Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Outgoing Madera Unified School District Trustee Robert Garibay (standing) shakes hands with an audience before Tuesday night’s meeting. Garibay is retiring.
The Madera Unified School District Board passed a milestone at its meeting Tuesday evening. In a packed house full of well wishers, including his family, Robert Garibay drew the curtain on nearly 30 years of public service.
The former Madera mayor, mayor pro tem, city councilman, and six-term school trustee was given a standing ovation when MUSD Superintendent Ed Gonzalez presented him to the crowd.
Former MUSD Superintendent Julia O’Kane, speaking on behalf of the community, praised Garibay for his leadership on the board and cited the pivotal role his leadership played as the board faced almost insurmountable obstacles during the 25 years he served as a school trustee.
Garibay, however, did not enter public service as a school board member. He began in 1987 as a member of the Madera City Council, serving as mayor in 1988 and continuing on the council through 1990. While on the council, he gained the reputation as a crusader of sorts — never one to hide from a problem.
Madera’s card rooms first drew his ire, and he advocated phasing out all 11 of them as not being “desirable.”
“I believe the people of Madera are looking at revitalization of downtown, and revitalization does not include card rooms,” Garibay said. His position triggered outcries from card players and enthusiasm from local church leaders.
Next came the local fight against pornography. He took aim at the adult magazine displays and video advertisements and chided some of his fellow council members who were “a little leery of making a stand (against pornography) around election time.”
Speaking to about 50 candlelight marchers on the City Hall steps one November evening, Garibay suggested the population growth in Madera has led to the dilution of conservative values. “There is a new breed of people coming into Madera,” he said, “and some of them are without the moral values we’d like.”
In his last year on the council, Garibay took on the majority of the council members who in January 1990 voted to give themselves a pay raise. “This move subverts the intent of the law,” Garibay insisted.
Garibay did not seek a second term on the city council but did not remain out of the public eye for long. He threw his hat in the ring to represent district 3 on the Madera Unified school board in 1991.
The field was crowded that year; Garibay went up against Alfred “Buz” Boberg, Betty Finley, Anna Wattenbarger, incumbent Dr. T.R. Gustaveson, Mike Burns, Dr. Aftab Naz, Patti Anderson, Michael Mideiros, David Austin, Kathy Travers, and the perennial candidate Rudy Alvidrez.
When the votes were counted, Garibay had won a place on the school board.
Reflecting on that 1991 race, Garibay acknowledged it was tougher than his city council races because “the people didn’t seem to grasp the importance of electing someone with solid fiscal understanding.”
Garibay announced that he intended to be a board member who wouldn’t have to take the staff’s word on financial matters because he would have the expertise to make informed decisions himself.
Garibay was reelected to the school board in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 and was chosen five times to lead the board as president.
During Garibay’s tenure on the board, he and his colleagues came up against just about every issue school trustees could face.
With serious overcrowding in the schools, the board had to sanction year-round-schools, since a much-needed school bond was rejected more than once. In addition, serious administrative difficulties exploded at Madera High School.
At times, negotiations with the teachers’ union became so tense that a strike seemed imminent. Occasionally pickets marched in front of Garibay’s place of business.
Beyond that, unrest reached the school board and the administration. For a time, the district had to endure a dual administration in which a superintendent and a CEO divided the chief administrative duties, each reporting independently to the school board.
Not long after, MUSD trustees terminated the services of a superintendent who had five months remaining on his contract.
Through it all, Garibay was able to remain philosophical. He believed that public servants had to weather the storms that were inevitable. “I learned that if you aren’t able to let criticism roll off your back, it is impossible to be effective,” he concluded.
When asked if he had any words for those who might seek to take his place on the school board, Garibay said, “Whoever gets elected will need to be their own person. They will need to be strong in their positions — not give in — stay the course. People will respect you more for doing that than if you cave in. Make yourself clear,” he insisted.
As to another run for public office some time in the future, Garibay says, “Politics is not on the landscape.”
He says he is 65 years old, and it is family time — time to watch the grandkids grow up.
“People just don’t understand,” he says, “Board meetings, special meetings, workshops, and conferences, they take a toll on you.”
So the gavel has fallen for the last time for Robert Garibay, and I think he is right, “People just don’t understand.” How could they, unless they had walked in his shoes for the past 30 years and paid his dues?