Candidates try to make their marks

Two Glendale Unified School Board candidates Thursday criticized Measure S — a $270-million bond on the April 5 ballot — breaking rank with district officials who say it is a critical component of the long-range success of local schools.

The district’s focus should be on classroom instruction and not necessarily on new buildings, said Ingrid Gunnell, a Los Angeles Unified school teacher and the parent of an Edison Elementary School student.

“If my child attends a school that has a beautiful new turf playground, but there is nobody to teach him, that is not going to be acceptable to me,” Gunnell said. “If the current school board had guaranteed $19 million to keep class sizes low, [the Glendale Teachers Assn.] would have supported Measure S.”

She was referring to the union’s decision to oppose the bond after failing to get a commitment from district administrators to dedicate money that would be freed up by the bond to backfilling employee concessions made last year.

Jennifer Freemon, a former Glendale Unified teacher and mother of three, said she believes strongly in funding public education, so much so that she has lobbied and demonstrated in Sacramento. But Measure S is not the answer, she said.

“We need to have ourselves positioned to explore alternative sources of funding if the June state tax extension does not pass,” Freemon said. “To push Measure S now in April ties our hands come June. I advocate a wait-and-see approach now, and be ready to put it on the ballot as soon as possible.”

The comments came during a candidate forum hosted by the Glendale Council PTA and the League of Women’s Voters Glendale/Burbank that drew about 40 people. In addition to Gunnell and Freemon, the challengers include Todd Hunt, Vahik Satoorian, Ami Fox and Daniel Cabrera. The incumbents are Mary Boger and Nayiri Nahabedian.

During more than 90 minutes of questions and answers, the eight candidates shared their positions on teacher evaluations, magnet schools and district-community communication.

Several candidates criticized what they described as contentious relationships between the current school board, the Glendale City Council and the teachers’ union.

“Glendale can do so much better than what it is doing right now,” Fox said. “I know that these are tough times, but there are always tough times. That is not an excuse to create so much tension that we see.”

Others promised increased transparency on the part of the school board. Both the district and the teachers’ union will need to be open and honest during future contract negotiations, said Cabrera, a former businessman and retired Glendale High School English teacher.

“What you want to do is have both people win. Both sides have to be completely open with one another, understanding the reasons behind their positions,” Cabrera said.

But it was the state government’s financial crisis, and the district’s multi-million-dollar budget shortfall, that dominated the forum.

If Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax extension does not pass in June, Glendale Unified will need to cut an additional $8.5 million from its budget, said Hunt, a business executive and father of four. Every line item in the budget will have to be gone over with a fine-tooth comb, he said.

“We are fortunate to have good schools here in Glendale Unified School District,” Hunt said. “However, with all the challenges facing the board, good enough is not good enough. We must do better.”

The incumbents made no attempts to sugar-coat the district’s financial situation.

“Our budget outlook falls into three categories — bad, unbelievably bad, and doomsday,” Boger said. “Never has there been a greater need for the experience, the capacity and the courage to make student-centered decisions.”

During her nine years on the board, Boger said she has demonstrated that capacity and courage.

Navigating the budget crisis has not been easy, Nahabedian said, but added that she has been a fierce advocate for smaller classrooms, school safety and high teacher standards.

“In these tough times, I have worked with our community, our parents and our teachers to seek constructive solutions and together we have been able to avoid laying off teachers, reduce bullying in our classrooms and work cooperatively with our city,” Nahabedian said.

On the issue of negotiating a potentially brutal budget shortfall, Satoorian said his long career as a certified public accountant will bring badly needed experience to the school board.

“There is no more room and time, the budget must be dealt with now,” Satoorian said. “We need to spend every penny we get for the schools conservatively.”

The candidates are scheduled to take part in another election forum on March 17 at Brand Library.

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