Trustee defends stances on Alpine High and bond monies amid reported Grand Jury probe
By Janis Mork and Miriam Raftery
October 12, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)- Elected to the Grossmont Union High School District Board in 2008, Gary Woods, Ed.D., is a professor of psychology at Southern California Seminary who says he has been an advocate of modernizing high school campuses and bringing technology into classrooms, although he opposed bond measures that provided that funding and is staunchly against new taxes.
Other priorities include "risk students and graduation success, best practices in secondary education, business internships, character development and charter school reform."
Dr. Woods has drawn controversy for backing away from building a new high school in Alpine which was twice approved by voters in bond measures, while supporting funds for other projects. A Grand Jury investigation into the board’s handling of Alpine bond monies is reportedly underway, according to GUHSD board member Priscilla Schreiber.
In an exclusive interview with ECM, Woods adamantly defends his positions--and shares his goals for the future.
“I’m a teacher. I want to make a difference in the lives of students.,” he said when asked why he hopes to continue serving on the board. “Young people are our responsibility and legacy. As a teacher, I’m concerned about what’s happening to our education and students.”
Woods holds a doctoral of education degree in technology and learning from Alliant University. “Technology allows teachers to make learning fun and engaging,” he believes. He is currently an American government and U.S. history professor; he also instructs high school principals and college professors on best practices in teaching.
A former chair of the El Cajon Planning Commission, he also serves as executive director of EBI Leadership Development at Shadow Mountain Church equipping student leaders for higher education in training centers across the U.S. “I also teach high school principals, educators, and college professors who are earning their Doctor of Education degrees using Blackboard,” Woods said.
According to his biography, he’s passionate about at risk students and graduation success, best practices in secondary education, business internships, character development, and charter school reform among many other things.
“I’m a family man,” says Woods, who has been married for 26 years. He has a daughter, 23, who is a registered nurse, a son, 21, in college and recently welcomed his first granddaughter into the family.
He proclaims pride that on his watch, the Grossmont district is “embracing technologies and using it in every classroom…Other districts are coming to us to learn about technology.” He adds, “Our career tech education is making learning fun and engaging,” adding that students are taught based on the type of learning they’re best at (multiple intelligences and brain based learning).
In addition, he notes, “test scores are up, students participating in career education is up, and graduation rates are up.” He notes that district schools have immigrants from around the world, including Chaldeans, Asians and Africans. He looks forward to helping build the district’s future for the next 50 years or more.
Critics have faulted the board majority for spending bond funds on some items viewed as luxuries, such as swimming pools that are costly to maintain, at the same time the board majority including Woods opted against funding the new high school for Alpine. He defends that choice, however, and views modernization on the campuses as “phenomenal” citing as examples a new swimming pool at Granite Hills, updated libraries, and new science labs.
“My opponents may not know that the operating costs for swimming pools and sports fields come from the operating budgets of each campus—and do not come out of the Prop U bond,” Woods told ECM. He said those projects don’t affect building a new high school, which would require an increase of about 2,000 students to meet the trigger, according to Woods.
“Over the last four years, the Grossmont District enrolled has declined by nearly 2,000 students—this is the equivalent of losing one of our largest campus—and the decline is continuing,” he said, adding that Alpine School District also lost some 150 students in the past year. Meanwhile state funds have been cut by more than $400 per student. “Sacramento already owes the Grossmont District over $58 million that our schools will never receive.”
Asked about the Grand Jury probe, Woods stated in an e-mail to ECM’s editor, “The first I have heard of a Grand Jury concerning Alpine was in Schreiber’s article,” referring to her interview published in ECM. He said that Schreiber “has not informed the board about this,” and added, “This is not professional. That is all I know.”
(Note: Schreiber disputes Woods' statement. "When I found out by accident, I asked the Superintendent about it immediately upon his return from vacation. It's his job to inform the board, not mine,' she said. "I did tell [Board member] Dick Hoy following a bond subcommittee meeting. Later, I asked the Board if they all had been told about it and they said NO, so I told them what I knew. And by the way, that was prior to my ECM article." Hoy confirms that “That’s true, she [Schreiber] informed me that she had heard by accident.”)
Woods contends that there have been “misunderstanding” of his views on Prop U funds and building Alpine’s high school. Dr. Woods notes that he initially voted for the 12th high school in Alpine, which was initially approved on a 5-0 vote by the board. Voters had approved Prop H in 2004 and Prop U in 2008, totaling $1 billion in funds. But Woods notes, “The problem is there’s $1.5 billion needed for upgrades.”
After the district acquired property for the school, Woods shifted his position and voted to oppose moving forward to built it. He explains, “ Prop U says we can’t build a school unless we have 23,245 students. And we can’t right now. We’re losing students. The worst thing is we would have to lay off hundreds of teachers in the district to build the new school. We have to wait until we have enough students and enough funds to build the operating new school. We would have to stop modernizing campuses now for funds to go to the new school.”
Opposing candidates as well as Doug Deane, former co-chair of the East County Chamber’s Education Committee, have told ECM that they believe building the new high school would actually increase revenues for the district by bringing back students currently in charter schools—and the average daily attendance (ADA) money that they bring with them. Supervisor Dianne Jacob told the board last year that to delay the new campus would “break faith with the community of Alpine and with me,” adding, “No less than the public trust is at stake here.” Noting that the County has contributed to costs of sports fields and other projects for the district, she added that building sooner rather than later made fiscal sense due to the lowered costs of construction in the recession. Leaders of Viejas and Syucan and numerous community groups also called on the board to support the new high school.
