Please explain what you do for a living and how that work may benefit you as an elected official?
I am a Professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine at University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and Vice Chair of Research within the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. My life’s work has focused on ensuring the healthy development of children and adolescents, especially those most vulnerable, including children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, adolescents and young adults at high risk for mental health problems and drug use and high disparity pediatric populations.
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 Elementary and is now attending the Middle School.
Why are you running for office?
It’s hard to believe that I have served on the South Pasadena Unified School District’s Governing Board for nearly 10 years. It has been an extraordinary honor to serve our community, families and students, and I have learned so much and benefited in so many ways. I am deeply proud of what we have accomplished during the past 10 years and excited about future plans to further expand our academic programs as we upgrade our school facilities.
What are the three biggest issues facing the South Pasadena Unified School District Board?
As a small District we will always be challenged with financial constraints, but these challenges are particularly great given that we are in the State of California. It is remarkable to think that in the 1980’s, California was ranked 5th in the nation in terms of funding per pupil. Today, we are ranked 43rd. To make matters worse, our district is in the bottom 10 percent in terms of funding per pupil in California given the State’s new Local Controlled Funding Formula, which is more generous to districts that serve students in greater need. We are, however, truly fortunate to have a community that believes in public education and provides alternative streams of funding through SPEF, a parcel tax that generates over $2.3 million annually and a new bond measure that will provide much needed resources to upgrade and expand our school facilities. This support from the community has not only allowed us to remain a high performing district, but it has also allowed us to expand our course offerings and pathways to include broadcast journalism, culinary arts, computer science, engineering, biomedicine and the performing arts.
Another challenge is the fact that California’s public employee pension systems have immense gaps – called “unfunded liabilities” – between what they have in assets and what they will need to meet their obligations to retirees. The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation’s largest pension trust fund, and other state and local systems, are trying to close those shortfalls, or at least reduce them, mostly by ramping up mandatory “contributions” from public agencies. What does this mean for the South Pasadena Unified School District? We will soon be expected to pay an additional $1 million annually into these pension trust funds. That’s an additional $1 million of expense with no new additional revenue.
Additionally, there remains an achievement gap despite the fact that our District has had a strategic goal to eliminate such gaps. I remain committed to ensuring that our schools support each and every child to reach their full potential. Moreover, I am a passionate advocate for our exceptional and special learners and I will continue to serve as a liaison from the Board to the PTA’s Special Needs Committee.
Finally, it is extremely important that we continue to recruit and retain the very best teachers, staff, and administrative leaders, and I am committed to do so.
What is your vision or plan to deal with the challenges you just named?
In response to the above described financial challenges, the Board and District have worked hard to continue to identify opportunities to reduce spending wherever possible. With Prop 30 funding from the State (one-time funds) we were recently able to significantly reduce our energy and water conservation; already we have been able to achieve a 30 percent reduction in water usage at just the high school from fiscal year 2014-15 to 2017-18. We will continue to monitor and track expenses very closely, reduce costs and increase efficiencies while wrestling to build unfunded mandates into our budget planning and projections. We will also continue to identify alternative sources of revenue.
As previously noted, I will continue to advocate for academic programs and support services that will both engage and inspire our students. Moreover, I will remain a passionate advocate for our students who are exceptional and special learners. I will continue to work with the Board and superintendent to ensure we made every effort to recruit and retain the top talent at our schools and in the District office.
How would you assess the performance of the School Board? What is the Board getting right, what is it getting wrong?
When I moved to South Pasadena 16 years ago, I was shocked that we had had four superintendents in four consecutive years. The District had a very difficult, poorly functioning board. We couldn’t recruit nor retain a good superintendent. I was appointed to the Board in 2007, when a board member resigned and a seat became vacant. I was then re-elected in 2008 and 2013. Today, we now have a high performing board and an outstanding superintendent. Moreover, we have outstanding leadership throughout the District. I am very proud of what we have accomplished as a Board, and I am proud to work alongside my Board colleagues. We work well together as a team, with enormous respect and integrity, and in partnership with our superintendent. We are considerate towards one another, we carefully listen to the others’ viewpoints, we easily find consensus and we hold one another accountable. In fact, we are recognized throughout the state as a high-performing Board.
The repealing of the utility user tax or UUT is on the November ballot, and, if passed, would require significant cuts to the services provided to South Pasadena residents. What is your stance on this repeal effort and why?
Repealing the utility user tax (UUT) would significantly impact so many of our city’s services, but especially services for our children and families. It would result in a loss of revenue for the South Pasadena Public Library, our parks and youth services and we would no longer have crossing guards. We can’t afford to lose $3.4 million in revenue. I will therefore vote No on Measure N and I am asking my South Pasadena friends and neighbors to do the same.
Beyond tackling the challenges you mentioned, what is your vision or plan to help get the SPUSD Board where it needs to be?
Our district is best served by a successful, cohesive team of Board members who are dedicated to working as a team to strengthen and support our District. I want to continue to contribute to that successful team.
What is your take on how the Measure S funds are being implemented and managed by the SPUSD Board?
In 2006-07, California saw the worst economic downturn in my lifetime. The state was no longer paying its bills and the District was often forced to borrow money to make payroll. We were in serious trouble and were faced with the daunting reality of having to eliminate essential programs and lay off over a quarter of our workforce. Measure S, which annually generates over $2.3 million, provided the stop gap funding that allowed us to keep valued programs, maintain small class sizes and retain our teachers. It remains a key source of revenue to support academic programs within our District.
I could not have supported Measure S as a Board member if there weren’t checks and balances in place to ensure both accountability and transparency related to the allocation of Measure S funds. We therefore established a Measure S Citizen’s Oversight Committee, which reviews and verifies that funds are being appropriately spent. Annually the committee reports its findings to the Board.
The Board of Education recently approved a $49 million budget, which includes new additional revenues from the state, but much of that that new money is being consumed by retirement pension programs benefiting full and part-time educators in the district. What are your priorities for spending in the Board budget, what Board expenses could be reduced?
Annually the Board, Superintendent, and Cabinet Members meet to review our strategic goals and achievements of the past year, as well as to set new strategic goals for the the coming year. We then very carefully track and monitor our budget and expenditures relative to the education budget released by the Governor’s office. It is always a juggling act but in then end we have been able to achieve more with far less than most other districts, both in California and in the nation. As noted above, we look for opportunities to increase efficiencies and reduce costs, which includes energy/water conservation.
The Board of Education has recently taken on a lot of criticism for passing a mandatory hall policy imposed on high school freshman and sophomores. What is your opinion about the policy? What is your opinion about how the Board handled the decision and implemented it? What, if anything, would you change?
Several changes were rolled out this past Fall at the high school, some which negatively impacted some of our freshman and sophomore students. Parents reached out to administrative staff and to the Board to express their concerns and in response, every effort was made to accommodate those students who needed some flexibility in their schedules. I am confident that we now know how we to avoid this same situation going forward.
How much money have you raised in your campaign? Please include today’s date.
I have decided not to aggressively raise funds for my campaign, in large part because I would much prefer that our families instead donate to their classrooms, schools, and to the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF). As of October 6th, I have raised $350.
What do you want us to know about your opponent(s)?
We have four outstanding individuals running for three slots on the school board. The community is very lucky to have such a strong candidate pool. I encourage everyone to vote and ask that you save one of those votes for me.
Why should voters vote for you?
Proven track record of success!
Is there anything else you would like to add, or that you would like the public to know about your vision and candidacy?
I love our schools and our little town of South Pasadena. It would indeed be an honor to be able to continue to serve our families and community for another four years.