Robin S. Rowe, the Beverly Hills Chamber Interview

People Puzzle

The Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce PAC asks BHUSD candidate Robin S. Rowe what he can do for the school district

BEVERLY HILLS, CA ( 2020/09/03 – This is Robin’s second time being interviewed by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce Leadership PAC. Previously spoke with the group for the March 2020 City Council election.

Hi, Robin. Thank you for making the time to be with us this afternoon. I want to ask you, if you are elected on the board, can you give us a couple of things that you want to accomplish when it comes to the school district?

When I was running for city council, it came to my attention that $16 million in Beverly Hills education money had been shifted, diverted to things that were not for education. And, so that became my primary concern. The the Board of Education is being sued for shifting $16 million and then trying to conceal it. I think I can do some good over there.

From an education standpoint, you know I’ve been involved in distance learning and and advanced technology for 20 years. So I’ve got expertise there. [This week, Robin was a distance learning facilitator for the IIMA military aviation innovation conference, guiding naval personnel in training sessions using Zoom, Cisco Webex, Miro, Socio and IdeaScope.]

The incumbent has said that he doesn’t care that that education is declining in Beverly Hills. He thinks that’s a good thing. We’re a basic income district, which means that that school gets the same amount of money no matter how few kids it has, even if it’s just one. And so from from his standpoint, that’s good. There’s more money per student. But from my standpoint, that’s terrible.

The reason that people are leaving the school is that the quality of our schools is declining. Ranked #57 in Los Angeles, and yet we have one of the richest public school districts. How can we be #57?

You and I and my colleagues talked about the MTA litigation, the last time we met. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. We’re still spending millions. I know part of it has been resolved, but part of it continues. What do you believe can be accomplished by continuing this case? At what cost? What are we gonna get out of it?

We’re getting absolutely nothing. There’s no way that we’re going to win the case against the County, which is much better funded and has better legal standing. It’s just a boondoggle to delay the MTA. Already $16 million has been diverted from education.

If that $16 million was instead spent on teachers, that’d be a $4,000 raise per year for the next eight years for our teachers. A board that is determined to waste money is how I look at them. As someone who’s just looking at it objectively, not an insider, I can’t understand what they think they’re doing.

And one more thing, that $16 million that is coming out of taxpayers money, that’s only half of our costs. We’re also paying for the County’s legal fees. They also are spending $16 million or whatever to oppose the School Board. Maybe more money. It’s a crazy amount of money for us to lose.

I’ve looked at the lawsuit against the Board. It’s pretty disturbing to read what they’re being charged with, that they took $16 million from building renovation and spent it on lawsuits to block the MTA. That money was never authorized for that purpose. They’ve filed lawsuit after lawsuit. Always losing.

The School Board budget came to my attention when I was running for City Council. There was a story in the news about a lawsuit against the School Board. When I read the lawsuit that had been filed against them, it was chilling. I was like, if any of this is true, this is terrible. The Board hasn’t been able to get it dismissed, so it’s serious.

Thank you for your passion with the city in general, and if you call them in the financial space. I was very interested last time when talking to you about your innovative side. You’re very much in the on the forefront of innovation in your field. You mentioned distance learning, where we are with COVID. What’s, what’s your position on having the kids returned to school in person?

Well, the scientists say that it’s a disaster, that it’s asking for children and teachers to die. Politicians are saying that it may work out, we should try it. It’s an experiment without scientists, run by politicians. And, the victims will be the teachers and students. If it does work out, the politicians will be heroes. And if it doesn’t work out, well, the politicians are not sending their kids to these schools, are they? They’ve got their kids in a different system.

I’m very concerned about how politicians seem to want to gamble with other people’s lives. But I’m a research scientist. I mean, if the CDC and the WHO, responsible scientists, say that we can do this with reasonable safety, I’m not opposed to it in principle. I’m just opposed to it as magical thinking and bad science.

What do you think the best thing that the school board has done in the last term, which I guess is three or four years? What’s the best thing they did? And what’s the worst thing they did?

Have they done anything good? I’m not aware. If they’ve done anything good, they’ve kept it a pretty good secret. I mean, I’m not incumbent. Someone who’s on the school board has a huge advantage over me in being able to say what they’ve done. But in reading their press, there’s no ‘there’ there, in what they talk about. What a good job they’ve done? How proud they are that enrollment is declining?

They talk about how great it’s going academically as a school. But when I look at the stats, it says we’re number #57 in the L.A. Metro area. Ouch. They’re obviously looking at numbers that are completely different from the ones that I see.

What do you think the worst thing is that they’ve done?

Wasting $16 million. Honestly, it makes me furious.

What involvement do you see between the school district and the business community? What initiatives would be interested in exploring?

The school has its own TV station and journalism program. However, it doesn’t seem like there’s good coordination there with our business community. There’s more that the school could do to promote Beverly Hills. Both as a travel city, which we can’t really do right now, and as a business city to do business in.

