Students quiz GUSD board hopefuls

Clark Magnet High School students injected a bit of color into the Glendale Unified School Board race, quizzing candidates during a forum on Friday about program cuts, creationism in the classroom and tuition-based summer school.

The questions came during a biannual forum hosted by Clark Magnet history teacher Nick Doom and his students. Launched during the 2005 school board race, it allows students direct access to those who will be setting the policy that shapes their educational experience in Glendale, Doom said.

The forum also generates creative, student-specific prompts that aren’t typically aired at traditional events.

Six of the eight school board candidates — including incumbents Nayiri Nahabedian and Mary Boger, and challengers Jennifer Freemon, Daniel Cabrera, Todd Hunt, Vahik Satoorian — participated. Challengers Ingrid Gunnell and Ami Fox did not attend.

With Glendale Unified facing as much as $8 million in funding cuts to its 2011-12 budget, the conversation returned again and again to financial management. Candidates were asked to prioritize extracurricular activities, arts programs or sports teams for elimination. None of the six directly answered the question, stating instead that they would hate to lose any of the three.

“I am not interested in our students graduating as one-dimensional widgets,” Boger said. “I want you all to be multidirectional.”

More than 80% of the district’s expenditures go to salaries and benefits, Cabrera pointed out. It will be hard to make further cuts without touching employee contracts. Collective bargaining with employee unions needs to be structured to withstand financial instability, he said.

“If things get worse, then build into the bargaining agreement some way to deal with that,” Cabrera said. “If things get better, on the other hand, then they have to receive the benefit of that as well.”

Candidates were also asked to identify the single most pressing non-budget-related issue facing the district.

Satoorian proposed expanding teacher and administrator evaluations to gather input from students and parents. Freemon said she would work on improving communication between Glendale Unified leadership and the public.

Hunt said he would like to see a better relationship between the district and the city. There have been times when various stakeholders were pulling in different directions, he added.

“The ultimate losers are you guys, the students of our district,” Hunt said. “And that is not acceptable at all. I would love to bring in Dr. Phil and sit everyone down, but we are not there. We have to do the hard work ourselves.”

Hiring top-notch teachers and arming them with the technological tools to engage students is among her top priorities as a board member, Nahabedian said.

“We must continually, as a board of education, meet students where you are at, and meet individual students’ needs where each student is at,” she said. “The bottom line is, the reason the board of education exists, the reason schools exist, is so we can do the best job possible to teach and to help you learn and be prepared.”

The question about teaching creationism alongside evolution drew a unanimous “no” from the candidates.

“We have content standards for pretty much every class that is taught,” Freemon said. “Those content standards determine what should be covered throughout the course of a year. Creationism does not fit into that state content plan.”

Another school board candidate forum is scheduled for March 17 at Brand Library.

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