Meet an LAUSD school board candidate — District 4’s Gregory Martayan: ‘We are going to cut the red tape’
Sarah Favot | February 17, 2017
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Name: Gregory Martayan
Board district: 4
Job: owns a public relations and local affairs firm
Lives in: Encino
Married: wife Sylva
Children: three under age 2
LAUSD education?: No LAUSD. St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal school in Studio City for elementary school and Campbell Hall in North Hollywood for junior high and high school.
Education: undergraduate degree in political science from Pepperdine University
Platform: accountability, transparency, efficiency in spending, reevaluating security protocols for all LAUSD campuses, civilian oversight committees at every level, cutting waste, supporting teachers, implementing safe schools initiatives, prosecuting waste, fraud and abuse, bringing back the arts and athletics, sustainability, green buildings
Campaign funding: Martayan has raised $62,225 and spent $16,300 as of Jan. 21. No independent expenditure committees have spent money supporting or opposing him.
Key endorsements: Retired LAUSD Superintendent William Johnston, state Assemblyman Matthew Dababneh, state Senator Joel Anderson, Calabasas City Councilman Fred Gaines, Los Angeles Community College Trustee Nancy Pearlman, former LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, attorney Mark Geragos, actors Joe Bologna, Renee Taylor, Nick Turturro, Patrika Darbo.
Gregory Martayan was first inspired to run for a seat on the school board after his wife became pregnant with their third child and the couple started looking into schools within LA Unified.
Martayan, 33, owns a public relations and local affairs firm and is a Los Angeles Police Department reserve specialist. He said community leaders also encouraged him to run.
News reports that LA Unified attorneys argued in civil court that a 14-year-old female student at Edison Middle School was mature enough to consent to sex with her 28-year-old teacher gave him the final push he needed to jump into the race as well as the “hundreds of child abuse cases” that have been filed against the district.
“The fact that the district has a history of re-victimizing victims is cause for me to stand up and stop these injustices from happening. I started to consider what would happen if I, as a father, was faced with this very tragic situation,” he said. “In order to protect mothers and fathers in the district and as one of the only candidates in this race with a family, I feel this to the bone.”
Martayan is seeking to unseat LA Unified board President Steve Zimmer in board District 4, which includes the communities of Brentwood, Del Rey, East Hollywood, Encino, Hollywood, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Tarzana, Topanga, Westchester, West Hollywood, Westwood, Woodland Hills and Venice. Zimmer is running for his third and final term. The two other challengers are Nick Melvoin, an educator and attorney, and Allison Holdorff Polhill, a parent and educator.
Martayan grew up in Hancock Park and attended St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal school for elementary school and Campbell Hall for junior high and high school. Both schools are in the San Fernando Valley. He graduated from Pepperdine University and now lives in Encino with his wife, Sylva, who was a test and facility engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena before the couple’s children were born.
“I grew up in the Filipino community, in the African-American community, in the Asian community, in the Orthodox Jewish community,” he said. “I know what the students need. I know what the residents need. These are my brothers and sisters.”
Martayan’s grandparents have lived in Los Angeles since 1939.
“I’m the only one who’s the grassroots candidate here,” Martayan said.
He is the only candidate who was born, raised, educated and chose to stay in Los Angeles to carve out his career and raise his family.
He said he chose to stay in Los Angeles to take care of his parents.
So far, Martayan is the only candidate in District 4 who has not had any campaign funds from independent expenditure committees directed at supporting or opposing his candidacy.
“This is not how a school board race was supposed to happen in the city of Los Angeles. This was not the vision of the framers of this process,” he said, referring to the millions of dollars that have poured into the race from independent expenditure committees. “What is happening is corrupt and illegal in my opinion.”
He said special interest groups are in effect trying to buy the election.
All the people who have donated to his campaign so far have addresses in Southern California.
He said it is unfortunate that the narrative of charters versus non-charters has dominated the race.
“Someone who is running and knows only one issue and has only honed in on one issue does not understand the wide range of issues in the city of Los Angeles,” he said.
As for his stance on charters, he said, “I believe charters work.”
Martayan’s platform also focuses on transparency and civilian oversight.
When it comes to the district’s $7.6 billion budget, Martayan said he would create civilian oversight committees over specific programs that exceed a certain dollar threshold within the budget. The members of the committees would be separate from the school board and district staff.
“I’m saying to create an era of transparency in the district and allow parents to see inside the looking glass,” he said. “Parents right now aren’t engaged because of the red tape that exists in the district and parents might even be sitting on these oversight committees. Additionally, the city of LA already has them in place.”
He said if the board created civilian oversight committees, the district would become more transparent and budgetary issues like the district’s projected $13 billion in unfunded retiree health-care liabilities would be addressed.
“The unfunded liabilities are caused because of the bureaucratic mess within the district,” he said.
When asked about possible staff cuts to head off a looming district deficit, he said, “We can’t afford to lay off any more people. We don’t have the staff to operate what we currently do. We’re already running a skeleton crew.”
To help set students up for a brighter future, Martayan said he would require that in order to graduate, high school students must obtain a C or better in A through G courses, which is the minimum requirement to get into the Cal State or UC system.
To raise achievement, he said, “We are going to cut the red tape.”
He said nonprofit organizations that could offer after-school programs and tutoring services to students have been shut out of LA Unified because of red tape.
When it comes to supporting teachers, he said he would provide workshops and training that teachers have asked for.
Martayan said he would find $350 million in the budget for arts and athletics programs. He has ideas to revitalize the district’s arts programs. He would initiate a program with the arts, music, film and fashion industries that would partner professionals with schools to act as role models for students. He said he would revitalize the district’s “Adopt a School” program.
“These are crucial components to a successful district that unfortunately have gone unnoticed,” he said.
“The many, many members of the entertainment industry who’ve endorsed us are very distressed because of how the arts are lacking in the school district,” he said.
Martayan has the endorsement of actors, including Joe Bologna, Renee Taylor, Nick Turturro and Patrika Darbo.
One aspect of Martayan’s platform that has gotten attention, some negative, is bringing kosher foods to district schools, offering Hebrew as a second language and instituting a zero tolerance policy on anti-Semitism for faculty.
“I am a pro-Israel candidate that believes that the Orthodox Jewish community deserves services from the LAUSD and the community has been ignored for many, many years,” he said.
He said he has been approached by private groups that have indicated they will underwrite vending machines with kosher food. Vending machines would circumvent the expense of having to install kosher kitchens in district facilities.
“Bringing kosher foods into the schools via vending machines or outside vendors should not be controversial,” he said.
Martayan has served on numerous boards and committees. He was an elected member of the Encino Neighborhood Council and chaired its Legislative Committee and served on the Public Safety and Planning and Land Use committees.
In 2014, he was a member of the board of directors of the West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
He was appointed to the LA City Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families by former LA Mayor James K. Hahn and appointed to the Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board Engagement Taskforce. He was an ambassador with the National Crime Prevention Council, where he was involved in efforts to combat school bullying.
“If you have executives at the top who understand how to operate the entire system, the district can operate very smoothly,” he said. “In the race that I’m involved in, I’m the only candidate who understands what it takes to be a board member in its entirety.
“We’re going to win this election and we’re going to win big because our coalition are Angelenos who care about our kids.”