Evaluate and push reform in GUSD

GILROY
– Tom Bundros put five of his six children through the Gilroy
Unified School District. Over his 19-year involvement with the
district, he believes the status of Gilroy’s public schools has
gradually dipped unacceptably low.
GILROY – Tom Bundros put five of his six children through the Gilroy Unified School District. Over his 19-year involvement with the district, he believes the status of Gilroy’s public schools has gradually dipped unacceptably low. Bundros also believes he’s someone who can turn that around.

If elected Nov. 5, Bundros says he will be evaluating performances and working with the board as a team to further the goals of the district.

“That’s my strong point. I’m an engineer. I love data. I love mountains of tables,” Bundros said. “I’d go right in there and see what’s going on.”

Curriculum

Based on student performances on standardized tests, California schools rank low compared to other schools in the United States, and Gilroy schools rank low compared to other schools in California, Bundros points out. That’s the sort of data Bundros doesn’t want to see anymore. And the son of Greek immigrants is not satisfied with the excuse that socio-economic or second-language factors naturally contribute to the low scores.

“Gilroy is incredibly average (in terms of its demographics). The argument that Gilroy schools don’t do well because of some factors that are inherent to Gilroy isn’t supportable,” asserted Bundros, who did not speak English when he entered kindergarten.

Bundros said standardized tests are not the answer to all academic issues, but supports the emphasis on student performance on those exams “at this point in time.”

“After we get a handle on what knobs to turn to accomplish our goals, I think we can do some streamlining and cut back (on the number of tests children are given),” Bundros said.

Bundros believes that a lack of leadership in the past, the loss of good teachers and ineffective bilingual programs led to the under-performing status of the district. Bundros called the district’s past superintendent, David Alvarez, “not very effective” and said that improvement by English Language Learners fell flat over the years.

Bundros reported that 17 percent of Gilroy teachers will be eligible to retire over the next five years, a bit of data that also makes him uneasy.

“Good teachers are critical to education,” Bundros said. “They’re the heart of the whole experience.”

Bundros is advocating “creative solutions,” such as working with the city to subsidize teacher housing, to keep a healthy lot of new and experienced teachers from leaving Gilroy for higher-paying districts.

Bundros is part of the grassroots group called the Alliance for Academic Excellence, which petitioned the district for the reinstatement of 10th grade honors programs at Gilroy High School. The absence of honors programs and the unruly behavior Bundros had seen in the classrooms were the main factors for removing one of his children from the GUSD.

What Bundros called the “outstanding” choral and music programs in the district kept his other children within Gilroy Unified.

Facilities

Bundros believes that facilities are tied to academic performance and some of Gilroy’s public schools are depressing and overcrowded places to be. For that reason, he supports the school district’s $69 million bond on the Nov. 5 ballot which will construct a new high school and repair and renovate several other campuses.

“If we have run-down, shabby-looking schools, it makes a statement as to where the community thinks the priority is. It speaks poorly for Gilroy.

“I believe facilities are tied to academic performance, but I’d be reluctant to tie them together one for one,” he said.

If the measure fails, Bundros said he would implement the contingency plan outlined in the district’s facilities master plan. That contingency plan outlines all the needs of the school district and Bundros said he would push for working down that list one by one as the money is available.

“Health and safety issues would have to come first,” Bundros said.

Finances

The state of California’s economy is one of Bundros’ heaviest concerns when it comes to operating the Gilroy school district. He believes that the breaking of the economic bubble, coupled with the state’s energy prices will create a poor business climate here and make state budgets tight for several years.

“The California economy has been on steroids the last five or six years,” Bundros said. “We’re talking $50 billion plus in capital gains tax. That money is gone. The net is we have to come together and do a lot of creative thinking. I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of help from California.

“This is a bad time to be running for office,” he quipped.

Bundros does not think the way to spike the district’s budget is by raising fees charged to developers when they build homes in Gilroy. He said although it’s always nice to have more money in the school’s budget, those fees will ultimately get passed onto the consumer, which could potentially be a new teacher who can’t afford a home.

“I don’t have any silver bullets. It will take some study. It will take some looking at other districts – the better ones – to see how they’ve managed,” Bundros said. “Gilroy comes together well, when there is a real need on the table and when there is a plan in place.”

Communication

Improving student performance isn’t the only thing Bundros would like to see turn around in the district. He wants the district to form new ways of hearing from its teachers and parents, too.

Bundros said holding round-table discussions throughout the district might be one method of getting consistent input and feedback from the community. He noted a drop in parent participation after the elementary school years that he says must be addressed.

“The board has to go out to the community. It’s hard for the community to come to it,” Bundros said. “Even the way the board meetings are run, I don’t feel they’re conducive to discussion.”

“We can’t function as an island, especially not in this (economic) climate. We’ll have to live through for the next few years,” Bundros said.

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