The seven candidates for three open seats on the school board squared off Wednesday night at the in a night marked by agreement on most fundamental issues facing the cash-strapped district as it continues to grapple with state budget cuts.
Incumbents Ed Gililland and Bryan Wong joined challengers Janeane Covarrubias, David Crabtree, Rob Hammond, Terrence Williams and Ed McCarthy at the podium to answer questions submitted by audience members and asked by a moderator from the League of Women Voters.
The candidates all struck a conciliatory tone when discussing the performance of the current board and the challenges facing the and stressed a community approach to filling the gaps in education caused by an ever-worsening state budget crisis.
gave the first opening statement and made it clear throughout the night that his priority was to increase enrollment in Monrovia schools, thereby increasing the district's share of state funding.
"My vision for Monrovia schools is pretty simple--it's to increase our student enrollment," Hammond said. "The children that live in our community need to attend our schools. This is crucial to our success."
Covarrubias, a PTSA parliamentarian at and fourth generation Monrovian who , said her focus would be on improving the communication channels between parents, teachers and students.
"My vision for Monrovia schools is to reinvigorate Monrovia's small town spirit," Covarrubias said. "There's a lot of parents out there who are seeking ways to get involved. The key to successful students is involved parents."
Mayor Mary Ann Lutz and Councilwoman Becky Shevlin have thrown their weight behind Terrence Williams, a businessman and PTSA member whose four children all attend or attended Monrovia schools. Williams described himself as a "team player" and said he was only running because former school board member Clare Chesley resigned.
Williams called for more parent-teacher nights at schools and said he'd do his best to return full-time librarians to elementary and middle schools after budget cuts .
"We need librarians," Williams said. "Kids need to have the resources, they need to have the tools to learn."
School Board President Ed Gililland highlighted the accomplishments of the current board, noting that the average school API test scores in the district are over 800 and that six Monrovia schools have been recognized as California Distinguished Schools. He said he brings "experience, dedication, and proven results" to the race.
"It's been truly a privilege for the last six years to be part of the leadership of the school district that has brought schools so far," Gililland said.
Finishing up his eighth year on the school board, Wong--the current board's most senior member--also stressed the importance of experience as the board deals with continued budget woes.
"Within that 8 years, we’ve accomplished a tremendous amount," Wong said. "There’s never been a more important time to keep the leadership on the path."
Crabtree, an Arcadia resident who spent 34 years as a teacher and school principal, said Monrovia schools need to become better prepared for an increasingly globalized world.
Crabtree called for more language programs like the duel-immersion program at and an expansion of foreign exchange programs. He also said that increasing opportunities for community members to mentor students in academics and trades is a focal point of his campaign.
A visibly nervous McCarthy offered little in the way of policy platforms, noting that he wanted to focus on bringing parents and students together.
The seven candidates rarely differed in their assessments of the district's successes and failures, all agreeing on the importance of bringing back more ROP programs if and when the budget allows.
"Not every child is going to go to college and if we cut them off by not having ROP, then we’re saying theres no where else for you to go," McCarthy said.
All but one candidate said they opposed a parcel tax to raise revenues for the schools, insisting that creative solutions were preferable to new taxes. Crabtree said he'd want to know how much money such a tax would raise before offering an opinion.
The three top vote-getters in the Nov. 8 election will win 4-year terms on the school board.
Stay tuned for the Patch Candidates Forum later this month.