My Future Candidacy

I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, and after much consideration, I’ve decided not to run for re-election this November. I’ve served OUSD for eight years, and I think it’s time for someone new to step up.

Being on the OUSD board has been a privilege and a joy. Watching our students grow and progress is heart-feeding. And make no mistake, our students are exceptional people.

I was happy to be involved in hiring, in my opinion, one of the best superintendents in the county. Dr. Morse took a moribund district and has transformed it through innovation and creativity. Is it finished? No, nor does the District make every decision perfectly. But the importance is in the trying.

I know that there remain multiple important decisions for the Board before my term expires. It’s been suggested that, if I don’t run, I should stop working as a Board member and leave it all for the next person. That doesn’t make sense to me. I was elected to serve a term, and I feel it mandatory that I do so.

And most of all, to the community who elected me twice, thank you Ojai for the opportunity to serve my adopted home. I tried to live up to the values I campaigned on, and I’m proud of my time on the Board.


A Delayed Word

I was struck uncharacteristically speechless Wednesday night by the vitriolic demagoguery on display and directed at Tiffany Morse.  I can only charitably attribute it to ignorance, willful or otherwise. Ignorance of the thousands of grant dollars Tiffany has garnered for the district. Ignorance of the creation of district goals and alignment of district activities to those goals, as the board has been asking of the last three superintendents, but only received with this one. Ignorance of the creation of innovative programs at Summit, once thought to be a lost cause. And ignorance of her successful shepherding of the district through the biggest pandemic in modern memory.

Yes, the district has fiscal challenges. They existed before Tiffany was hired, and candidly she has been the only one to actually tackle the problems head on. And she has kept the board advised all along the way. The surprise and outrage displayed Wednesday strongly suggests that the speakers just woke up, and have been absent from our years-long discussions about our challenges in that area. I mean, if anyone was actually paying attention, they would know that she is currently reworking the staffing to bolster our weakness in that area. And that she has had a team working on finding and correcting our accounting errors. But those are pesky details that undermine the narrative against Dr. Morse.

And of course, I found it impossible to formulate a civil response to the councilmember (speaking on his own behalf) who stentoriously lectured the district on swimming pool considerations.  The community he governs has been begging for a community pool for years, yet I think he’s spent more council time debating hedge height and leaf blowers than ways of providing a municipal pool or partnering with OUSD to build one.

That same person’s strident demand that the district fire Tiffany was inappropriate, ignorant, and downright nasty. But sadly, it is emblematic of the treatment Dr. Morse has received from those who have their own agendas in this community. Attacking her transparency after her extensive presentation on our current fiscal challenge suggests the attacks would have come no matter what. The politics of personal attacks is alive and well in Ojai.

I think we can do better. I think we must do better.

Let me be crystal clear: Dr. Morse has my unreserved support.

Can OUSD be better? Always. But I know that of all the superintendents I have worked with at OUSD, she is by far the best, most qualified, most dedicated, most innovative, most open to Board direction of all of them. That she weathers these withering personal attacks only increases my respect and admiration.


Terrible Loss for OUSD

There are no words adequate to express the loss experienced by OUSD and the students and staff at Matilija Middle School. Sheri Usher was loved by so many people, and her sudden death leaves us devastated, especially during this holiday season.

My heart goes out to her family and all who knew her.

12 27 21 Sheri
Sheri Usher, Ojai Valley News

Thank You Ojai Valley!

Are thank you calls worth the effort? | Ruffalo Noel Levitz

It’s taken me this long to find the words to express my gratitude to the Ojai Valley community for your overwhelming support of the Ojai Unified School District’s Measure K on the ballot last week. By more than 60% of the vote, you showed our kids that they matter. That the schools we provide for them matter. Thank you.

Your support will help upgrade our small unique (but old!) country schools and provide our students with the facilities and resources they need to become educated and successful global citizens.

Through high school, I went to small Catholic schools. Good on education and dedication, but far shorter on resources. No music, no theatre, no shop, no pool, no art. I had to wait for summer school in public schools for all that.

I don’t want to see our small size limit our kids. Small schools are a treasure. It’s so easy to get lost in a big school; to be a faceless kid to everyone including teachers. Our small schools provide a unique opportunity for every kid to be seen, heard, taught, and supported.

But our small size hurts us too. It limits our resources. I don’t want our kids’ futures limited. I want it all. I want small intimate schools with great resources. This election, your support put us on that road.

We made great strides with the Measure J funds you provided us. We’ve replaced roofs, HVAC, windows, built a fabulous new dining hall at Matilija, and more. But we knew that wouldn’t be enough. You stuck with us by supporting Measure K.

Measure K will go even farther. So whether you have kids or not, whether they’re in our schools or not, thank you for helping us fulfill our mission of providing a student-centered learning experience that supports the social and emotional well-being of our students and their academic success, and with a focus on making meaningful connections to our community values.

