First published in the Oct. 15 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Six of the seven candidates for the Burbank Unified School District school board assembled at Dolores Huerta Middle School for a moderated forum on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
Hosted by Leadership Burbank, the Burbank Chamber of Commerce and Burbank Arts and Education Foundation, in partnership with BUSD, contenders sought to distinguish themselves from one another before election day this November, answering questions related to their leadership style, qualifications, and plans to tackle issues related to budgets, morale, diversity and inclusion, and arts funding.
The seven school board candidates will compete for two open seats this election cycle.
In attendance were incumbent Vice President Charlene Tabet, former school board member Larry Applebaum, Megaverse principal Michael Morgan, game artist James L. Morrison, education administrator Abby Pontzer Kamkar and global workplace director Brian J. Smith.
School board candidate Harutyun Ketikyan was absent from the event.
Applebaum, a 63-year resident of Burbank and former board member believes that his experience will enable him to bring leadership to the school district in order to overcome pressing issues. “I think we have a leadership void right now, and we need to do something to correct that,” Applebaum said, elaborating later on his disappointment with BUSD leadership. He also expressed the importance of making long-term budget decisions.
Applebaum reflected on his experience as the CFO of the San Fernando Valley Children’s Foundation and what it taught him about giving back to the community and managing funds. “We must reflect the values of the community, staff and students. How do we do that? We need to listen. We need to empower them to bring forth their ideas,” he said.
Entrepreneur, app developer, educator and 12-year Burbank resident Morgan taught at Burbank High School and says that he is running because he believes he can help improve the quality of education in Burbank through innovative, forward-thinking solutions. He proposed that BUSD seek private-public partnerships with local businesses and universities, advocated for underrepresented groups within the school system, and said BUSD can improve retention by developing existing property into housing for district teachers.
Morgan recounted his experience with large-scale budgets and managing several technology companies. “I will give a different perspective than anybody who has ever sat on this board, and I think it will be to the benefit of the [stakeholders] because I have come to look at things from an innovation standpoint. What does 50 years in the future look like?”
Parent, game artist and 12-year Burbank resident Morrison plans to bring creative solutions, a unique perspective and an attitude of humility to the school board. Morrison said that a board member’s core responsibility is to “provide a voice to the voiceless,” and discussed the issue of low wages for teachers.
Morrison encouraged stakeholder participation in board proceedings, listening to teachers and looking outward to local businesses for funding and unique programming. “I really do believe it’s time for a heart check with our entrepreneurs and local businesses. If we want to preserve these programs, then well — this is our community, this is our district — we have the power to get funding into our schools.”
Parent, educator, former school administrator and education nonprofit chief of staff Kamkar seeks to improve enrollment processes, prioritize equity, make smart budget and programming decisions, and strengthen communication with parents. “I see changes to be made and I believe I am the best person to make them,” she said. Kamkar wants to provide accountability and transparency to the district’s stakeholders.
Kamkar expressed her goals to expand dual immersion programs with local colleges, and emphasized her experience with school funding models. “My vision for students is one where they leave our schools prepared for college, leadership and life. The board needs to be present and listen to teachers more often … and it needs more long-term funding. The board should be partnering with other districts.”
Global workplace director Smith — also a parent to two children — has served on the School Facility Oversight committee and on several PTAs and says Burbank should have the best public school system in L.A. county. “It takes a community to create a wonderful city and school system.”
Smith has experience with balancing public transparency with large budgets, and plans to build morale, focus on staff retention, and expand music and arts education by seeking out state and private funding. “This is a very rich community. Rich in people who want to participate and give. It’s a matter of matching the needs with the right resources,” he said, elaborating on ways to bolster arts programs.
Current school board vice president, parent, and 57-year Burbank resident Tabet hopes to help students best create a plan for their futures. “I’m running because I care about kids. I want to provide the best opportunities for them,” she said in her opening statement. Tabet focused on her experience as the incumbent, often referencing her problem-solving philosophies in addressing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, BUSD policies and programs, and budget complications.
Tabet also detailed her accounting and nonprofit backgrounds, and discussed school staff morale, arts and music programs, and state funding cuts. “There is one thing we always need to keep in mind when spending money: Is this good for our kids?”
The full forum video can be viewed via Leadership Burbank’s Facebook page: facebook.com/watch/LeadershipBurbank/.