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Monrovia School Board Candidates' Forum

Candidates at the Monrovia School Board forum. (Candidate on the left whose tag you can't see is Hammond.)

The atmosphere was friendly as seven candidates for three open Monrovia School Board seats gave statements and answered questions at a forum run by the League of Women Voters at Monrovia's Open Door Church of God in Christ Wednesday night.

There were no obvious divisions among the candidates in terms of how they felt the district has been doing or where they felt it should be going and nobody made any absurd, impossible-to-fulfill promises.

The incumbents, Ed Gililland and Bryan Wong, basically ran on their records and blamed the cuts they made - especially for librarians and the Regional Occupational Program (ROP) - on budget cuts from the state, and none of the other candidates challenged that assessment.

The challengers - (in order of their seating) Rob Hammond, Ed McCarthy, Terrance G. Williams, Janene Lechuga Covarrubias, and David Dale Crabtree - ran on their credentials, enthusiasm, and ideas.

Okay, here is my attempt at a summary of the candidates positions:

~ Hammond hammered on - and reminded people that he was hammering on - the need to address the district's financial troubles by persuading more parents to send their children to Monrovia schools. The logic here is that the state pays districts based on the number of students attending, so, more students, more money. And to persuade parents, he wants to improve the music, art and vocational programs. And he spoke of his community involvement, including being a founder of the Monrovia Reads program.

~ McCarthy said he has children in the district, and wants to see parents and teachers come together to benefit "every last child."

~ Williams said he has been involved for 18 years with the district, and has a child at Clifton Middle School, has been involved in the PTSA, as a school site council member, in sports and mentoring. He said the board should represent the district geographically, and he would bring diversity in that way. Also, he said he doesn't want teachers to raise children, but that parents should partner at home with what teachers do in school.

~ Covarrubias is also a Clifton parent and is deeply involved there. She said she has spent 20 years in business and is a fourth generation Monrovian. She wants all parents to feel welcome to be involved in schools, all students to be challenged to their full potential and prepared for life, and for all employees to feel worthwhile. She said the district's decision to lay off librarians was a factor that made her decide to run for the board, and while she didn't say it was a wrong decision, she did say the decision is "worth revisiting."

~ Crabtree is a retired educator. He taught chemistry, computer, and mathematics, and was a principal. He said he has written grants and has improved student achievement levels.

~ Incumbent Ed Gililland talked about rising test scores and the "huge number" of awards the district has won. And, oh, by the way, he is not interested in pursuing any other city or state office.

~ Incumbent Bryan Wong said he is the most senior board member, although he is only finishing his second term. It is a "young board." He said Monrovia has "successes other districts envy." Enrollment is up and "our test scores are up over 800 during most difficult financial times district has ever seen."

Some noteworthy comments:

Gililland - "I want every school to score over 900. Every school. I want the best schools in the state. I'm not satisfied with the best in the San Gabriel Valley or LA."

Williams - (Would he hire back librarians who were layed off?) "Yes, I will. We need librarians." And the Regional Occupational Program? "ROP is a necessity. Period. Just like librarians. Period."

McCarthy - "We need to give kids more laptops so they can go on the net and look up any kind of books, so we can cut out money spent on libraries." He suggested that "we can buy more iPads in place of librarians."

Covarrubias - (in contrast) "Last year's decision to close the libraries was very frustrating. It is what got me sitting here."

Crabtree - (Would he support a parcel tax to fund the schools?) "I'm not opposed to a parcel tax, but that is for the voters to decide." But, he said, "I don't think it could pass at this time." He was the only candidate to not oppose a parcel tax. Everyone else was firmly against a tax, at least in the current economy.

Hammond - When he asked the Monrovia Teachers Association about its relationship with the district, the answer was always, Good. And that, he said, is an excellent reflection on the district's negotiating teams.

Wong - The ROP was not cut by choice, and not because the program was failing. The opposite is true. It was very successful, so it was one of the last things the district cut, and when funding becomes available it will be one of the first things to be added back.

Best intentionally funny line (from Crabtree): "I grew up in rural South Dakota, and went to a one-room country school. I was always at least second in my class. There were two of us in my class."

Best unintentional funny line (no name, I don't want to embarrass someone for a slip of the tongue): "Monrovia is the best city in town." Amen to that!

- Brad Haugaard

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