Voters appeared to be undecided as to the direction the So Pas School Board was going when they elected two newcomers along with one incumbent.
In fact, newcomer Dr. Ruby Kalra received the most votes of all of the four that were running with 4,014. Furthermore, the second highest vote tally went to another newcomer, Zahir Robb with 3,975 votes. The incumbent re-elected was Dr. Michele D. Kipke with 3,740 votes, who came in last of the top three.
Incumbent Julie M. Giulioni, who was seeking her second term, was edged out with 3,666 votes, just 74 votes shy of Kipke. Kipke, on the other hand, was 235 votes behind Robb. The terms are for four years.
Longtime So Pas School Board observers were slightly taken back by the results, saying Giulioni’s loss was unexpected. The one-term incumbent was gracious in defeat when she spoke to The Review after the election.
“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. 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.”
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, Garcia is a teacher and his mother is a retired South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) teacher.
“That is my main message” Robb 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.” 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. “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.”
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.”
South Pasadena, although ranked 5th of all unified school districts in California, 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. 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.