OCEAN PARK - Ed Guelfi believes this year's school bond measure for the Ocean Beach School District will pass. In fact, he believes it has to.
Guelfi has made a name for himself on the Peninsula - successful owner/operator of an auto repair business in Ocean Park - and for the past three years as a member of the OBSD school board, most recently being named the board's new chairman. In that position he sets the agenda and runs the monthly meetings. It also makes him the main contact, or spokesman, for the board.
Working with the current board members has been a pleasure, said Guelfi recently, reflecting on the things they have accomplished together and the goals they have set for the future to continue that progress.
"The thing I love about the current board that we have now is how well we work together," said Guelfi from behind the counter of his auto shop.
He went on to say that one of the biggest successes for the district was hiring Tom Lockyer as the new superintendent.
"He's going to take this district places that it needs to go," said Guelfi. "He has a real broad vision and they're really all focused on student achievement. I believe he can take us there."
Guelfi said that the board has been looking more toward the future in things they are doing, a long-term plan. Something he said he likes about the current board the way they have been taking a hands-on approach to reform within the district, rather then sitting back and getting by.
"A lot of times you get into the realm of 'just fix what's here.' You spend so much time in fix mode, that you don't have any time to do any long-term planning," he said.
The upcoming school bond is part of the longer-term vision that the board has. Guelfi explained that the bond, which would renovate the old school houses on the Peninsula, is not just about fixing the buildings, but rather the first step in fixing the educational environment.
The new grade configuration is a huge part of the plan. Guelfi said that with the current system, students take the fourth- and seventh-grade WASL tests just months after moving into the Hilltop Elementary and the high school buildings, respectively.
Guelfi said that through research, they've found it's difficult for younger students to go to a different school, with a different teacher and a totally different atmosphere. Many of the students end up taking a step back.
"It takes that first couple of months and a little bit of time to get them comfortable and get caught up," said Guelfi. "They just start to get comfortable and then we want to test them and find out if they're at grade level. We would be better served, our kids would do much better, if they took that test in a much more comfortable setting."
Passing the bond is the most important part of the process, because without it passing they cannot do the renovations to the buildings in order to accommodate the new grade configuration - which they feel would increase the success of the students.
"Its not that we've just said, 'Well, it's time to fix the buildings,'" said Guelfi. "It is time to fix the buildings, but that wasn't our main goal. Our main goal is, 'What's going to help our kids be successful?' This bond issue is just a step in that. I want to make sure people understand this bond wasn't just a 'random act of improvement.'"
Guelfi is in the last year of his current four-year term, which ends in November. His is one of three board seats up for election this fall. Guelfi and Kim Patten can run for re-election, while Jim Sayce will be vacating his board seat because he has moved out of his voting district. Guelfi said he will probably run again, because he knows the good things that have been started and would like to see them come to pass.
"I'm excited about what's going on in the schools," he said "I would hate to step out of it now."
When Guelfi ran for the board, he wanted to make sure people understood that he was not an educator, but that he had an idea as to what he would like to see done within the schools that his children attended.
"I felt the board before was controlling," said Guelfi. "Micro-managing to a point. I didn't like a lot of things about the district."
In his mind, a school board is an executive board. He doesn't believe school board members should be involved in the day-to-day operation of the district, saying, "That's what we hire a superintendent for."
He believes that a school board is all about making policy and vision.
"I think we as a board ... we've really taken steps in that direction," he said.
He said that he learned at a business conference once that you can tell a really successful organization because they grow and succeed during hard times.
"In the past four years that I've been on the board, we've had a budget cut every year," said Guelfi. "Some have been bigger then others, but every year we've had a budget cut."
But Guelfi said that within that time they have been able to increase their fund balance, and spend more on building maintenance then in past years.
"To me, I see those things as successes."
He added that at the time that he was elected to the board, there was a turnover rate of 10 to 12 staff members on average every year. But in the last two years, there has been very little turnover. He said that he sees this as another success for the district.
But he reiterated that the passage of the school bond would be the greatest success for the district and the community. Guelfi said he feels the best way to make it happen is by getting the word out.
"We are going to do the best job we can with getting as much information as we can out there," he said.
The board has done as much prep work as they feel they can. They will be calling voters, trying to talk to them one-on-one. Guelfi sited that OBSD hasn't failed to pass a maintenance and operation levy in years, and that the last bond was defeated by the slimmest of margins, even though they had the majority backing it - bond measures have to pass with a super-majority vote of 60 percent.
"People in this district support schools," said Guelfi. "What's going to get this bond to pass? People getting out there and saying, 'it's time.'"
Guelfi said that he is optimistic about the bond's chances this time.
"If it fails, I'm going to be disappointed," he said. "But I'm going to wake up the next day and say, 'What are we going to do today? What are we going to do for kids?' We've gotta do something."
Guelfi said at this time there isn't anything in the way of a backup plan in case the bond fails, adding all the board members have kind of "put all their eggs in one basket." He added that if it fails, the board will immediately start looking at the reasons why to try and analyze and work toward another opportunity in the future.
Guelfi mentioned that because of the phasing of the construction plan, it could be a five-year construction process. The bonds get sold as the jobs are started. Therefore, the increase in taxes will step in gradually.
"It won't be one quick ... there it all is in one shot," he said. "It will be spread out over three, four, five, six years. It won't be a real hard hit, instantly your taxes go up a couple hundred dollars. That will lighten the load and make it easier."
Guelfi added that by the time the final project is started, the first bond will probably be close to being paid off.
"We can't give up," said Guelfi. "That would be failing our kids."