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Q&A with Paso Robles School Board Candidate Christopher Arend 

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of Q&A’s for all candidates running for Paso Robles School Board. 


Q&A with Paso Robles School Board Candidate Christopher Arend

What motivates you to become a school board member?
The school district is in trouble. First: Teacher morale is low, according to the recent survey. The reasons cited in the survey seem to be a lack of discipline in the broader sense of the term; i.e. not just students, but also lack of support from administrators in disciplinary matters. There has also been a major lack of discipline in spending and hiring administrators. I am convinced that my past professional experience as a dual qualified lawyer in both the USA and Germany with many years of practice in a top-level international firm in the fields of corporate law, finance, and international commercial matters enables me to quickly understand the problems in the district and identify solutions. Basically, the school district must recognize that the teachers are the actual providers of the service called “education”, and everything else, especially at the management level but be focused on giving them the support they need to fulfill their mission.

What attributes are essential for successful school board members?
We must above all understand our own duties. We are not supposed to supplant the work by the professional educators. Instead, we set the basic direction for the district, provide community input and use our skills to support and also supervise senior management. In many respects, the duties of the school board members are very similar to the duties of a “supervisory board” (Aufsichtsrat) in a German stock corporation. We are not supposed to be involved in everyday management. Instead, we must keep informed and, when necessary, provide constructive criticism to help the superintendent and other administrative personnel perform their duties, i.e. making sure that the teachers have all the support and the environment they need to deliver the service “education.”

What is your vision for education in the community?
Education must prepare the students to make their way in life as productive members of society. There are many paths towards that end. For those who want to go on to college, we must give them the best start possible. This means above all giving them the Information and intellectual tools to succeed in college and graduate school, if they wish to go that route. Of course, not every student intends to go to college, but they must also be given the ability to develop the skills they will need throughout their careers. I lived in Germany for most of my adult life and was very impressed with the German apprenticeship programs which combined school with vocational training in various trades. We already see some of that, but I am sure that we could expand such efforts with the participation of local businesses.

How does the school board decide what is important?
The primary criteria for every decision are (i) the extent a matter benefit the students, and (ii) the costs. This means that priorities must be set. This is especially true when the budget is tight, as is presently the case. At the end of June, there was talk about the reserve for 2017/18 being only 3.01%; the district is required by law to have a minimum reserve of 3.0%. The fact that the preliminary numbers at the end of June were only about $7,500 – $ 8,000 above the minimum reserve (budget of roughly $75 million x 0.01%) is troubling, to say the least. My experience in the practice of corporate and finance law is that if a threshold is met by just a hair in preliminary numbers, someone has really been stretching and the actual numbers are probably not that good.

What is your education background?
I went through American high school and 3 semesters of junior college before joining the U.S. Army, where I learned German at the Defense Language Institute. I also learned the academic discipline that enabled me to succeed very well in both American law school (U.C. Berkeley) as well as German law school. German legal training is much more intense than US law school, with the first bar exams after training at the university as well as the second bar exams after training for two years with the courts, the state prosecutor and other stations; both sets of bar exams are graded (I did very well). My only teaching experience was as a teacher of English as a foreign language to adults while I studied at the university in Mainz. As I mentioned in my answer to question no. 2, a school board member’s duty is not to be an educator; rather, our duty is to see that the professional educators have what they need to do their job.

Do you represent the school system or the community?
The school board represents the community. We must be able to get the information we need from all levels of the school system (not just administrators, but also teachers, unclassified personnel and, of course, the students). Our job is to make sure that the community has an excellent school system that uses the limited resources to provide the maximum service to the students.

What have you accomplished in regards to school-related situations that make you a good candidate?
My experience has been in other fields. However, I am confident that my experience gained from handling legal and financial matters for clients in a broad range of industries, including helping clients in severe financial difficulties will enable me to provide the input that the school district will need to improve morale among the teachers on the front line as well as solve the financial problems facing the school district.

Can you comment on recent disciplinary issues within the school district, and how would you resolve them?
Discipline, just like justice before the courts, must be equally administered. This has not always been the case, especially last year at the High School in the wake of the demonstration following the mass shooting in Parkland Florida. Any perceived favoritism will be immediately exploited. Teachers and the school administrations must also have the ability to nip misconduct in the bud, and if a teacher imposes a disciplinary measure, the administration must back up the teacher unless there has been an obvious, material mistake. Disciplinary procedures must be kept simple and transparent so that students are well aware that any misconduct will have immediate consequences.

What are some of the issues facing PRJUSD?
As discussed above in question 1: First, teacher morale. Second, the finances.
The overarching problem, however, is discipline. School personnel must prevent misconduct and create a safe environment for learning. Rigorous academic discipline so that the students focus on their work and willingly accept intellectual challenges. Self-discipline among all participants in the school system so that they focus on performing their duties to the best of their ability. Finally, spending discipline.

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