I thank you, our teachers and staff thank you. And most importantly, our kids will thank you too.


“K” is for Kids!

Our schools and children who attend them are the most important assets in our community and should be our number one priority. From higher achieving students, to greater neighborhood safety, quality schools make a difference.  Because the majority of our schools remain outdated, we need your support.  On average, our school facilities are nearly 70 years old, with Matilija Middle School, our oldest property, nearly 100 years old.  

“Yes” on Measure K

Over the years, Ojai Unified School District has made major school improvements.  We’ve replaced all failing roofs, renovated outdated common areas, converted to more efficient lighting, improved site safety and security, replaced 50% of HVAC systems, and upgraded outdoor play spaces. However, our work is not done.

If approved, Measure K would continue our investment to our neighborhood schools, improving the quality of education, while also adding area construction jobs and stimulating the local economy. 

Measure K renovates outdated classrooms, restrooms and facilities including:

  • Updating inadequate electrical systems,
  • Repairing or replacing deteriorating plumbing, sewer and irrigation systems,
  • Improving student access to technology,
  • Making safety and security improvements,
  • Replacing 60-year-old energy-inefficient windows,
  • Constructing an aquatics center for school and community use.

Measure K protects taxpayers and makes financial sense by ensuring: 

  • All funds are spent locally and can’t be taken by the state.
  • Spending must be reviewed/annually audited by an independent citizens’ oversight committee.
  • Funds can only be spent to improve local schools, not for teacher or administrator salaries.
  • The first Measure K payment will not be collected for over two years, until the end of 2022.  
Old windows

Measure K upgrades and renovates old and inadequate classrooms, improves the education of local children, and maintains the quality of our community.  It’s a smart investment in our kids and Ojai.  That’s something we can all support. 

Please join us and VOTE YES ON MEASURE K FOR KIDS!

Frequently Asked Questions –
Measure K

Our school facilities must be improved.  Faced with aging classrooms and the need to bring school facilities up to current standards, the Ojai Unified School District has placed Measure K, a general obligation bond measure on the upcoming November 3, 2020 ballot.

The following information is provided to assist voters in understanding the facts behind Measure K and how its passage will affect the District and our community.

What is Measure K?

Measure K is a $45 million General Obligation (G.O.) bond program.  The measure is intended to address the needs of the student population through modernization and renovation projects at the District’s nine schools.

What is a General Obligation (G.O.) bond?

G.O. bonds fund projects such as the renovation of classrooms and school facilities, as well as construction of new schools and classrooms.  Similar to a home loan, G.O. bonds are typically repaid over 30 years. The loan repayment comes from a tax on all taxable property – residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial – located within the District’s boundaries.

Ceiling tiles at Matilija

Why did the District place Measure K on the ballot?

Our schools are outdated and major upgrades and renovations need to be made. Deferred maintenance over the years has recently improved with major construction and renovation projects.  Since 2014, the District has replaced all failing roofs, remodeled old/dated spaces, converted to LED lighting, improved site security, replaced 50% of HVAC, and improved outdoor play spaces. 

Our work is not done though.  Today, the average age of schools in the District is nearly 70 years with Matilija Middle School, one of our oldest, built in the 1920’s.  Additionally, we need to ensure that our schools offer the facilities necessary to support the technologies used in the curriculum of the 21st century. 

Why can’t the District meet its facilities needs with its current budget?

The per-pupil funding which the District receives from the state is intended to be used for the day-to-day business of educating children – predominantly for professional staffing of our classrooms – and not for major upgrades, renovations, and modernization projects.

How did the District come up with the project list for Measure K?

Over the last several months with input from staff, teachers, parents, and an architect, the District has prepared a School Facilities Needs Analysis.  The Needs Analysis identifies the major repairs and upgrades that need to be made. Specific projects identified include:

  • Updating inadequate electrical systems
  • Repairing or replacing deteriorating plumbing, sewer and irrigation systems
  • Improving student access to computers and modern technology
  • Making safety and security improvements
  • Replacing 60-year-old energy inefficient windows
  • Constructing a pool for school and community use

Has the District ever passed a school facilities improvement measure?

Pipes at Nordhoff

In 1997, the District passed a bond issue with 72.2% voter support and in 2014 District voters approved a $35 million bond measure with over 68% voter support.  Funds from these measures were used to repair and upgrade facilities throughout the District.  

What will happen if Measure K does not pass?

If Measure K does not pass, our classrooms and school facilities will continue to deteriorate.  In addition, funds that would otherwise be assigned to classroom instruction will be needed to make critical safety repairs and improvements at each school.  Major repairs will be postponed and, as a result, will be more expensive to complete at a later date.

What will Measure K cost?

