Meet the Candidates Part 4: GUSD Q & A

On April 5 voters who live within the Glendale Unified School District area will be asked to choose two candidates out of the eight vying for a seat on the district’s school board. The school board members are elected by voters to establish the educational policies of the district. In addition to guiding policy decisions they are also charged with hiring the superintendent of the district. School board members are elected to a four-year term and receive minimum compensation.

In an effort to inform the public of the candidates running for the board of education the Crescenta Valley Weekly has sent to the candidates questions pertaining to the district’s governing board. Below are their answers. This week we present responses by Todd Hunt, Nayiri Nahabedian and Dan Cabrera.

1) What do you feel you can bring to the Glendale board of education?

Todd Hunt: I will bring badly needed experience, leadership, and vision to the Glendale school board.

In the midst of our statewide economic crisis, I believe my 25 years of real-world business experience will provide new ideas and new perspectives to the board.

It’s the board’s job to responsibly and prudently manage the tax dollars the district receives; therefore, we need board members who have actual experience operating within budgets and who understand the financial implications of their decisions.

I’m the senior vice president of a software technology firm. I manage a division with $4 million in revenues and a $1.5 million budget. I believe my experience in finance and operations will be crucial, especially now.

I am a leader in our community. I serve on the board of directors for the Glendale Educational Foundation, the Glendale YMCA, CV Prom Plus, and the Kiwanis Club of Glendale. I also volunteer my time with AYSO soccer, the CV Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition and the Character and Ethics Project.

For the school district to be an effective part of the community I feel it is important for board members to be invested in the communities we serve.  Over the years I have developed good relationships with Glendale City Council members, CV Town Council members, the Glendale Police, and the L.A.  County Sheriffs.

Lastly, I will bring new vision for the future of the school district. Coming from a technology background, I am committed to the strategic planning and implementation of a district-wide technology infrastructure. We need a fully wired and wireless district-wide network that is capable of utilizing not only today’s technology but also the technologies of the future. Our teachers need to utilize the latest technologies so that they can prepare our children and grandchildren to compete in the global economy.

Nayiri Nahabedian: As your representative on the Board of Education, I have been a forceful advocate for making schools safer, keeping class size small, ensuring excellence in teaching, and protecting each child’s opportunity to learn and succeed.

It has not been easy –  particularly because of California’s worst budget crisis in history.

In these tough times, I have worked with the community, parents, and teachers to seek constructive solutions. Together we have succeeded in avoiding teacher layoffs, reducing bullying, targeting drug abuse, keeping class sizes low, while focusing on a first-class education for our students.

We have much to be grateful for in Glendale schools – awards and honors, business and community support, and terrific PTAs. Still, these are challenging times.

Now more than ever, we need a strong and experienced advocate for children on the Board of Education who will keep a balance between competing interests. I will continue to advocate for safe schools, rigorous and relevant curriculum, and a 21st Century education to the children of La Crescenta and Glendale. Together we can do even better!

My background: I moved to Glendale from the Boston area while a teenager, and graduated from Glendale High School. I have my BA in psychology from UCLA, and a master’s from UCLA’s School of Public Policy and Social Research.

I have been a committed community activist, children’s advocate, and education reformer for over 20 years. I have dedicated my personal and professional life to improving the lives of the children including: co-founding Generation Next Mentorship Program, working for the Children and Family Services and serving on Rotary’s Bully Me Not Coalition.

For more than 10 years, I have been a faculty member at CSULA’s School of Social Work where I teach courses on child wellness, public policy, and child advocacy. It has been an honor to serve on the GUSD Board of Education for the past four years.

Dan Cabrera: I was an English teacher at Glendale High for the past eight years, a PTA member for over 20 years and a past PTA president at Glendale High. These experiences give me insight into the challenges facing parents, credentialed teachers and classified staff, as well as insight into the time, effort and mentoring necessary to train an effective teacher.

I was the owner of a retail chain of stores headquartered in Glendale: Friedmans Microwave Ovens. This business experience gave me an understanding of budgets, long-range planning, hiring and training, construction schedules, negotiation and the importance of listening.

I have an MBA from Stanford University, where I focused on business policy and finance.

I have been active in many community groups, including the following service:

•President of the Royal Canyon Property Owners Association for nine years

•Little League coach for five years

•25 year member, The Glendale Historical Society; served a term as VP Preservation

•Member of Glendale School District’s 2015 Strategic Planning Committee

These experiences have taught me the value of listening carefully to all parties concerned before making a final decision on matters that affect many people.

2) What is the number one challenge facing the Glendale school district and what is your plan to address this challenge?

Todd Hunt: The district’s finances continue to be the biggest challenge. Most of us have to do more with less these days. The school district is facing the same realities. As a parent, I want to see our high standards of student achievement and academic performance maintained. But how can this be done with reduced state funding? As a businessman, I believe we need to take a hard look at both sides of the ledger – expenses and revenues.

As your board member, I will call for a thorough review of every dollar being spent. I believe every line item and program needs to be evaluated and scrutinized. I will ask the tough questions and make sure that the district is being responsible with our tax dollars.

On the revenue side, it’s important to understand that our district has to compete for students and the dollars they represent. Parents are looking for the best educational opportunities for their children. The district can no longer assume that students are going to show up at the schoolhouse. Therefore, I believe the district needs to find creative ways to increase enrollment and revenues.

