By Shawn Raymundo
As the newly appointed president to the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees, Gila Jones believes the board will continue to work well together, sharing the same goals over the coming year.
“I think that some of my goals are mostly the same goals as the board’s goals,” Jones said, adding that she and several of the trustees have known each other for several years and have built a great working relationship.
“We work together extraordinarily well,” she said. “We come to the board with diverse values and viewpoints. But this is a group of people that deeply respects each other and respects our diverse viewpoints and gets along and works for the children and communities of CUSD.”
When the CUSD Board of Trustees met Dec. 12 to hold the annual organizational meeting and elect the board president, vice president and clerk, trustees selected Jones to serve as president.
Jones said she’s looking forward to having the board working more closely with federal officials in addition to city councils. That includes first-term Rep. Mike Levin, who represents California’s 49th congressional district, comprising portions of Orange and San Diego counties.
“We are very excited about better partnerships with our communities and better partnerships with our federal government,” Jones said.
CUSD has experienced “significant” funding challenges, Jones said, noting that there are federal mandates the district is required to comply with but doesn’t receive any funding in order to do so.
“They don’t provide the money to do the things they’re requiring you to do,” she said. “We have great hope with our new members in Congress that they’ll address these issues. I know for a fact that Mike Levin gets it because I’ve heard him talk about these issues.”
One such mandate that Jones talked about is special education, which she explained is very expensive.
“It’s more expensive to educate children with special needs compared to children who don’t have special needs,” said Jones who added that Levin is well aware of the burden CUSD faces.
“It’s not a burden that we resent, we want to educate all of our kids, the special needs and others, to the best of our ability,” she also said. “So it’s a burden that we take on with joy, but it is still a financial issue for us and I think special needs parents know that.”
Locally, one goal for 2019 that Jones touched on, will be deciding whether to officially get a bond measure to update educational facilities placed on the March 2020 Primary Election ballot. During the board’s December meeting, the trustees approved plans to gather the community’s thoughts on the potential bond measure.
Over the coming weeks, the board will work with the firm True North Research to conduct surveys and polls of voters in the cities of San Clemente, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo and Dana Point. Depending on how the voters in those areas respond to the questions, the board will make a determination on the measure, which, if passed, would authorize funding for capital facility projects.
“Studies have shown that when you pass a facilities improvement bond, property values in the area go up,” Jones said. She continued to note that “students’ learning and test scores go up” as well.
Jones said that while the facilities improvements benefit residents and the property values of their homes, the overall goal is to provide students in the district with 21st century learning environments.
“We feel facilities improvements are important, not just for kids, but for whole communities,” she said. “We’re hoping the community will be persuaded about that.”
Jones also said she would like to continue improving CUSD’s communications and the way it pushes out information to parents and the community.
“We have been doing a lot in the last few years to build communication channels with our communities,” she said, adding, “We don’t have the kind of the bully pulpit that city councils have. People tend to get a lot more information in a city from city council, not so much the schools.”
Jones acknowledged that in addition to posting news and financial information on the CUSD website, the district also uses social media such as Twitter and Instagram to disseminate information.
“So, we try really, really hard to communicate with our communities,” she said. “And I mean, the stuff on our website about how we spend money is tremendous and school districts all over the state admire what we do, but I don’t think too many people in the community know about that.”
Jones also noted that many of the trustees, including herself, are available to answer questions via email and phone, which are posted on the Board of Trustees webpage.
“We want you to know more and more about what’s going on in our district,” Jones said. “We have reasons to be proud of what’s going on and we want people to know and we try to let people know.”