Addressing topics from community engagement and problems of educational equity, to the district’s ongoing financial difficulties and others, all nine showed up to a virtual forum hosted by the League of Women Voters earlier this week, spending two hours making their best case for your vote in November.
You can watch the candidate forum here.
Here’s who is running.
District 2, where incumbent Roy Boulghourjian decided not to run for re-election:
- Mike Crowley, a volunteer with the Tournament of Roses.
- Wayne Hammack, an attorney by trade who’s been endorsed by Boulghourjian.
- Jennifer Hall Lee, a current member of the Altadena Town Council who’s been endorsed by United Teachers of Pasadena, among others.
- Patrick Cahalan, the current board president for Pasadena Unified, who manages technology infrastructure for Caltech. He has endorsements from United Teachers of Pasadena and the district’s classified employees union, among many others.
- Scott Harden, an innovation strategist by trade and a four-term PTA president.
District 6, where incumbent Larry Torres opted not to run for re-election:
- Crystal Czubernat, who said she’s spent nearly two decades working in education as a teacher and administrator. She’s been endorsed by Torres, among others.
- Tina Wu Fredericks, a former teacher, who is now the lead engineer at Green Dot, a financial technology company in Pasadena. She’s been endorsed by United Teachers of Pasadena and the district’s classified employees union, among others.
- Priscilla Hernandez, an executive with the nonprofit Hollenbeck Police Business Council, which provides recreational programs and youth services for economically disadvantaged kids. She formerly worked as deputy director under then-Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger, Pasadena Now reported.
- Milena Albert-Mgeladze, an administrator for the city of Los Angeles, where she works in the audit division of the Los Angeles Police Department. She has been also been a city commissioner in Pasadena for 12 years.
All nine of the candidates are parents of Pasadena Unified students, though some have already graduated, they each explained during the forum.
District 6 candidate Albert-Mgeladze said it was her own child’s performance that encouraged her to run for a school board seat.
“My children have been with the district for 13 years, and all I’ve seen is them failing,” she said, explaining one of her sons graduated high school with a 1.45 GPA before finishing his first year at Pasadena City College with a 3.2. “That made me realize it’s not about the kids, it’s what the kids have to make them successful.”
While she was criticizing the effectiveness of district programs on the whole, other candidates looked at the dovetailing problems of equity in education, particularly District 6’s Hernandez.
“It’s our commitment as a district to provide” technology to families during coronavirus, Hernandez said. And although the district was able to give every student a laptop, not every student has internet access. The pandemic “lifted the veil on the inequalities we have in the system and allows us to address them,” she said.
Seconds later, District 4’s Cahalan explained that the district had already ordered more WiFi hot spots for students before it ran into supply chain issues, though the district is working to resolve those.
In the meantime, to reduce pandemic-exposed inequities, Cahalan said the district was figuring out ways to bring the neediest students back to campus in order to use the school’s WiFi.
“We will be taking other steps as they become available to us under the health conditions,” he said.
While the district has funding to get the hot spots, the district is currently seeking a $60 million educational technology bond, coupled with a $456 million facilities bond, collectively packaged as Measure O for Pasadena voters.
Not to mention, California’s Proposition 15, which seeks to increase taxes on commercial businesses to help school funding.
While the school board unanimously supported the proposition during Thursday’s meeting, some of the nine candidates were less enthused, though the majority still supported it.
While District 2’s Crowley said he’d love for them both to pass, he thought both needed to be rewritten, particularly Measure O, which wasn’t specific enough in how the district would use the funds.
That echoed similar concerns shared by District 4’s Harden and District 6’s Albert-Mgeladze.
District 6’s Hernandez supported Measure O, but not Proposition 15, warning that consumers will end up footing the bill if taxes are increased on commercial businesses, echoing similar sentiments from District 2’s Hammack.
“I don’t believe for a second that it’s only going to affect large corporations,” Hammack said. “It’s going to be passed down.”
If the pandemic hadn’t left small businesses strapped for cash — both candidates say they’ll be footing the bill too, even though they’re exempt, because they buy supplies from large corporations — then maybe Hammack would think differently.
District 4’s Cahalan, who supports both, argued that California’s education spending is falling very short on where it should be and felt that Proposition 15 would help shore it up.
District 2’s Lee agreed, backing Proposition 15.
“The bottom line is California does not fund schools the way other states do. They simply don’t,” she said. “We used to be near the top, … and now we’re near the bottom.”
Like others, she promised if elected to fight for more funding from the state legislature.
As far as Measure O was concerned, Cahalan tried to assuage fears that taxes would suddenly go up significantly for residents.
“If we don’t pass these bonds, we don’t get the authority to issue them. But we won’t issue them (the bonds) all tomorrow,” he said. “The impact will not be felt on the taxpayer right away.”
Nearly all of the candidates recognized the district was in a pickle for the next few years, facing declining enrollment and less state funding as result.
“This is why I’m running and this is my area of expertise,” District 6’s Czubernat said, explaining everyone will be lobbying the state and federal governments for more funds in the next year or two. Like others, she called for the district to build a school system that attracts families that left for private and charter schools.
District 2’s Hammack felt like some lower income families wouldn’t return to Pasadena Unified “for technological issues and the like” related to coronavirus.
He called on the the district to focus on getting those students back “otherwise we will have those tough questions and there will be cuts, and it will be unpleasant.”
Nearly all of them agreed: For Pasadena Unified’s continued survival, they needed to make the district’s schools more attractive to parents who are all too often looking elsewhere for an education for their children.
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