We must seek out grants and other alternative funding sources, continue to develop specialized programs like FLAG and expand career/technical education that attract new students, launch a marketing campaign to inform prospective families (private schools, home schools, etc.) about the benefits of our district, establish community partnerships to offer student services that they district can no longer provide, work with neighboring districts to share costs and approve Measure S.

Another significant challenge is effective communication and engagement with the district’s stakeholders – our parents, teachers, classified staff, city councils, neighborhoods, law enforcement, and other community partners. I am committed to the hard work of repairing damaged bridges and building new ones.

Nayiri Nahabedian: California is in the worst budget crisis in her history. In the 1960s, California spent $500 more per student than the national average in educating her children. Now, California spends $1500 less per student than the national average. Our state ranks one of the lowest of the 50 states in funding public education! The state budget directly impacts our ratio of nurses, librarians, coaches and teachers.

As a Board Member, I believe we must continue to work with others to secure fair funding for public education. For example, working with the Five STAR Coalition – a coalition of five neighboring school districts – pooling our resources together and advocating for our students at the local and state levels. Partnering with the California School Boards Association (CSBA) to lobby at the state level, and supporting the PTA in its advocacy in Sacramento for every child are also necessary to secure adequate funding.

At the same time, here at home, we cannot wait for the state to save us. We must be proactive in making things better! One way to do this is to support Measure S. Measure S will help us provide a 21st Century education for our students and ensure students are not neglected as the result of the state’s economic crisis and declining revenues. The bond will give our community the resources we need to improve education and prepare each student for the jobs of tomorrow, today!

Lastly, there are ways for our district to be more effective independent of dollars. This means being attentive every day to every student – in the classroom, the cafeteria, the field and the playground. Individual attention to students is vital to their learning and well-being. The attention of a teacher, a counselor or a coach is critical for our students to feel connected to their school and their education.

Dan Cabrera: The major challenge facing our schools is the decrease in funds available. There are three reasons for this shortage:

a) The California economy has slowed. A $25 billion budget deficit is looming. Proposition 98 requires that 40% of California’s budget must be spent on education, so any drop in state budgeted funds means less money for schools.

b) Glendale school enrollment is falling. The 2010-11 enrollments are down 350 students compared to last year. Each student brings about $5000 Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funds to GUSD. ADA funds constitute 60% of our school funds. The loss of 350 students means about $1.75 M less money for our schools.

c) Home values and property tax assessments have fallen. Since property taxes contribute about 23% of school funds, this trend also hurts school funding.

My plans to increase the funds available for our schools must include two elements: (1) getting more money by actively lobbying our legislature to allow Gov. Brown’s plan to extend temporary state taxes to come to the voters; (2) passing Bond Measure S for facilities and technology.

3) Glendale district is unique in the diverse student population it serves. How do you avoid painting all the schools in the district with one brush or do you feel universal district policies are more productive?

Todd Hunt: As the father of four, I fundamentally understand that all children are unique. What works for one child typically doesn’t work for the others. Glendale Unified has a wonderfully diverse student population, from our students with special needs to our many and varied ethnic cultures and languages. This obviously presents challenges but I believe it is our moral obligation to provide the best possible education to every student, every day. As your board member, I will always champion policies that focus on the individual student, seeking strategies and methods that provide the most effective instruction. We cannot take universal, one-size-fits-all approach.

To accomplish this, we have to collaborate with the parents, teachers, and administrators to ensure that each child is known and supported. We must analyze the metrics to evaluate the progress of every child and provide intervention programs if a child is falling behind.

We must work harder to close the achievement gaps in our ethnic sub-groups.  These children deserve a bright future and I am committed to finding solutions to this ongoing problem.

We also need to understand that we have a large and geographically diverse district. The school clusters centered around our high schools are all unique, with different needs and challenges.

Being that I was born and raised in the Hoover area and am now raising my children in the CV area, I will bring a fresh perspective to the board. I will make sure that all voices are heard to insure that the district is making the best decisions for all our students and families.

Lastly, I will bring the perspective of a parent with children who have progressed through the entire district K-12. It’s important to know the differences between the primary and secondary grades and understand the impact of policies on each group.

Nayiri Nahabedian: Balance and flexibility are key to meeting the needs of each student; it is the same for meeting the needs of each school.

The district does and should have policies that are district-wide – policies regarding benchmark testing, open enrollment, weapons on campus, harassment and drug use. However, balance and flexibility are important for each student and each school site to succeed. School Site Councils are a good example: through School Site Councils, a school determines its specific needs and resources and can make site-based decisions such as purchasing an additional librarian or coaching hours.

The best examples of a school community coming together and creating a unique program for its students is Prom Plus and the CV Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition. Through the Coalition, CVHS now offers a voluntary drug-testing program for CV students. This is a unique program to CVHS and is the result of CV parents, community and CVHS working together to determine the needs of our students in the CV area.

Dan Cabrera: On a philosophical level, I believe one of our democracy’s greatest strengths is access to a free and public education for all. As a member of the 2015 Strategic Planning Committee, I suggested one of the possible mottos for our schools: “Every Child. Every Day.” I meant that. As a teacher, one of my greatest joys was seeing students that were academically challenged slowly begin to succeed. On a practical level, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation governing school progress stipulates that a school’s Academic Performance Index (API) must include Standards Testing improvements for all significant student populations. It is this part of the requirements that most often results in a school being classified as underperforming: one ethnic group does not improve its percent of proficient students.

Therefore, we must have universal district policies about the attention paid to the success of all students groups, especially those that seem to be falling behind.

Next week we’ll present responses by the remaining candidates.