The district’s refusal to build the high school has recently led to frustrated parents seeking unification with the Alpine United School District so that it can build a high school. If successful, the unification effort would lead to hundreds more students leaving the GUHSD.
Woods insists it all boils down to the bond language. “It was only last year, during the debate over Ronald Reagan High, when declining student enrollment became an apparent, we found out we had a short fall of $58 million from Sacramento,” he said.
The board majority including Woods had pushed to name the school after the late President Reagan, but dropped the plan amid contention over bias by the naming committee and objections from community members including tribal leaders who pointed out Reagan’s negative record on Native American issues. Deane and other sources have suggested the board majority opted to oppose the high school out of spite after the Reagan name was rejected.
But Woods offers another explanation. “A number of us realized we couldn’t go forward, especially when we realized the trigger of 23, 245 students would not be met in the foreseeable future,” he explained. “It’s not that we don’t want to build a school. It’s that, as trustees, we are legally prohibited from it based on the language of Prop U.”
He praised the superintendent as “supportive” of the district and also praised staff, principals, and teachers of the district’s 22,000 students. As for his relationships with fellow board members, he noted that “three members are teachers. Dick Hoy has taught history for years and is now retired. Bob Shields teaches middle school, overseeing middle school teachers. Jim Kelly knows about insurance and cutting costs, real estate, salaries. Four of us work together to promote education, technology, academic rigor, and to offer programs,” he said, pointedly omitting board member Priscilla Schreiber, his most vocal critic and political opponent, though both are Republicans.
“We need to restore the spirit of cooperation and collaboration to the board. It’s the consensus of the board that guides the district,” he said.
Asked to name the biggest challenges facing the district, he cited the “$58 million short fall of education funds from Sacramento. They are using the money to build a bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It’s for political kickbacks in Sacramento that’s causing us pain in San Diego. We are no longer able to fully fund 11 campuses. We can’t start a 12th one.”
A related problem is a “dramatic decline in student enrollment. Since 2008, we have lost 2000 students, the equivalent of one entire school,” said Woods. “ As a result, Sacramento will be slashing our budget, which means we will lose millions of dollars next year and the year after. Sacramento has also asked to cut the school year by two weeks. That’s bad; students won’t be learning as much.
Despite severe state budget cuts to the district, Woods adamantly opposes both education funding initiatives on the November ballot, Propositions 30 and 38.
“I support the restoring of educational funding, but it needs to come from funds the state has already collected” he insists. “Last year, the state collected more taxes than ever before in history. The problem is not that we’re under taxed; the problem is the government is overspending and the government wastes. Education must once again become a priority. The government always cuts education, police and firefighters. Then, they ask the taxpayers to pay higher taxes to make up for the shortfall that politicians have created.”
How can the district provide the best possible education to the greatest number of students when Sacramento is taking money away? “There’s no easy answer,” Woods acknowledges. “We have to put what’s best for students, parents and taxpayers first. We ignore special interest groups.”
Another major controversy has been the process by which the district redrew district boundaries. The board violated its own policy for parent notification, failing initially to notify parents of middle school parents. The board also ignored the recommendation of its committee on boundaries, opting to assume no new high school would be built in Alpine when redrawing the district’s lines.
“It’s important that all schools become more equitable in the number of students that are in them, so each school can offer a diversity of programs. At the same time, the board must protect the right parents to select the school that is closest to their homes.” To address that conflict, ultimately the board gave parents of incoming freshmen a choice to stay within the old boundary or choose the new boundary, providing an option between the closest school or one further away that may have better programs.”It had nothing to do with Alpine,” Woods maintains, adding that Alpine won’t need new boundaries until it’s built.
“Grossmont must continue on its path of preparing students for the future. That means 21st century technologies,” he said when asked his goals for the future. “We have to modernize all our campuses. This is my passion. The good news is that technology is increasing and test scores are increasing.”
He wants to continue on the path to prepare students for college by having academic rigor and high standards, as well as character development (like teaching ‘perseverance’) and 21st century learning skills
Dr. Woods also believes career tech education should be provided. “Not everyone wants to go to college.” El Capitan recently added barns as part of its agricultural program for students who want to be farmers, hoe notes, while another high school has a welding program. “ Student involvement is up tremendously in the last four years.”
He also wants to “find ways to rehire teachers that have been forced to get laid off due to budget cuts in the last four years. It hurts learning and causes students to drop out.” He did not provide details on where he would find funds to rehire teachers, however.
Woods is endorsed by two fellow board members, Jim Kelley and Robert Shields. Other endorsements include the conservative business group, the Lincoln Club, as well as Republican elected officials including Assemblyman Brian Jones, El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis, El Cajon Councilmembers Bob McClellan, Tony Ambrose, Gary Kendricks and Bill Wells. He was also recently awarded the Public Servant award for July 2012 by State Senator Joel Anderson.
He summed up his candidacy and the key challenges ahead this way. “I’m committed to ‘no new taxes’ and protecting the rights of parents and students,” he concluded. “The difficult decision before us is to build the high school. It would result in laying off hundreds of additional teachers when we really need to rehire them to end classroom overcrowding.”
Woods is one of six candidates vying for two seats. The other candidates are incumbent Priscilla Schreiber, university student Zach Miller, education foundation director Bill Weaver, retired La Mesa city treasurer Jim Stieringer, and writer Barbara Stevens.
View a map of the district: http://portal.guhsd.net/index.php/maps-a-directions.