Glendale Unified board’s term-limit discussions pick up steam

School board clerk Shant Sahakian, who's been pushing for term limits for over a year, said he was in favor of three terms, not giving members a chance to come back after term limits are reached, while putting the issue to a public vote in November 2020.
(File Photo)

During a discussion by the Glendale Unified school board about possible term limits last week, topics such as three terms rather than four as well as a possible return for board members or lifetime exclusion dominated the meeting.

The board met for the second time within the last two months to talk about placing a cap on terms for future candidates with no votes taken, but there was a decision to continue the process.

Phyllis Ishisaka, executive assistant to Glendale Unified Supt. Vivian Ekchian, prepared a report that included specifics regarding what term limits might soon look like.

Currently, each board member represents one of five districts that consist of elementary, middle and high schools, with some areas also including continuation schools and other facilities.

Each member serves a four-year term and there are no limits. The next election is slated for March 2020 and will involve areas A and E, held by board president Jennifer Freemon and member Nayiri Nahabedian.

Board members debated about whether to set caps at two, three or four terms, or, in other words, from eight, 12 or 16 years.

There was also some back and forth about whether a candidate could leave for a “cycle” and then come back to run again or whether that member, if they hit a term limit, would be barred from serving on the board again.

Two additional topics discussed were election costs and when the district would put term limits on a ballot, which appears likely for the November 2020 general election.

“What we are looking for now is some direction from the board whether or not you want to move forward,” Ishisaka said.

Board clerk Shant Sahakian, who’s been pushing for term limits for over a year, said he was in favor of three terms and not giving members a chance to come back after they reach a term limit. He also supported putting the issue up for a public vote in November 2020.

“If we’re going to do term limits, we need to do term limits, and I think four terms is too long of a period,” Sahakian said. “I think three terms is the balanced approach.”

Sahakian said the board should follow the Glendale City Council’s lead. In 2017, Glendale residents voted overwhelmingly in support of Measure L, to cap limits for council members at three four-year terms.

“Our community, in my opinion, has voiced, at least partially, their position on how they feel about term limits,” said Sahakian, the most junior board member, who won a board seat in 2017.

Meanwhile, board member Greg Krikorian said he was not in favor of term limits. Krikorian was first elected in 2001 and trails only the 20-year tenure of former board member Blanch Greenwood for longest duration to serve on the school board in district history.

“The voters dictate term limits, but I understand that this is some of the direction that we’re going,” Krikorian said.

He added, “Once we do this, it’s going to be hard to ever change back.”

Krikorian also pushed back at Sahakian’s assertion the district should follow City Council, saying salaries and benefits between both governing bodies aren’t close.

City Council members are paid an annual stipend of $17,160, according to an analysis by the city attorney’s office. Transparent California, a public pay and pension database, listed the council’s regular pay between $18,960 and $19,060 for 2018.

Retirement benefits and other perks lifted the salary of four of the five council members to over $60,000, according to Transparent California.

In comparison, Glendale Unified board members gave themselves a 1.5% raise last year to qualify for a monthly stipend of $1,301.97, which is $15,623.64 annually. Board members’ salaries and benefits last year, according to Transparent California, were between $22,368 and $34,912.

Beyond salaries, board vice president Armina Gharpetian said it would be prudent to allow for contingency planning. She noted the board may need to appoint a temporary member quickly, in the case of an abrupt departure, and former board members should be considered.

“It is very important for us to have the flexibility in emergency situations,” she said. “Things happen.”

Gharpetian said she was in favor of a three-term limit, while board member Nayiri Nahabedian leaned toward a four-term limit.

Board president Jennifer Freemon said she was in favor of a three-term limit if board members were allowed to take off time and return, and, if that option were denied, would then likely vote for a four-term option.

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