The annual tax rate per property owner is estimated to be $27.00 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per year, or less than $2.50 per month.  (Do not confuse assessed valuation with market value. Assessed valuations are the value placed on property by the County and are almost always lower than market values). Check your property tax statement for your current assessed valuation.  In addition, the bond is structured with COVID 19 in mind with the first payment not until the end of 2022, over two years from now.

Is now a good time to ask for a school improvement measure during the COVID 19 pandemic? 

Yes. Now is a great time for school districts to be borrowing money. Interest rates are at the lowest they’ve been in history, construction costs are dropping significantly, and our $45 million bond must be spent locally, which will act like a local economic stimulus plan.  School bond dollars, by law, must be spent in Ojai and cannot be taken by the state.  This will create local jobs for Ojai residents and local spending at our gas stations, hotels/motels, markets, restaurants, and other stores for the jobs that go to other Ventura County residents.  Furthermore, the Board mandated that instead of pursuing the max tax rate of $60.00 allowed under the law, Measure K’s tax rate will be $27.00, and the first payment for property owners on the bonds will not begin for over two years.

How can I be sure that Measure K funds will be spent on improving Ojai schools?

By law, all bond funds must be spent locally and cannot be taken by the state.  In addition, a local independent citizens’ oversight committee will be established to ensure that bond funds are properly spent.  Also by law, there must be annual audits of expenditures and no bond money can be used for teacher or administrative salaries. 

What about the Real Property the district already has? 

The district has two pieces of property that have been deemed surplus. One site (Summit) is now being used at a school and is at full enrollment. The second (the District Office property downtown) currently has an Exclusive Right to negotiate with a developer. 


K-12 Online – Idea Whose Time Has Come?

As the OUSD Board struggles with enrollment drops and the accompanying funding reductions, along with the challenges of maintaining an aging infrastructure, it seems the perfect time to explore new ideas in delivering education. That’s why I’m so pleased that we will be discussing an online-supported independent study program at tonight’s school board meeting.

online education at home

It’s not a new idea, and it’s time has definitely come. More and more school districts are implementing online programs. In fact, according to a recent Forbes Magazine article, “Over 30 states in the United States now offer some form of K-12 public education online.”

Growth in technology and software can now provide teachers with tools to help every student. “K-12 online public schools are attempting to offer a personalized, high-quality education with instruction from state-certified teachers to help students reach their potential.” The key is personalized education. We all know that one-size-fits-all education is a poor compromise. But it was the best tool we had for the last 100 years.

Now we have the tools to “narrow-cast” education, providing individualized curriculum and instruction. It’s worth examining new ways of delivering the education our kids need.

Much of the support for this new OUSD conversation can be attributed to the recent community meetings where concerned stakeholders of the OUSD shared their concerns and ideas. I was able to attend only one of them, but I was so impressed with the quality of conversation and dedication of our OUSD family. I’m excited about the future of education in the OUSD.


REFLECT – Weekly Stand #52

Now that you’ve done a year’s worth of actions and had so many new and challenging experiences, it’s time to do some reflecting. Reflection is crucial to self-improvement and gives us the right kind of self-awareness to truly move forward in life. Write a short journal entry on these four things: the most fun action you’ve done, the most difficult action, the most surprising action, and the most heartwarming action. This is the last action, so really spend some time thinking about it. When you’ve finished, talk through your observations with a close friend or a family member. Chances are, your reflection will inspire them to embark on a year of action, too.


USE HUMOR – Weekly Stand #51

Laughter can be a lifesaver—literally. Laughter can ease pain, fight disease, and improve your overall quality of life. So it’s no wonder laughter can help when supporting a friend who’s being bullied. Help your friend reframe their experience by making a joke about the situation and pointing out how silly and ridiculous bullying is. Consider saying something like, “It makes sense that you’re being bullied for being smart because being smart is totally a bad thing.” If you can’t think of the right words to say yourself, try sending a funny video instead. Everyone loves a good blooper 🙂


BIG TABLE – Weekly Stand #50

Here’s a wild idea: if everyone sat together in the cafeteria, then no one would have to sit alone. This week, try to get as many people to sit together during lunch as possible. Ask a teacher if you can push the tables together and get everyone to pitch in. You could even say, “I have this crazy idea, I really want everyone to sit together for a day!” We recommend bringing a camera—you’ll probably want to take a pic with the whole group.


TURN IT UP! – Weekly Stand #49

Did you know that optimism strengthens our friendships and can actually make us healthier?³⁵ It can also be learned. This week, focus the conversation with your friends on positive things, like what you’re looking forward to this year, or something really awesome one of your friends did. You can try phrases like, “What are you guys looking forward to this weekend?” or “I can’t wait for next semester. ___ is going to be amazing!” Thought-starters like these are a great way to bring a conversation to a positive place and keep it there.