultants, over the years and I appreciate their call for our schools to behave proactively. This approach reduces the need for reactive measures. School sites are complex, and we must continue to consider ways of building a community of trust.
In addition, we should consider improving volunteer credentials beyond a TB test. Fingerprinting, background checks and mandated reporter training could elevate our safety measures. As an adult leader in a local Scouts troop I have benefitted from trainings from both California’s mandated reporter training as well as the internal Boy Scouts of America Youth Protection Training.
Traffic at our school sites requires enforcement. It would be wonderful to see increased enforcement of driving violations and illegal parking. We should continue to work with the city to figure out if there is additional need for crossing guards and Sheriff’s patrols at each site. Cooperation and collaboration between schools, PTA volunteers, and the sheriffs are necessary in this effort to improve safety. Carlines are rather challenging at times and we the parents and caregivers can build safer roads through our own actions. Collaboration builds greater safety in our schools and on the streets.