Learning Matters: Switch to voting districts brings some surprises

Area voters who haven't already voted by mail or at this weekend's early voting center, located at 131 N. Isabel St., will be going to the polls Tuesday, voting for the first time for trustee area board members for the Glendale Unified School District and Glendale Community College.

Where I live in Adams Hill, which has no incumbent representative on either board, this election has a special significance for me and my neighbors. We'll get at least two elected officials hailing from south Glendale.


As a former Glendale Unified school board member still interacting regularly with both Glendale Unified and Glendale Community College, I can't help but think how I'd address the current issues facing our schools.

But as I've read and heard the candidates' positions and the experiences that led them to run, I wonder about the long-term effects of moving from at-large elections to trustee area campaigns. So far, I'd say the results have not all been as expected.

The biggest surprise for me has been the drop in the number of candidates running for election. Instead of the robust diversity of candidates suggested by the lawsuit that prompted the move to trustee area elections, we now have a total of only five candidates running for the three school board seats and another five for the three college board seats.

Of the six seats up for election, three are uncontested. Glendale Unified board member Armina Gharpetian and Glendale Community College board members Armine Hacopian and Ann Ransford are running unopposed.

Glendale Unified board member Greg Krikorian is the only school or college board incumbent facing a challenge. (For the record, in the at-large city election, both City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian and City Treasurer Rafi Manoukian are also running unopposed.)

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised at the decreased number of candidates. My experience as a candidate in at-large elections taught me that running for one of three positions meant voters could make more than one choice, and candidates didn't have to run against anyone in particular. In more than one campaign, I heard the statement, "I'm not running against you, Joylene." And I, to my benefit or not, could be supportive of my incumbent colleagues.

A candidate running for one seat in a trustee area cannot claim to be supporting a rival for that seat. In trustee area elections, challengers must challenge individuals, and voters have to choose. This year, would-be candidates evidently chose not to challenge incumbents.

Another interesting development in this year's campaign has been the proliferation of endorsements by state and local elected officials, some of them announced even before it was clear who all was running for office.

In years past — a decade and more ago — many "electeds" refrained from making endorsements when they knew they would need to work with whoever won, or for fear of appearing to misuse the power of their office.

But the culture of elections has changed. While many voters hoped by-area voting would give local neighborhoods more voice in their representation, outside interests in these elections have only increased.

Along the same lines, some voters who expected campaign expenditures to decrease in trustee area elections have been surprised by the number of campaign mailers hitting their U.S. Postal Service mailboxes.

I wish I'd counted the number of mailers we've received on behalf of just one candidate. I wonder what the final campaign expenditure reports will show — or what they would show if they included the cost of mailers sent by independent entities on the candidate's behalf.

But there's good news, notwithstanding any concerns about the long-term effects of trustee area elections or the political interests shaping them. From what I've seen, the candidates in these races have run positive, issue-oriented campaigns, free of the negativity we've seen in some recent races.

As a timekeeper at the Women's Civic League candidate forums, I had the opportunity to sit front and center facing the candidates. I can truly say I was heartened by the experience and by each candidate's public spirit and desire to serve.

I can also say from my perspective as a former candidate that my job as timekeeper was easier than theirs. Responding to the questions in the allotted time can be a daunting task, and I'd say they excelled at it.

JOYLENE WAGNER is a past member of the Glendale Unified school board, from 2005 to 2013, and currently serves on the boards of Glendale Educational Foundation and other nonprofit organizations. Email her at