Q&A with School Board candidate Hari Titan

Titan is one of five candidates vying for three seats on the School Board. This is his fourth time running for public office.

What is your age and how long have you lived in Piedmont?

I am 56 years old and have lived in Piedmont for 12 years.

What you do for work, either in or out of your home?

I work as a mathematician and data scientist for 20 years. My consulting practice has a work-life balance that facilitates my active involvement in Piedmont civics, including serving on the PUSD School Board.

If you have children, do they attend, or have they attended, Piedmont schools? If so, which ones?

My older son attended PHS when we moved to Piedmont in 2008. My younger daughter attended Havens, PMS, and is now a freshman in PHS.

Have you worked or volunteered in Piedmont schools (or elsewhere) previously? If so, in what capacity(ies)?

I’ve been a volunteer for Piedmont Neighbors’ and Newcomers’ Club and Havens Dads Club, Yes on Measure H1, and Yes on Measures G & H, the PREC Education Subcommittee, and the STEAM Funding and Marketing Committee. I was also a board member at large for Piedmont Makers for one year. I have dedicated many hours to the school district by way of producing a variety of independent assessments of the school district’s financial and academic opportunities.

What inspires you to run for office?

I’m a parent, a scientist, and a former college professor running for School Board. I have been active in a variety of community issues, principally school-related, since 2013. My experience and vocation equip me to make decisions from a very scientific and analytical perspective. I have been a very vocal advocate for full-disclosure transparency in the leadership,
management, and operation of our schools.

The education and health of students is my primary focus. I believe the PUSD Board needs to maximize both the safety and achievement of every Piedmont student. Even in especially complicated times like these, it is possible to meet both of those goals. We owe it to the students to work towards that goal.

What are your qualifications to be on the School Board? Any special skills or experience the voters should know about?

I have a Ph.D. In Computer Science and a Masters in Mathematics and a very strong background in financial technology (a.k.a. FinTech) and was a pioneer in the application of neural network artificial intelligence and have a patent in that field. I have also worked with epidemiologists to produce a patient risk model at Kaiser. This latter experience is how I came to appreciate epidemiologists as the right thought leaders to follow in a pandemic.

What do you see as the most challenging issues currently facing the school district?

A safe return to educational excellence. The various stakeholders (e.g. parents, teachers, students, board members) are not on the same page and I think it is a challenge for the school board to get them there. Hiring and retaining the best teachers is also a major interest of mine. I have noticed that almost every year we lose some teachers and have trouble finding suitable replacements. Often school starts without all needed teachers being on staff. I would work on this problem.

What do you see as strengths of the Piedmont schools?

  1. There are no reported Covid-19 cases impacting students, staff, or teachers in the school district.
  2. The school campuses are very welcoming, attractive, safe, and functional.
  3. The high school will have a new STEAM building by the end of October and a new highsschool theater by next summer.
  4. Teachers got a 3.5% raise this year based on Measure G & H passing in 2018.
  5. Elementary schools have extended-day Kindergarten and pre-K.
  6. All the elementary schools have been retrofitted for earthquakes.
  7. We have very advanced airflow systems installed and ready to go when kids start attending school. The airflow is supposed to change the classroom air 12 times per hour (12 ACH) which results in having fresh air every 5 minutes or so. That is quite a safety innovation.

What will be your top priority if elected?

I’ve been working with local epidemiologist Dr. Sydney who recommends a pilot program for reopening schools as soon as possible to work out the issues of student compliance with the new safety protocols. I propose having a “Safety Summit” bringing together the teachers union, epidemiologists, board members, and parents with the purpose to find scientific consensus on a path forward. I have already started a primer for such a summit.

Do you see yourself being especially involved in any particular school issue or program, whether or not it’s your top priority?

As circumstances dictate, I would be involved in any future school issues. Aside from what’s listed above, I would also like to investigate declining enrollment in STEM-prestigious colleges.

How and when PUSD should return to in-person instruction has been a polarizing topic since the start of the pandemic. If elected, how will you balance the needs of various stakeholders — teachers, parents, classified staff, administrators, students — in your decision-making on this issue?

I think bringing scientists, epidemiologists to the table in my “safety summit” is a way to get everyone to move in the direction of what is the scientific consensus. The school board needs to be taking a leadership role in getting to a scientific consensus by communicating and organizing the stakeholders. This is not easy for non-scientists to do.

PUSD’s budget depends on state and local funding. What would you do to ensure our funding is robust?

State lawmakers control state funding which falls short of what we need. Our local parcel taxes make up a lot of that shortfall. The remaining shortfall is covered by the Piedmont Educational Foundation, primarily via their Giving Campaign. Our local funding sources have been steady.

However, our teachers are still hard to hire and retain and there is a lot of pressure to expand our administrators to do more things that school board members should be doing. I would fight for working smarter, not harder in the school district to reduce the burdens on administrators. I am not likely to rubber-stamp hiring more administrators.

What do you think about PUSD facilities and bond measure H1?

I supported Measure H1 for the emphasis on a net-zero energy STEAM building. I also promoted the concept of designing and constructing a brand new high school theater (the Alan Harvey theater) back in 2014. I was happy to find the district managed to get a much better price for new theater construction than was estimated in 2014. I also promoted the use of
obtaining a guaranteed maximum price bid to avoid the debacle of when we undergrounded electrical utilities.

Between the city and the schools there are many shared facilities and programs. What is your perspective on city-school partnerships and collaboration?

The Piedmont Recreation Department (and especially the SchoolMates program) are the primary ways the city supports the schools. After we got extended-day kindergarten, I was told that nearly 50% of SchoolMates revenue was lost after we transitioned to extended-day kindergarten. We are now in sort of a reverse situation where SchoolMates is able to handle transitional kindergarten but the school district cannot. Over time I hope to get to a consistent approach to classroom safety.

Recent events have highlighted the educational inequity between Piedmont and nearby school systems such as Oakland Unified. What measures, if any, do you think PUSD should take to address this problem?

The inequity in educational funding comes from the fact that Oakland cannot afford the parcel taxes that Piedmonters can. A radical redesign of educational funding shifting away from the need for local parcel taxes to full and fair funding would achieve fairness across the state.

Almost every election cycle the state of California puts a proposition on the ballot to try to achieve this. This year the attempt is Proposition 15 which increases taxes on commercial properties. Unfortunately, the timing of such a tax could not have been worse. Revenues are down for virtually every industry and increased taxation would only make things worse.

School Board members must navigate a wide range of parent opinions and demands. How will you handle those pressures?

This is an intellectual challenge. It is very important for voters to elect the best and brightest in this election. I would use the scientific method to work towards a consensus. I am also in favor of parental choice in returning to classroom instruction.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with voters about your candidacy?

I was first to promote transparency between the school district and all stakeholders using a digital town hall; new construction for the high school theater; net-zero energy bills for the STEAM and theater buildings, thereby reducing the school’s operating costs; banning creative financing schemes that defer property taxes at the expense of exponentially compounding
interest charges; refinancing the 2013 school bond saving taxpayers $26 million over 30 years, and first to produce a college matriculation analysis for PUSD graduates. I did not ask for more administrators to get those analyses done and I feel it is a school board’s obligation to find the best ways forward and back them up with research and analysis.

Visit https://HariTitan.com to learn more.

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