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School Board Member Nimish Patel on 'The New Normal'

One of the panel's newest members explains what the budget crisis means for the district.

Between the massive budget crisis, high administrative turnover and achievement gaps, the has no shortage of problems. New school board member Nimish Patel says he has some answers.

No stranger to numbers, Patel has been a member of the School District Financial Oversight Committee, the Santa Monica College Bond Oversight Committee and the Parcel Tax Feasibility Committee. Early last month, he was one of two challengers to claim victory over incumbents in the election for school board.

Among Patel's potential solutions to the school district's problems are revenue generators such as the ability of private enterprises to use school facilities during off-hours, have naming rights to sports fields and science labs, and advertising in ways the district deems age-appropriate.

In an interview conducted before his swearing-in Tuesday, Patel spoke with Santa Monica Patch about his ideas, the budget forecast and beyond.

Santa Monica Patch: Congratulations on your recent victory.

Nimish Patel: Thanks. I didn't realize what an upset it was till I started talking with people afterwards. I want to hit the ground running when I take office.

Patch: Despite the passage of Measures Y and YY, the budget crisis is still the top priority, presumably?

Patel: Yes. Me and another school board member, we're going to meet with an official in Beverly Hills. They're implementing a licensing model, and there's no reason we couldn't do it for one of our schools. Like Malibu High School: It has brand-name recognition when it comes to surfing and beach lifestyle.

Patch: Do you think parents in particular might be wary of these new revenue generators?

Patel: We have to abide by the [state] educational code and decide what's permissible. Universities have been doing this for a very long time. Unfortunately, our public schools need to start thinking about it too. We don't want to make big transformations here; we want to pick the low-hanging fruit that is least disruptive to our students but brings in revenue that is meaningful.

Patch: Are you envisioning these strategies as temporary measures?

Patel: This is the new normal. I don't think we're going to go back to the days where we had unlimited money going to our public schools.

Patch: Just how bad is the budget forecast?

Patel: We're [on track to] to deplete all our savings in three years. Bad things will happen. [Los Angeles County could] take over the school district—send in their own management team, deal with union contracts, layoffs, make cuts.

Patch: Is that a probability?

Patel: No. I think the school board will do what they can to make sure we're in compliance.

Patch: What can be done to reduce the achievement gap between white students, and black and Latino students?

Patel: We find out about [the gaps at] the end of the year, and by that time, it's too late. We need early indicators and that's where technology comes in handy. Being able to flag issues with children who are falling behind at an early stage will allow parents to become more involved.

Patch: What would you like to see in the next superintendent?

Patel: A visionary. A collaborator. I would prefer someone that's more local, that already understands our community and the things that we value.

Patch: Would you support splitting up the district?

Patel: Malibu represents less than 20 percent of our students, and that would be a very small school district. Would they be financially feasible? This idea came about because there hasn't been an affirmative reaching out to that community. I'm hoping that this school board will make a better attempt at doing that.

Patch: Spoken like a true lawyer.

Patel: I'm a transactional lawyer. But that's my biggest asset: I like to see win-win deals.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

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