By Julie BUTCHER
On March 8, dozens of teachers, parents, students and members of the community packed a candidate forum held at the school district’s Jackson Avenue headquarters to hear from candidates running in the upcoming Glendale Unified School District (GUSD) election on Tuesday, April 4. For the first time, in response to the threat of community litigation, the district will organize the election by district, with three of the five district seats up this year.
The GUSD has lettered its new districts and only areas B, C, and D are holding elections this year. These areas mainly comprise the central and southern parts of the Glendale school district area. Two incumbents, Jennifer Freemon and Nayiri Nahabedian, respectively representing Areas A and E, will remain in office until April 2019. District maps and complete election information can be found on the Glendale Votes website [www.glendalevotes.org]. Trustee Area A includes the communities of Montrose, La Crescenta and Verdugo City and will be represented by board member Jennifer Freemon until the 2019 election.
The two-hour debate was sponsored by the Glendale PTA, moderated by PTA Chapter President Neda Farhoumand, and televised on local public access TV.
The PTA is the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the nation. In Area B, 12-year incumbent Greg Krikorian faces challenger Vardan Stepanyan, who was not able to attend the forum due to a “family emergency.” Krikorian took full advantage of Stepanyan’s absence, noting the importance of his experience and longevity.
Krikorian celebrated achievements he claimed in improving the school district, including Clark Magnet High School, the FLAG language program, and the creation of the Glendale Educational Foundation in the early 2000s. He focused on the needs for stability and “proven leadership,” acknowledging the District’s strengths including its “great teachers and great classified staff,” “the unique and diverse nature of the District,” and its “strong schools” and hard-working principals.
Dr. Armina Gharpetian is running for re-election unopposed in what is now Area C.
“Why am I here then?” she joked. “I’m looking forward to continuing the collaboration I’ve started with teachers and parents.” I’ve still got two kids in our schools. And I care about every one of our 26,000 students, not just the ones in my district,” Gharpetian said in opening. “I’m an advocate, capable of asking tough questions, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done together these past four years.”
In Trustee Area D two first-time candidates face off. Joal Ryan is running for office for the first time as a Glendale parent and community activist. She introduced herself as a dues-paying member of the PTA with a fifth-grader currently at (Mark) Keppel Elementary. Ryan views the move to district elections as an opportunity to focus on “selling the district” at all levels.
“We’ve lost two-thousand students in middle and high school,” she said. “One of the things we need to do is to get parents into our schools. All they need to do is to see them, experience them.”
Also a first-time candidate, Shant Sahakian wished the crowd a happy International Women’s Day and introduced his family including “future Glendale student” 4-month old Raffi. Sahakian said he appreciated his years in Glendale’s public schools, summarized his work and experience as a commissioner and community volunteer.
“Five or 10 or 15 years – that’s where we need to be thinking,” Sahakian said about the needs of GUSD’s students in the future. “We need to align everything we do with the work of the future, particularly in the area of technology.”
According to Sahakian’s campaign website, [The] Glendale School Board District D includes the eastern section of the City of Glendale and households from the 91205 and 91206 zip codes. District D includes the communities of Adams Hill, Chevy Chase Canyon, Citrus Grove (partial), Emerald Isle, Glenoaks Canyon, Mariposa (partial), Somerset, and Woodbury (partial).
In response to a question about school vouchers and the mood of the federal government towards public schools, all of the candidates expressed varying degrees of opposition to any attempts at privatization or to divert funds away from community-based public schools.
Ryan emphasized the need to plan ahead, to find sources for funding if the “$16 million we expect in Title I funding were to be zeroed out.” Instead, she noted, “we’re already a school district of choice. Now we need to be the best choice, a public-school choice.”
Sahakian agreed with the need to protect federal funding, expressing similar concerns regarding vouchers.
Gharpetian criticized any attempt to take away funding from any of “our fantastic schools. All 30 of our schools are goal driven and I will oppose all efforts to do anything like what ‘Trump and Devos’ favor.”
All of the candidates offered various forward-looking technological advancements, and each of the candidates pledged to never take money from the Charter School Association that advocates for charter schools.
Krikorian said that charters formed primarily because public schools were failing.
“The more we do our jobs,” Krikorian said, “the push for charters abates. We can’t compare the charter schools to our district schools. They can pick and choose the students they admit while we need to teach everyone who shows up.”
“Still,” he continued, “we do best when we keep doing the work.”
Sahakian expressed his position that charters “should be just as accountable” as any other school and his acknowledgement that there are currently no charter schools in the GUSD area.
Ryan swore that she would “not take a penny” from the charter lobbyists.
“In fact, we need a loud unified voice to stand up to the charter industry,” she said. “We saw them pouring resources into the last assembly race to elect charter-friendly people who want to undermine the underpinnings of democracy, free public education.”
On the issue of the potential elimination or diminishment of the federal “free lunch” program, all of the candidates spoke out against the move. Similarly, all of the candidates support the recently adopted “Safe Haven” resolution. Regarding both, Ryan said it’s “just mean.”
“We serve all children,” she went on, “and we do not collect data on our students’ immigration status. We are here to serve all of the children.”
Sahakian agreed. “It is tragic that we’re even having this discussion about issues that shouldn’t even be on the table.”
He added that to best educate “creative problem-solvers, we need to feed them breakfast too.”
The election is on April 4. Absentee ballots have been mailed and should have arrived this week.