School Board Race Has Newcomers Kalra, Robb and Incumbent Kipke

Voters have sent a mixed-message regarding the So Pas School Board as they have elected two newcomers and one incumbent.

The top three vote-getters win the right to sit on the School Board and with all 12 precincts reporting, newcomer Dr. Ruby Kalra is on top with 4,014 votes. Second was another newcomer, Zahir Robb with 3,975 votes and last was incumbent Michele D. Kipke with 3,740 votes.

That leaves incumbent Julie M. Giulioni out with 3,666 votes.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to have served SPUSD as a School Board member over the past five years,” Giulioni said in an email to The Review Wednesday morning. “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. Thank you to Ruby Kalra, Michele Kipke, and Zahir Robb for stepping up to one of the most important roles in our community. I’ll be rooting for them as they get ready to take our schools to the next level.”

Meanwhile, this will be Kipke’s third term on the School Board. The terms are for four years.

Robb, a longtime South Pasadena resident and school administrator in Santa Monica, was considered a long-shot based on the power of incumbency but that may be losing its luster because both the newcomers out-distanced the incumbents.

Kalra, another longtime resident who’s a practicing pediatric oncologist, had served as president of the South Pasadena Educational Foundation and had the backing of the School Board president.

Ironically, there was another candidate, Evonne Press, on the  ballot who decided at the last minute not to seek the seat. Press received 1,128 votes. 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.

“I applaud everyone who has the time, the commitment and the dedication to serve on the school board,” Press said regarding her intent to not seek the School Board seat. “I’m just not there yet.”

Meanwhile, Kipke said her personal experience with the district has been nothing but positive.

“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 earlier interview. “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.”

South Pasadena is ranked 5th of all unified school districts in

California, according to the latest state rankings.

Meanwhile, the top vote-getter went to Dr. Kalra, who said her experience as a volunteer is going to be helpful in learning her new role 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.

And then there is Robb, who many believed was going to lose to one of the incumbents or Kalra. Instead, he defied expectations and won the second-highest number of votes.

Robb said that he ran 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.

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.