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BOB FASS: Brings budgeting expertise to board

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Presumptive new school board member, Bob Fass, says he ran his campaign on a message of social equity and inclusiveness, but the skills he hopes to bring to the board also include his many years in fundraising and managing budgets.

As of Tuesday, Mr. Fass has received 10,012 votes, 36 percent of the total, in the best of two contest for the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education. When the vote is certified at the end of the month, he and Kathy Archer are expected to be elected to the board and sworn in on December 17.

Mr. Fass grew up on the Pomona College campus, where his father, Richard Fass, was a vice president. He attended Sycamore, El Roble and Claremont High schools and graduated in 1987.

After receiving a bachelors from Cal State Fullerton and a masters at the University of Alabama, he worked in the arts, running Shakespeare festivals around the country. He returned in 2007 to work at The Webb Schools. He has received several promotions at Webb and is currently the Senior Director of Development for Leadership and Planned Giving.

Working in professional theater to being a development director may seem like a big change, however, Mr. Fass says raising money has always been a part of his professional life.

“I was doing a lot of fundraising for theater because I usually was in an executive director role,” he said. “Now I am solely focused on fundraising.”

He first became interested in public service during his time as president of Claremont Educational Foundation, where his fundraising skills supported CEF in its goal of enhancing art, music and technology instruction at Claremont schools. He also assisted his father advocating for Measure G, a $58 million bond initiative passed by voters in November 2016.

In June of 2019 when he announced his intention to run for school board, his priorities included: academic success, responsible use of taxpayer dollars, community connection and success beyond the classroom. And while many of these tenets remain part of his platform, the coronavirus has necessitated a shift in priorities.

“What I was focused on then and what I am focused on now has certainly evolved because no one would have imagined that in March the whole world was going to turn upside down,” Mr. Fass said. “My immediate priorities certainly include the health and safety of reopening our schools and safely getting our students back to in-person learning.”

Currently, the school board does not have the authority to open any school because the Los Angeles County Department of Public health and the state of California have stated schools cannot reopen as long as the county remains in the most restrictive, purple tier, of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Once L.A. County hits the second, red, tier more flexibility to open will be granted to local districts and it will be up to the school board to implement reopening. The current school board has already developed a four-stage hybrid learning plan, phase two of which includes returning to a modified format of in-person instruction. Executing that plan will require additional approval via a vote of the school board.

Late last month the school board received another monumental, and perhaps unforeseen task, when the district’s highly regarded superintendent, Jim Elsasser, announced his departure.

“The most immediate priority that has recently come into play is the hiring of a new superintendent, which is one of the most important jobs of the school board,” Mr. Fass said.

He described Mr. Elsasser as an open communicator and someone who has been very transparent with the community, a style of management that builds trust.

“So I am looking for someone who is willing, able, comfortable and confident enough to speak with stake holders, teachers, staff, community members, parents and students and give them a seat at the table,” Mr. Fass said.

According to Mr. Fass, a topic that came up frequently in the candidate forums was equity, which has been part of the national dialog since the killing of George Floyd.

Equity means different things to different people, he said. “Kathy talks about educational equity, I talked about it in terms of social equity. I was very proud that they formed the District Advisory Committee on Racial Equity and I was particularly proud that I ran a campaign focused on equity of for students of all identities, backgrounds and abilities.”

In the midst of the state’s economic crisis, the legislature passed a budget that relied on deferrals, which weigh heavily on the passage of a federal stimulus package.

“I have had a lot of governance experience with nonprofits, that is my background. What that allows me to do is look really critically at strategic decisions that come before the board, and make policy decisions that will affect not only the immediate but also the long term for our district,” he said. “We are facing some financial challenges, putting a budget plan together in this [financial] climate is one of my primary concerns and responsibilities,” he said.

His final thought concerned the board holistically and how each member will bring their own talents to resolving some tough issues in the months and years that lie ahead.

“Collaboration is key for the board to be effective,” Mr. Fass said. “The balancing act is for each board member to be able to think critically on their own and be able to work together to find consensus to create policy that will further the district. And that is a unique blend and it comes from building trust and having mutual respect, and I think we have a blend right now.”

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