Toughest job in local elected office

THERE is no harder job in local elected office than that of school board member.

Let me say that again: Being a school board member is the toughest job in local elected office. You have to balance budgets not once but twice in a school year. You have no control over your revenues because they are provided by the state (thanks to Prop.

13). When school buildings crumble, you have to ask voters to support bond measures and pay for them for 30 years. You have to know about schools, kids, education, building, construction, bonds, personnel, the list goes on and on. And the public?

It’s not easy calming a parent whose child has been wronged.

I sincerely hope you vote on Nov. 3 for the best candidates and if you need help, follow the suggestions in the “Our View” section.

During these past five weeks, our editorial board has been interviewing candidates running for school boards throughout the San Gabriel Valley and Southeast Los Angeles County. It’s been a lot like going to class; I’ve learned a lot. Here are some of the tidbits I’ve taken away from these meetings:

A large number of students are English Learners, or ELs. In their homes, English is not spoken so they must learn English as a second language in order to do well in reading and writing but also in social studies, history and all classes. It was disturbing to hear some candidates say some students enter Kindergarten as ELs and remain as ELs when they are seniors in high school! Too many never progress out of the EL category. Part of that is due to funding. Seems like districts get more money if they have more ELs.

Forty-five different languages are spoken in the households of the El Monte Union High School District

The California State University system will be cutting enrollment by 40,000 students this year. Guess what? Those transfer students from local community colleges (PCC, Mt.

SAC, Rio Hondo College, Citrus College, East Los Angeles College) may no longer be guaranteed a spot at a CSU as a junior. Though the CSUs are not saying that officially, there is talk of going back on that promise. Scary.

School districts are not just for kids anymore. One of the newest trends is the increasing number of adults taking classes in our unified or high school districts. Adult schools are filled with people learning English or a trade. For example, the El Monte Union High School District has 25,000 adults and 11,000 high school kids.

School districts should be supported in this endeavor, especially during high unemployment.

Where have all the children gone? Almost every school district candidate that has come into my office is from a district that’s losing children. Some are seeing several hundred fewer students per year. It’s called declining enrollment and it’s mostly due to foreclosures, unemployment and before that, the high price of real estate. Younger familes are moving to the high desert and the Inland Empire. The result is an aging population in the SGV. Two exceptions I’ve found are West Covina Unified and Temple City Unified, which are experiencing increasing enrollment.

Ever wonder why superinendents or college presidents who leave usually get a year or two in pay, costing the district taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars? State law says districts must guarantee a superintendent 18 months — some get 3 years — on their contract. Perhaps that law should change.

Looking behind a rock

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A view of Fish Canyon immediately behind the Azusa Rock mining operation.

I stood on the catwalk of the giant rock crusher and was shaken.


As the bulldozers working the west side of Fish Canyon of Azusa Rock — a working mine located in San Gabriel Canyon — emptied their loads, the large boulders quickly made their way into the pulverizing machinery. There, from my perch on the metal framework, I could feel the platform shaking as the machine did its thing. I turned to the right and followed the crushed rocks as they continued their journey across a conveyer belt, through a water mister to keep the dust down, and down hundreds of feet to the canyon bottom, where conveyers picked up the material on its way to becoming asphalt and concrete.

During the tour, the people of the parent company, Vulcan Materials, explained how they would like to shift some operations 80 acres to the west, more toward Duarte. They would then “restore” the eastern mined portion and process the western portion with smaller, “microbenches” that allow natural plants to grow and cover the damage.

The folks even created a test microbench using GPS and advanced engineering, a real-life demo which shows the mining operation is going to great lengths to better camouflage what’s left of the slope once the digging and scraping is done.

Whether that actually happens remains to be seen. The group is going through a permit process with the city of Azusa, and is facing opposition from Duarte residents and possibly from Duarte City Hall.

All this was very impressive. But what really shook me to my core was my first glimpse of the hidden canyon that lay behind the mining operation — Fish Canyon.

With time running out and with no chance of having the time to take the 1 1/2 hour hike to Fish Canyon Falls from the back-of-the-mine trailhead, I asked to go there, anyway.
The view from the footbridge was of a grandiose canyon, draped in alders and dappled in sunlight. I ran about 100 yards in and saw the twisting path between the canyon walls disappear.


Even this fleeting glimpse was enough to shake me. It left me wanting more.
But throughout the tour of the mine, I secretly tried to envision in my mind’s eye what it would be like if it wasn’t there, if just the canyon and the river were exposed in their natural states. You know, like the day “The Flintstones” got cancelled.

I had been watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the national parks and my mind must’ve been playing and replaying those sepia-toned slides of Yosemite over and over. I could hear the eloquent words of naturalist John Muir, who spoke of California’s natural canyons and rock formations as majestic cathedrals given to mankind by God.

Our San Gabriels — though not a national park — are part of a national forest and are indeed a gift to us who live here. It’s our job to protect them. But recently, they’ve been damaged by a couple of arsonists whose sick acts have turned back the hand of God if only for a moment.
The fires, the mining and commercial components surrounding our mountains and rivers are reminders how we come close to losing this gift. That must never happen. They must be more than just memories or old pictures in a documentary.

I was told the mining company shuttles people to the back trailhead upon request. And I vow to be there on the next cool Saturday.