School Board Incumbents Tout Experience as a Plus

Julie Giulioni

The two incumbents seeking re-election to the So Pas School Board say experience does count and has provided the students, administrators and parents one of the best school districts in the state.

Julie Winkle Giulioni is seeking her second term while Michele Kipke is asking voters to return her for a third time to terms that last four years.

Incumbent Elisabeth Eilers has chosen not to seek re-election, saying it has been “one of the most challenging and most fulfilling endeavors of my life.” Eilers also said she’s leaving a “healthy and thriving district” that has strong support from the community.

Eilers sitting this out has paved the way for non-incumbents Zahir Robb, a longtime South Pasadena resident and school administrator, and Dr. Ruby Kalra, another longtime resident who’s a practicing pediatric oncologist, to seek a seat on the School Board. Another candidate, Evonne Press, will appear on the ballot but has publicly announced she’s not running after all. Press 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 will appear alongside her name, and in the unlikely event she wins, she doesn’t know what she will do.

Michele Kipke

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

That leaves four people vying for three open seats by an at-large vote. The filing deadline ended Aug. 10, but because an incumbent did not file, it was extended to Aug. 15. The general election is Nov. 6.

In a time when voters on a national scale seem to be turning a blind eye to incumbents, experience on the school board not only counts but is vital to getting the job done, both incumbents said.

“I was honored to be elected five years ago to the school board and have worked tirelessly on behalf of our students, families, schools and community,” Giulioni said in an email to The Review. “But, I’ll be honest with you… joining the school board is a bit like drinking from a fire hose. The learning curve associated with governing a school district is far steeper than one might imagine. Becoming fluent in the policies, Education Code, budgeting process, and how to affect change in this setting was a rich education for me. And, as a result of this grounding, I’m prepared to offer more value during a second term.”

Giulioni went through the South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) from K-12th grade and when her own children were at the age to begin school, she moved back to So Pas.

“When my own children were ready to begin school, I returned to South Pasadena; and while much had changed, one thing hadn’t: our community’s commitment to providing the best education possible for our kids,” Giulioni said. “Over the past two decades, I’ve lent my time and energy to that community commitment, serving our schools in capacities ranging from SPEF and PTA president to Parti Gras and Summer School vice president, to Fun Fair co-chair, Art Docent coordinator, to room parent and more. In each role, I learned more about our schools and families… and about their needs.”

Kipke touts her personal experience with the district as well, saying her two children are products of SPUSD.

“I am a Professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and Vice Chair of Research within the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles,” Kipke said in an email to The Review. “My life’s work has focused on ensuring the healthy development of children and adolescents, especially those most vulnerable. I am also a parent of two amazing kids, Lily who just graduated from South Pasadena High School and is now studying design at the University of San Francisco, and Kai who promoted last year from Marengo and is now attending the Middle School.”

Kipke is proud of her accomplishments as a School Boardmember and said 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. “It has been an extraordinary honor to serve our community, families and students, and I have learned so much and benefitted in so many ways. I am deeply proud of what we have accomplished during the past 10 years and am excited about future plans to further expand our academic programs as we upgrade our school facilities.” 

Both incumbents, though, are not resting on their laurels, looking toward the future is vital, they say.

“We have outstanding schools with the best and the brightest principals and administrative staff,” Kipke said. “In fact, South Pasadena is ranked 5th of all unified school districts in California, based on state test scores. In just the past few years, we have expanded our course offerings to include a new dual language program (Spanish, Mandarin), computer science, engineering, biomedicine, business and finance, broadcast journalism, and the performing arts. Moreover, a new internship program allows students the opportunity to experience real-life job training. I am excited to further develop these and other academic programs.”

Giulioni agreed, pointing to the successful teamwork the board has exhibited to foster one of the best school districts in the state. Giulioni also said the district ranks fifth in the state in new standardized testing while implementing more than 30 new courses of study that include BioMed, broadcast journalism, engineering and the arts, to name just a few.

“Well-functioning boards work collectively to establish the vision, strategy, policies and culture required for success,” Giulioni said. “Then, administrators, teachers and staff execute and make these things a reality. Just as there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘school board member.’ District accomplishments are shared.”

Giulioni said her past performance is indicative of how she will perform as a School Boardmember as the district moves  forward.

“Past behavior is generally the best predictor of future performance,” Giulioni said. “I have a 20+ history of service to our schools through countless volunteer leadership roles at Marengo, SPMS, SPHS, and SPEF. Over the years, I’ve contributed to raising millions of dollars in funds for and engaging thousands of parents in our schools. For the past five years, I’ve served as a SPUSD board member, serving one year as board president. During that time, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to govern a public school district. This will only make me more effective in a second term.”

Kipke summed up her reason for seeking re-election this way.

“Our district is best served by a successful, experienced, cohesive team of boardmembers who are dedicated to working as a team to strengthen and support our district,” Kipke said. “I want to continue to contribute to that successful team. Finally, our community believes in our success — voters have overwhelmingly approved three parcel taxes, which annually generate $2.3M to maintain fiscal stability, and a $98M bond measure to upgrade and renovate our campuses. It is for these reasons that I have decided to run for re-election to the District’s Governing Board.”

Meanwhile, the third seat may go to a newcomer to the board. Although they’ve been profiled in earlier stories in The Review, here’s a quick recap.

Robb said in an earlier interview that 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 has his official kick-off a-week-ago Sunday.

Kalra echoed her opponent’s comments also 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 boardmember, 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-of last Sunday at Cara and Doug Yokomizo’ home.

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. This year alone, the district was forced to lay-off two teachers in specific classes when enrollment figures dipped below sustainable numbers then reinstate them when those numbers improved.

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.