With less than six weeks to go, four candidates are vying for a seat on the Board of Education currently held by Board President Roy Lester.
On May 21, residents will vote on a proposed $123.6 million 2013-14 budget as well as the four candidates, who are running for one seat.
The official candidates will not be confirmed until May 1, just 20 days before the election, but three newcomers are already looking to unseat Lester, an attorney and lifelong Long Beach resident who has served three three-year terms on the board.
The race comes at a time when the district contends with what has been described as one of the most difficult budget seasons of the last few years. A $4.5 million increase in mandated retirement and health benefit costs left the district scrambling to cover the increase while maintaining academic programs and keeping the tax levy low.
Last month, school officials worked to close an $800,000 gap, and through attrition and additional state funding, last week, the district presented a balanced budget.
Lester, 63, said that he enjoys serving on the board and seeing the progress they make, though he has grown frustrated by unfunded state mandates. He said the state requires the district to add programs to the budget, without giving it the money to support them.
“The state is mandating three auditors; that costs money,” he said. “All of these mandated programs cost money — the [new performance review program] is going to be ridiculously expensive. The state pushes all of these things on you, and there is really nothing you can do about it.”
Lester said that the board’s biggest struggle is balancing the needs of the students with those of the taxpayers each year. He said no matter what, both sides always have something to complain about.
“It’s never enough for the kids, and it’s always too costly for the taxpayer,” he said. “But you do what you think is right.”
Lester said that he is proud of the work the school board and administration have done over the last few years. For the most part, he said, the makeup of the board has remained consistent over the past few years, and that cohesion has benefitted the district.