The big thing for the businesses of Beverly Hills, why the Beverly Hills school system matters so much, is it is a deciding factor for families to move here. Having the best schools in the area is a really big deal. It has a ripple effect that we can’t really measure, but is significant. It used to be that families moved here because we had great schools.

I talk to parents. I say, hey, you’ve got a child who’s starting high school next year. You’re my neighbor. Are you sending your child to the Beverly Hills High School? And she says, no, I’m sending her to Notre Dame private school. I say, why would you do that? She says, well, you know, Beverly Hills High School doesn’t really rate. That’s not good. That’s a terrible situation for for our city, for families, and for business here.

Another thing, when we when we look at the reason that our numbers are low, we actually do pretty well in reading and writing comprehension. If we could just be graded on that, we’d have a much higher score for our schools. Where we’re not doing well is mathematics. We’re not educating our children so that they’re ready with mathematics to go into business.

Robin, we still have a little time left. It would be great if you would spend a little time to tell us about why now is the right time for you in this job and anything else that you’d like to like us to know about your candidacy?

Okay, well, I live a life of serendipity. When I was still at university, I became the editor of a documentary that was being produced by the dance department. And because of that, I spent a whole summer at the local cable TV station. That’s another thing we’re lacking in Beverly Hills, a community access television station.

Community access television is what led to my initial success. I got to use their edit bay, but didn’t know how to edit. The station director came by and had pity on me. He would say, no Robin, not that button, over here. I started helping in the studio, just doing whatever, because I was so grateful. By the end of the summer, I had rotated through every position at that little TV station.

One day, the station manager came to me and said, hey, you are always here and so enthusiastic, would you like a job in television? I said, I’d love to work here. He said, oh no, not here. This place is terrible. Let me make a phone call. That night I was working at NBC. My first job. A phone call, and I’m working at NBC. Amazing.

I became technical director for news at NBC, producing the news live at six and 10pm every night. The coolest job in the world. Moving to Chicago, I switched from production to TV engineering. Built the NBC studios there.

Next, the University of Washington reached out to me and said, would you like to teach night school? We need people to teach computer science. I said, ok.

In Monterey speaking at a conference, I visited a teacher I knew. He introduced me to his department chairman, who urged me to teach there. I joined the Naval Postgraduate School as an adjunct professor and became a navy research scientist.

Next, the systems integrator I worked with on the NBC Chicago job called. Said, hey Robin, we’ve got the perfect job for you, but we can’t tell you what it is. That put me into working in national security. I got to sail on an aircraft carrier. I’ve had the coolest life. I moved to Los Angeles to design software at DreamWorks Animation.

After the 2016 election, I was not very happy with the outcome. I didn’t like either of the presidential candidates. I called up our mayor, who was very nice to talk to me. I said, I’m not running for president, is there something I can do local? He said, why don’t you join the Beverly Hills Technology Committee?. So, I did.

After four years on the Tech Committee, people at City Hall said, Robin, you’re so enthusiastic, you should run for City Council. I said, alright. While running for City Council, I came across what was going on with the School Board budget. I said to myself, somebody should do something about that! So, here we go.

Prior to COVID, safety on our school campuses was a national issue. what steps do you think need to be taken to increase safety on campus? And what cost effective measures that could be implemented to actually increase security?

School security was discussed during my debates with the City Council incumbents. They had a lot of opinion on it, which seemed odd because the City Council has almost nothing to do with school security. It’s not actually up to them, but the School Board. What the City Council incumbents were urging was to make the schools into prisons, like barbed wire and police dogs. That if we just make it a police state, we can make our schools secure.

That approach is counterproductive. Not the right environment for children. That would feel like they’re in a prison. It inhibits learning. It makes people fearful being in an environment where they’re constantly expecting an attack.

I take our school violence situation very seriously. Unfortunately, when we have a leader of our country who riles people to violence, our schools are a natural target for vigilante extremism. We have to calm this down at the social level. All of this effort towards making our schools more secure, has done just the opposite. What we’re doing is making it worse. We need to have new ideas and a new approach.

Because I’m on the City of Beverly Hills Technology Committee, I am very aware that the city has installed thousands of CCTV security cameras that are monitored by AI. After the Nessah Synagogue break-in and vandalism in December, I met with our chief of police. The suspect had been able to escape to Hawaii. Took an expensive police manhunt to apprehend him. I asked the chief, why wasn’t the suspect caught in the act by our city’s real-time AI crime detection system?

The reason the city’s automated crime detection system failed to protect Nessah was the city had no cameras pointing at the synagogue. After my conversation with the chief, a city crew was out the next day putting up cameras outside Nessah. To not protect our synagogues and churches was a choice made by our City Council. A rookie mistake.

I have experience in national security. I designed an AI crisis detection system installed at the Department of Defense. Nobody on the School Board is qualified in national security. Once elected, I will do a security review. As with city hall, expect to find rookie security mistakes at our schools too.

It’s time. Thank you so much. Appreciate you guys. I love that you took the time to do this.