Candidates vying for the Fresno Unified School Board had their first opportunity to officially join the race Monday, when the candidate filing period opened for the Nov. 6 general election.
Incumbents, veteran politicians and political newcomers are on the ballot for the three trustee offices that expire at the end of the year.
Trustees Carol Mills and Janet Ryan were first in line at the Fresno County Elections Office on Monday to declare their candidacies. Mills, who represents the Fresno High area, and Ryan, who represents Hoover High, are each seeking third terms. Trustee Larry Moore announced last month he would not seek a second term representing Roosevelt High.
Also filing Monday was George Whitman, a 62-year-old commercial real estate lender running for Ryan's seat. He never has held a public office and hasn't worked in education, but said his wife, Therese, teaches kindergarten at Ericson Elementary. He said he hears from her every day how "the system won't let her do her job" because she doesn't have the resources to help students with learning and language needs.
He said the district would benefit from his ideas about reducing the dropout rate, which he calls "embarrassing." He proposes adding more resources to K-3 classrooms and expanding vocational and technical training programs for students who aren't college-bound.
"Kids are dropping out because they have no reason to stay in school," Whitman said. "These kids are saying, 'I don't want to go to college, and I don't see why I should go to high school.' "
A cornerstone of Ryan's campaign is Fresno Unified's rising graduation rates, which increased from 68.7% in 2010 to 70.8% in 2011.
"Our eye is always on student achievement," said Ryan, 72.
On Monday, she said she had raised about $7,500 for her campaign.
Mills said she has support from developers Spencer Enterprises and Granville Homes. She said she would file her campaign finance statement at the end of the month.
Mills has racked up endorsements from Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield; Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno; Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea; and Fresno City Council Members Clint Olivier, Sal Quintero and Oliver Baines, among others.
"I always work harder than the next guy," she said.
Trustee Area 2 candidate Luis Chavez said he planned to file mid-week, and is focused on maintaining his campaign's momentum -- he knocked on doors in the Roosevelt High neighborhood throughout last week's heat wave. Chavez, who is chief of staff for Quintero, and former Fresno City Council Member Brad Castillo have had campaigns in full swing since January to replace Moore.
Chavez, 33, has endorsements from Fresno City Council Members Quintero, Baines, Blong Xiong, Lee Brand and member-elect Paul Caprioglio. Supervisor Susan Anderson and former Assembly Member Juan Arambula also are supporting him, along with several former city council members and trade unions.
Castillo has current trustee Moore's backing.
Educator and NAACP leader Daren Miller joined the Roosevelt race with an announcement late Sunday, and said he wasn't worried about his opponents' six-month head start.
"Unfortunately for them, the election will be in November, and not this past June," he said.
Miller, a high school counselor in Madera, said he has spent 22 years working in education. He previously held several administrative posts in Fresno Unified, including vice principal at Fresno and Edison high schools. Miller said he is a 1984 Roosevelt graduate and graduated two sons from the district.
Should he win, it would be Miller's first public office; the 46-year-old made a failed City Council run in 2010.
Miller, who is black, said he wants to bring more black and Asian male principals to Fresno Unified to serve as positive role models. He said he will have to work harder than his Hispanic competitors to win the support of the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.
But, after 40 years living in southeast Fresno, he said, "it's a no-brainer to serve the area ... I'm invested in my community."
The candidate filing period ends Aug. 10 in the Fresno High and Hoover areas. It's Aug. 15 in the Roosevelt area because the incumbent is not running.