School Board Candidate Drops Out for Personal Reasons; Family Wins

A third newcomer to local politics had registered to run and paid the $800 for a ballot statement meaning her name will appear on the November ballot along with the four other candidates for the South Pasadena School Board. But there’s a catch. She’s had second thoughts and has withdrawn from the race.

Five-year resident Ivonne Press, 42, married and the mother of nine-year daughter, Michaela, was hearing things about the School District that concerned her. Her husband, Michael, urged her to run.

“He said, ‘You should do it. Run for office,’” Press said during a Monday morning telephone interview when she announced she wasn’t going to seek a seat on the School Board after all. “It was a spur of the moment thing and I started thinking about it as soon as I did it.”

Press registered the last day you can file, which was Aug. 15, and was officially placed on the ballot. She knows she can’t have her name removed from the ballot, but her decision is final, she said.

Soon after her name appeared on the ballot, she started getting contacted by organizations pushing her to join what are known as slates – lists of people to vote for that are mailed to registered voters. They cost money. Press also said other than the $800, she has not spent any money on her campaign.

“I haven’t spent a dime, except for the $800 for the ballot statement,” she said. Also, the School District contacted her to inform her that if she did win, she would have to travel to San Francisco for an orientation.

“It started getting real,” Press said. “I told my husband that if I had to go to San Francisco you and Michaela are going with me. I’m not going anywhere without my husband and my daughter.”

A major medical event also dictated the reason for withdrawing as well.

“I had a stroke when I was 26 and I didn’t want to lose any time with my family,” Press said. “I just started realizing that I was not ready now to commit myself. Maybe when my daughter gets older but not now.”

She just couldn’t reconcile being away from her daughter or her husband while she was serving on the SPUSD Board of Education.

“Every little bit I can scrounge up, I want to spend with my daughter,” she said. “I was having second thoughts about doing this as soon as I registered to run.”

Her name will appear on the ballot along with her ballot statement in English and Spanish, and in the unlikely event she wins, she doesn’t know what she will do.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” she said. “I applaud everyone who has the time, the commitment and the dedication to serve on the School Board. I’m just not there yet.”

Press had one last final thought she wanted to pass on.

“I just hope people don’t hate me for not running,” Press said.

This brings the final tally of those running for the three seats on the South Pasadena School Board to four, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office. The filing deadline ended Aug. 10, but because an incumbent did not file, it was extended to Aug. 15. The third open seat is because incumbent School Board member Elisabeth Eilers decided not to seek re-election.

“I will be completing my 13th year on the Board of Education,” Eilers said when she announced her intention not to run. “It has been one of the most challenging and most fulfilling endeavors of my life. I know of nothing as vital as educating our youth well. I first ran when the district was struggling with a lack of solid leadership at the top and serious budget cuts. I am leaving a healthy and thriving district, thanks to our outstanding superintendent and his cabinet, my fellow board members, our dedicated SPUSD staff and an amazingly supportive community.”

Those running include Zahir Robb, a longtime South Pasadena resident and school administrator, newcomer Dr. Ruby Kalra, another longtime resident who’s a practicing pediatric oncologist, and incumbents Julie Giulioni and Michele Kipke. The top three vote getters will win three seats on the School Board for terms that last four years.

Robb said he’s running for School Board because of a life-long commitment to local education.

“I’m running for School Board so that every one of our public-school students is prepared for the 21st century; to ensure parents’ voices are heard; and to work with all South Pasadena residents – because we all have a stake in the success of our schools,” Robb said.

Robb is the director of admissions for New Roads private school in Santa Monica. His mother retired as a SPUSD teacher and his wife also is a teacher. Robb recently had his official kick-off a-week-ago Sunday.

Meanwhile, Kalra echoed her opponent’s comments in an earlier interview where she said she was grateful to have the opportunity to serve on the School Board. 

“My volunteer experience and raising my own children have highlighted for me how important transitions are from one level to the next – from elementary school to middle school to high school,” Kalra said. “As a School Board member, I will promote communication, inclusion and fiscal responsibility, and the safety and wellness of South Pasadena students will be top priorities.”

Kalra has a long-standing commitment to the district, having been honored as this year’s recipient of the Golden Apple Award for outstanding service to South Pasadena schools. Kalra also has served as the South Pasadena Council’s PTA president and president of the South Pasadena Educational Foundation, in addition to numerous volunteer roles in the schools at all levels and on districtwide committees. Kalra is a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric oncologist. 

Kalra had her official kick-off last Sunday at the home of Cara and Doug Yokomizo.

Incumbents Giulioni and Kipke have said they are running on their track records as board members. The Review will be examining closer those statements in the weeks ahead.

The district is facing significant challenges over the next few years, officials said. 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. Just in the last several months, the district was forced to lay-off two teachers, only to be able to reinstate them later when the enrollment figures and the budget forecast improved. In fact, they were able to implement a two-percent pay hike across the board and 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 facilities that continually requires close scrutiny. Still, wasteful management is a topic of criticism. Recently, as an example, residents were complaining that the School District was excessively watering the playing fields, costing the district untold amounts of money. This could’ve been just another gadfly complaint except that some of the fields that were being watered were comprised of artificial turf.