The final tally for the So Pas School Board race shifted the top order of the votes from one newcomer to another.
With all precincts reporting along with the provisional and absentee ballots, newcomer Zahir Robb took over the top spot with 5,814 votes, followed by newcomer Dr. Ruby Kalra, 5,754, and incumbent Dr. Michele Kipke bringing up the rear with 5,343, according to the latest figures from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office. The final count put incumbent Julie M. Giulioni at 5,188 and Evonne Press, who opted out of the race immediately after entering the contest, at 1,645.
Initially, Kalra received the most votes of all of the four that were running with 4,014. Furthermore, the second highest vote tally went to Robb with 3,975 votes while the incumbent Kipke was at 3,740 votes. The terms are for four years.
Longtime So Pas School Board observers were surprised by the results, saying Giulioni’s loss was unexpected. The one-term incumbent was gracious in defeat when she spoke to The Review about her time as a School Board member.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to have served SPUSD as a School Board member over the past five years,” Giulioni said. “And I’m proud of the work that we and the district have done during that time. I’m also grateful to everyone who opened their doors and their hearts to me over the past several months of campaigning. The kindness of our community and friends I’ve made along the way are gifts that I’ll always hold dear.”
Kalra was considered the newcomer shoe-in having been a past president of the PTA and the South Pasadena Educational Foundation. She also was endorsed by School Board President Jon Primuth, among others.
Robb, a longtime educator currently working as the director of admissions for New Roads private school in Santa Monica, also had some hefty endorsements such as School Board member Suzie Abajian, along with others.
Both Kalra and Robb also are longtime So Pas residents with decades of experience with the local school system. Robb was born and raised in the city and attended Monterey Hills Elementary, South Pasadena Middle School (SPMS) and South Pasadena High School (SPHS). Robb met his wife, Noel Garcia, while both were at the Middle School. Moreover, Noel Garcia is a teacher and his mother is a retired South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) teacher.
“That is my main message,” Robb has said in earlier interviews. “I am an education wonk and successful school districts are the ones that have strong partnerships with the community. I think we can improve on that here in South Pasadena.”
Kalra, a pediatric oncologist, was excited to start work, saying she was grateful for the opportunity to serve.
“I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to serve our students, schools and community,” she said. “I’m also looking forward to working with the rest of the board, and want to thank Julie and Elisabeth (Eilers) for their years of dedication and service.” Incumbent Eilers, who endorsed Giulioni, opted not to run for re-election, saying she was leaving a “healthy and thriving district.”
Meanwhile, this will be Kipke’s third term on the School Board. Kipke said her personal experience with the district has been nothing but positive, saying experience does matter.
“It’s hard to believe but I have served on the South Pasadena Unified School District’s (SPUSD) Governing Board for nearly 10 years,” Kipke said.
Ironically, Evonne Press decided at the last minute not to seek the seat. Press publicly withdrew only after she had registered and paid her $800. She said her family obligations were more important at this time and hoped “people would not hate me” for backing out. Her ballot statement in English and Spanish appeared alongside her name.
South Pasadena – although ranked 5th of all unified school districts in California – is facing significant challenges over the next few years, officials say. As always, the ever-changing state budget alters the district’s finances seemingly on a weekly basis. Declining enrollment also is a challenge that must be dealt with head-on. The district was able to implement a two-percent pay hike across the board for its teachers and then extend the same pay increase later to its top administrators. It also was able to develop a solid reserve for the first time in years.
The looming pension requirements, however, still require budgetary adjustments. The district also won approval from the voters for a $98-million bond measure for upgrading and renovating facilities on all the campuses that continually requires strong oversight.