About 6,500 students attend the district across its eight schools, according to state data, and has a five-member Board of Education that determines the public agency’s policies.
Board members Bill Fournell and Karen Komatinsky will see their terms expire this year, but are not running for re-election. Rather, Komatinsky is running to get on the board of the Beach Cities Health District.
So that leaves the two seats up for grabs among the four candidates: Jason Boxer, an early childhood educator; Mike Brunick, a longtime Manhattan Beach resident; Cathey Graves, an MBUSD volunteer for years; and Heather de Roos, a parent to a student in the district.
One of the biggest issues the district faces — like most others this year — is when and how to safely return students to campus amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But the district also has some looming financial problems. Over the summer, the Board of Education approved a nearly $84 million budget for the current fiscal year, which began July 1 and ends June 30. And while the district expects a modest surplus this year, it is looking at increasingly large deficits in coming years, according to a budget report.
The top-two finishers will get on the school board.
Here’s a bit about each candidate:
Boxer, 27, has lived in his hometown of Manhattan Beach for most of his life, and attended Pacific Elementary, Manhattan Beach Middle School and Mira Costa High School.
Boxer, an early childhood educator, said he is running for school board because “our community is dissatisfied with the lack of contrasting voices among school leadership.
“Our school board has traditionally been comprised of committed and able parent volunteers with fundraising backgrounds,” Boxer added. “But this leaves us without a necessary voice: that of a professional educator.”
The district’s biggest issue, Boxer said, is a recurring budget crisis.
“The first action I will take if elected,” Boxer said, “will be to encourage my fellow board members to organize a zero-based budgeting exercise in partnership with our community.”
Zero-based budgeting is a policy requiring all expenses to be justified each year.
“MBUSD needs an advocate,” Boxer said, “a board member that drives our district toward long-term cures, a representative working in harmony with the commendable efforts of our local education foundations.”
Brunick, 43, is a 17-year resident who said he would approach being on the board by valuing accountability, innovation and revenue.
He also noted the district’s budget problems.
“We have to address our funding challenge by focusing on what we can directly control first,” Brunick said.
Brunick, also on the board of directors for the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, said he will listen to the greater school community and will balance perspectives, opinions, options and outcomes — and act on what he learns from that.
A renewed focus on improving communication and collaboration in the district community is necessary, Brunick said.
“Our communication must get clearer, more frequent and be used to bring us together so we can work collectively to advance our schools,” Brunick said. “Accountability is a critical component to achieving success, and the task of learning is never complete.”
Graves, 62, has been a volunteer leader with MBUSD for 17 of her 20 years living in the city
During that time, she said, Graves has developed a “heartfelt commitment to our schools and the children of our community.”
Graves, an accountant and attorney, has four children who went through the Manhattan Beach education system, with her youngest now a senior at Mira Costa.
Graves’s focus, she said, is “safely returning our students to school with solutions for both the short and long-term.”
She said she would look for creative solutions to facilitate safe in-person classes.
New safety protocols for getting students back in class, Graves added, may only add to budget concerns.
“As a school board trustee,” Graves said, “I will continue to push for education funding on the state and national levels, work closely with the District Financial Advisory Committee to look for areas to save costs and explore more consistent revenue streams.”
Heather de Roos
De Roos, 48, has lived in Manhattan Beach for 16 years and has an eighth grade son at Manhattan Beach Middle School.
A continued lack of funding and rising costs are the district’s biggest challenges, de Roos said.
“I will collaborate with my fellow board members, the MBUSD teachers and staff and our community,” she said, “to find ways to raise revenue and control costs.”
She said she will bring multi-faceted approach to raising revenue.
If elected, she said, de Roos would work to increase enrollment — which leads to more state funding — extend the Manhattan Beach parcel tax that currently ends in 2024, identify alternate funding sources and support the Education Foundation’s fundraising efforts.
“I have a passion for making Manhattan Beach schools the best they can be,” de Roos said. “Being your representative on the Manhattan Beach school board would allow me the opportunity to do more of this important work on a bigger scale.”
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