Changes at Glendale Unified marked at State of the Schools breakfast

Marching bands and speeches rounded out the festivities at the 11th annual “State of the Schools” event Thursday morning on the Edison Elementary campus, culminating with a plea to financially support Glendale Unified’s robotics and middle-school intramural programs.

The breakfast, one of two major annual fundraisers by the Glendale Educational Foundation, began in 2005 with then-Supt. Michael Escalante.

PHOTOS: 11th annual “State of the Schools” breakfast

Since then, the foundation has donated nearly $3 million to shore up funding for health, fitness and the arts. During the ceremony, foundation President Toni Beck Espinoza presented a $100,000 check to school board President Chris Walters — who joked she thought she saw her name on it — to loud applause.

Pacific BMW Vice President Nick Lam — who has personally donated or shepherded hundreds of thousands of dollars to Glendale causes over the years — and the Glendale Council PTA each received an Educational Excellence Award. In addition, Andrea Reuter, a dual-language teacher at Edison, received accolades for winning Teacher of the Year honors.

Prior to the presentations, interim Supt. Don Empey — who worked for Glendale Unified for 25 years before moving to a position at Cal State Northridge in 2001 — told the crowd of educators and business leaders that the Jewel City has some of the finest principals, teachers and staff of any district, anywhere.

He noted that the increase in technology in classrooms, new building initiatives and careful management of funds have combined to help the district become stronger, more adaptive to changes and just generally better.

“As you can see, the state of Glendale schools is excellent,” said Empey, who was lured out of retirement earlier this year after then-Supt. Dick Sheehan left in May. “I can’t take credit for that, but this room is filled with people who can.”

There have been a lot of changes — both technological and pedagogical — since 2001, he said, but added that the friendliness and caring of both parents and staff has always remained the same. Empey’s final day as interim superintendent was Thursday.

“Over the last 31/2 months, I have witnessed this in so many ways, and I want to thank you for that,” he said to a standing ovation.

Empey’s second retirement comes at a critical time for the district, which is searching for a permanent leader and in the midst of ongoing negotiations with the teachers’ union.

Glendale officials blamed Empey’s short tenure on state rules regarding payments to retired educators, who, under state law, cannot make more than about $40,000 per year without having it impact their pension.

Empey, who retired in 2007, receives CalPERS pension payments of about $87,000 per year, from his work at both Glendale Unified and Cal State Northridge.

From 2004 to last year, Glendale has had just two superintendents. By the end of the month, the district will have had a total of three individuals who have held or currently hold the title of interim superintendent.

Earlier this week, the Glendale Unified board hired two interim superintendents — Joel Shawn and Marc Winger — to guide the district until next June, when the governing body expects to have made its choice for a permanent leader. One reason for the duo leadership was again attributed to the $40,321 retiree cap.

Shawn, who retired from the Arcadia School District, received about $84,000 in CalPERS pension benefits in 2014, according to the website Transparent California. Information on Winger, who retired from the Newhall School District in January, was not immediately available.

The duo may have a challenging negotiation process ahead with members of the Glendale Teachers Assn., if the Oct. 6 school board meeting was any indication. Reuter, during her acceptance of the Teacher of the Year award, used her speech as a platform to lobby for higher wages.

“It’s nice to be recognized for doing a good job, but teachers need fair compensation for their hard work,” she said, wearing a red shirt demonstrating her support for the union.

“Many of us feel unappreciated and not valued because of the district’s apparent unwillingness to provide a fair increase in teacher’s salaries during these better economic times.”

School board member Greg Krikorian congratulated Reuter on the award, but rebuked her for the speech, noting that there is a “time and place for everything.”