Four San Marino residents have stepped forward to lead Friends of San Marino Education, a citizen organization formed to advocate for the defeat of San Marino Unified School District’s proposed $200 million facilities modernization project.
Measure S will come before voters at the Tuesday, March 3, 2020 election, with 55% voter approval needed to pass the measure. If it does not pass, Superintendent Jeff Wilson has committed to bring a new bond proposal before the community in November of this year.
Michele Esbenshade, Steve Sommers, Margaret Loh and Peter Sinclair have formed the ‘Friends of San Marino Education’ to defeat the measure in favor of a smaller bond measure and increased investment in teaching and expanded course offerings. They advocate the passage of a smaller $100 million bond in November rather than a $200 million bond in March. They would like the community to use these savings to invest more funds in instruction and teaching through an offsetting increase in San Marino’s parcel tax, Measure E.
Michele Esbenshade and her husband, Andy, have lived in San Marino for 12 years and have two daughters in San Marino schools. Michele has served on the Valentine PTA and is an active volunteer in the community. Michele has worked in fundraising and development for Mayfield Junior School and started an interior decorating business. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado.
“San Marino is a strong community and the San Marino School District has always been its allure,” Esbenshade said. “We have an incredible opportunity to address infrastructure needs, but we need to secure resources and prioritize critical educational gaps, many of which are leading more residents to send their children to private schools. Funding for reduced class sizes, an expanded curriculum, adding arts, music and language at all levels, and securing our teachers positions, are needed if San Marino is going to really distinguish and differentiate itself from other school districts, realize its full potential and truly be the crown jewel of public schools in California.”
Steve Sommers and his wife, Meredith, have lived in San Marino for four years and have four children in San Marino Schools, all at Carver. A former high school teacher, Steve now works as a Philanthropic Wealth Advisor at Wells Fargo Private Bank and is a Senior Adjunct Professor at Azusa Pacific University. Prior to that he was the Assistant Vice Chancellor at the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University. Steve is a former candidate for the SMUSD school board and also serves as a trustee on the San Marino Schools Foundation.
“Our superintendent has already committed to put a new bond on the ballot in November of 2020 if this one is defeated,” Sommers said. “We should take him up on that and pass the $100 million bond option he previously proposed. Unfortunately, law prohibits bond funds from being used for teacher salaries, training or operations. We need a funding approach that enables us to meet our most urgent needs, free up resources to address the district’s structural deficit of $3 million or more and reduce the risk of unwanted teacher layoffs in the near future. The community also needs more time to engage in a master planning process and build consensus around the scope of projects to be financed with this bond and/or future bond offerings.”
Margaret Lohand her husband, Stephen, have been San Marino residents for 12 years. They have three children, with two sons attending Valentine Elementary School. Margaret has been a practicing orthopedic radiologist for 15 years and graduated from UCLA and Chicago Medical School.
“We all agree that the district has deferred maintenance, safety and security needs that require funding,” Loh said. “I’m thankful for the work done by the Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) in identifying Priority 1 projects and providing estimates on the various items on the community wish list. The school board’s job was to take the information from the FAC and balance those projects with other priorities for our kids. I was hoping the school did a better job prioritizing facilities needs against very significant needs for investment in the classroom experience. By the FAC’s own estimates, all of the projects that are featured in the ‘pro-bond’ committee’s communications to date can be completed for $80 million, not $200 million. Realistically, there are only so many tax dollars that San Marino residents are willing to pay. The priority of those tax dollars should go to improving our children’s education first. We need a larger ‘Measure E’ and need to do all we can to ensure it passes. An oversized school bond is not only unnecessary, it further stresses the tax base, threatening monies that could be used for actual teaching and school operations. I joined this effort because I’d like to see a more balanced approach, one that is more in line with the aspirations of many parents with kids in schools today.”
Peter Sinclair and his wife, Kate, have lived in San Marino for nine years and have a daughter at Huntington Middle School and as on who attended Carver before matriculating at Villa Esperanza. Peter has focused his career on high growth consumer businesses. He has been an AYSO coach and is a trustee on the San Marino Schools Foundation. He is a graduate of Williams College and Harvard Law School.
“My wife and I moved here with two young children specifically because of the SMUSD’s reputation,” Sinclair told The Tribune. “We are both products of public elementary, middle and high schools and believe in the power of a high-quality public education. We believe that our community should be investing more, not less in the SMUSD. The district has significant gaps relative to other area schools and public schools nationally, due to chronic underfunding from the state and the economic pressures created by a small student population. A smaller bond would free up $2 million per year at first, and over $8 million by the end of the bond payoff term. Let’s use these savings to increase the parcel tax to provide much-needed support to instructional quality, support the long-term viability of the SMUSD and give as much funding and flexibility as we can to Dr. Wilson. We have a real winner in this hire. He needs all of the resources he can get.”
Although three of the founding members of the Friends of San Marino Education also serve on the San Marino Schools Foundation, they told The Tribune they do not speak on that organization’s behalf.
“This is an important issue for our community and there are many thoughtful people on both sides of this issue on the Foundation, and in the community-at-large,” said Sommers. Esbenshade added, “We applaud our fellow Schools Foundation trustees on the ‘Pro S’ side. I know that they want what is best for not only their own kids, but mine as well.”
Sinclair said, “I want to stress to your readers that it takes a great deal of time and courage to speak out in a community as small as ours. We appreciate everyone’s participation in this community dialogue, wherever they land on this issue.”