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CEPS Gives Eight Council Candidates Passing Grades, Fails Feinstein

By Susan Reines
Staff Writer

October 12 -- A powerful group of education activists graded City Council candidates Monday, passing the eight members of two rival slates, but failing four others, including incumbent Michael Feinstein.

The Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) handed out passing grades to candidates that comprise the tickets of both the Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) and the Chamber of Commerce, which are going head to head in the November 2 race for four open council seats.

The grades were decided in a unanimous vote of the 17-member CEPS steering committee, which looked at past records and public actions as well as responses to a questionnaire, said CEPS Co-Chair Shari Davis.

The passing candidates were Kathryn Morea, Herb Katz, Bobby Shriver and Matteo Dinolfo -- the chamber-endorsed candidates -- and Maria Loya, Patricia Hoffman, Ken Genser and Richard Bloom -- the candidates on the SMRR slate.

"I think it's very positive that the chamber slate and the SMRR slate, all eight of those candidates we consider to be reliable supporters of our schools," said CEPS Steering Committee Member Louise Jaffe.

The two candidates on the self-titled "Team for Change," Bill Bauer and David Cole, received negative assessments from CEPS, as did independent candidates Jonathan Mann and Feinstein.

Feinstein got a failing grade because he abstained from a council vote to approve a long-term funding initiative for the public schools last year, CEPS representatives said.

Candidates Linda Armstrong and Leticia Anderson received no grades because CEPS said they did not have enough background information on the candidates.

CEPS members said they supported candidates who would give the schools the most money they could get from a compromise agreement approved by the council in May.

The agreement -- forged after CEPS threatened to place a school funding initiative on the ballot -- directs at least $6 million a year, and more depending on the City's economic status, to the schools.

"The future funding for that agreement is in the hands of who is sitting on that council," said Rochelle Lewis Fanali, a steering committee member.

The committee members said that in coming years the council would determine whether to add "escalator" funds to the $6 million and would decide whether to renew the agreement.

Feinstein voted this spring to give $6 million to the schools during the current fiscal year, but abstained from the vote to enter into the ten-year agreement, saying it was irresponsible and illegal to increase funding to schools.

The council -- which legally shouldn't fund schools without receiving equivalent revenue or services in return -- had to protect every City program, Feinstein said.

Feinstein had proposed an alternative plan that would have increased school funding by creating partnerships between the City and the School District to purchase open space and fund school projects with bond money.

"We basically disregarded the advice of our city attorney," he said. "I'm not trying to say we shouldn't fund education, but community benefits would have flowed more in both directions, because, as CEPS says, we're all one community."

Feinstein emphasized that he voted for every other education funding increase that came his way during his eight years on the council.

But CEPS members contend that Feinstein's plan was overly complicated, would have taken too long to kick in and would have been an added tax burden.

"It was a tax on the voters that would have required two-thirds vote of the people," Jaffe said.

CEPS Steering Committee member Dennis Zane -- who engaged in heated public debate with Feinstein over the CEPS proposal -- called the candidate's alternative plan "goofy."

The CEPS members have also taken issue with a mailer Feinstein distributed that says he voted for a 250 percent increase in school funding since joining the council. The figure reflects the change from just over $2 million per year to the $6 million one-time funding Feinstein voted to approve last spring.

"We believe he's misrepresenting himself by taking credit (for the long-term agreement) and positioning himself as a champion of education," Jaffe said.

Zane called the flier "shocking."

Not everyone agrees with CEPS about Feinstein's education record.

Leslie Wizan, a PTA officer at Franklin Elementary and Lincoln Middle schools, said that a loosely organized group of "politically concerned parents" had been meeting with candidates and were satisfied that Feinstein was a reliable supporter of the schools.

"We questioned him about it (his record) because we were concerned, but we really do think that's he's committed to the schools," said Wizan, who said that her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the PTAs.

"We feel that his big role is accountability, whether it's on the part of the City or on the part of the schools," she said.

Sharon Gilpin, a former Santa Monica planning commissioner who is a political consultant for Feinstein, has sought to turn the tables on CEPS.

Gilpin contends that CEPS' push to secure a long-term funding agreement by threatening a ballot initiative was timed to pressure council members into voting for a lopsided pact during an election year.

"It's a perfect opportunity to jam leadership right before an election," she said.

CEPS has already begun raising money to support the school board candidates it endorsed, incumbents Jose Escarce and Maria Leon-Vazquez and challenger Kathy Wisnicki, and the council candidates who received passing grades.

Davis said CEPS was "on its way" to the $15,000 it hopes to raise.

The money will be used to communicate with voters, though CEPS has not decided whether that communication would take the form of mailers or something else, Zane said.





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