Clovis Unified board race has rare contested seats

The Fresno BeeOctober 13, 2012 

Clovis Unified voters will get a rare experience this fall when they cast ballots for school board members.

Recent history shows candidates have had an easy road to victory. In 2010, the three incumbents up for reelection had no challengers. And in 2008, newcomers Chris Casado and Scott Troescher ran unopposed.

But this time there are choices in two of the four races.

Richard Lake is trying to recapture the trustee seat he gave up in 2008 after 16 years on the school board. He will face the man who replaced him, Troescher.

In the other race, Debra McKenzie, a Fresno County administrative analyst, is challenging Casado, owner of Cal Produce Sales in Fresno.

Incumbents Ginny Hovsepian, who has been on the board since 1992, and Brian Heryford, a trustee since 1996, are running unopposed in the upcoming election.

Clovis Unified, with nearly 40,000 students, is Fresno County's second-largest district, behind Fresno Unified. Its recent 876 API score on a 1,000-point scale places it near the top of all California school districts testing more than 25,000 students.

The district's success is probably why voters don't like change, Casado said.

"It's an incredible machine," he said.

The last time an incumbent was challenged was in 2004, when Lake received nearly 78% of the vote in beating challenger Lucia Flores-De La O.

And the last time a trustee lost was in 1993. Challenger Robert Rowley beat incumbent Elizabeth "Betsy" Sandoval. But Sandoval wasn't gone long. In 1996, the school board appointed Sandoval to replace Rowley, who resigned to take over a family business in Nevada.

Sandoval remains on the seven-member school board.

It's unclear whether the candidates will spend big money for a position that pays $750 a month. Only McKenzie has filed finance campaign statements with the county Elections Office. The deadline to file is Oct. 25. She has spent $3,335 while gaining $2,050 in contributions as of Sept. 30.

"I'm committed to this race," said McKenzie, who has invested in three billboards, yard and street signs, and is using a website, Facebook and Twitter to get her name out. She also is going door-to-door and phone banking.

"She's a tech whiz and more power to her," said Casado, who has no plans to use the social media. Instead, he said he has some yard signs and a few fliers that he has been sticking on windshields.

Troescher and Lake also appear to be using the traditional method of going door to door and using yard and street signs. Troescher does have a Facebook page.

"People know who I am and what I stand for," said Lake, who ran unsuccessfully for the 2010 Republican ticket for Congressional District 20.

Here's a closer look at the two races.

Area 5 (downtown)

Lake said he is making a comeback with the help of some big-time supporters, including former Clovis Unified Superintendent Terry Bradley and former Clovis board member John Coffman.

Troescher has some political clout of his own: former Clovis Unified Superintendent Floyd B. "Doc" Buchanan, Clovis Mayor Jose Flores, and former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry are in his corner.

"It should be a fun race," said Lake, who added it was an easy decision to get back into local politics.

"Some of my friends asked me to consider a run for my old position, so I talked to my wife about it and we decided we would do it," he said.

Lake said he graduated from Clovis High, his three children graduated from Clovis High and his four grandchildren attend Clovis Unified schools.

He said he will run on his accomplishments: founding member of the Center for Advance Research and Technology, and being part of a school board that finished the construction of Buchanan High and built Clovis East and Clovis North high schools.

Lake said his experience as an accountant helped keep the district in the black while carrying a healthy reserve.

Troescher has been involved in the district for more than 20 years, including as a volunteer on school committees and as a Clovis High band booster.

In an email interview, he said his interest in education is fueled by his wife Maggie's long career as a special education aide.

Area 7 (south)

Casado said his strength lies with being a lifelong community member. He said he and his wife, Valerie, were raised in Clovis and went to Clovis schools. Their four children graduated from Clovis Unified.

In comparison, McKenzie has lived in the district only six years. But she said she offers unique skills: she has a degree in youth development. She said Clovis Unified does an excellent job, but she wants the district to push "more analytical thinking and not just teach to the test."

Her supporters include former Fresno Unified school trustee Luisa Medina and Amelia Arambula, wife of former Assembly Member Juan Arambula.

If elected she will be the first African-American on the school board. But McKenzie said she didn't get into the race to make history.

"I'm running because I have the qualifications to help the district," McKenzie said. "I loved this community and I want to do something for it."


Clovis Unified at a glance

Enrollment: 39,040 (for the 2011-12 school year, the last figure available) covering most of Clovis and a portion of north Fresno

Annual budget: About $289 million

Registered voters: 106,286

Board of Trustees: Seven people, elected to four-year terms. Kelly Avants, the district spokeswoman, said Clovis Unified has a "hybrid" type of election in which trustees must live in the area they represent but voting is districtwide.

CUSD Board candidates

CHRIS CASADO

Age: 59

Closest school to home: Gettysburg Elementary

Occupation: Incumbent, part-time medic, owner/marketing manager for Cal Produce Sales in Fresno

Education: University of Denver, bachelor's degree in business and marketing

Family: Married to Valerie, a Clovis Unified schoolteacher; four children who graduated from Clovis Unified

DEBRA McKENZIE

Age: 41

Closest school to home: Roger S. Oraze Elementary

Occupation: Principal analyst with Fresno County Administrative Office

Education: Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn., bachelor's with honors in Youth Development; master's in business administration from Regis University

Family: Married to Charles, a geologist with the state Water Resource Board

Online: foreverykid.info; facebook.com/McKenziefor-ClovisSchoolBoard; @4EveryKid2012 on Twitter

SCOTT TROESCHER

Age: 61

Closest school to home: Clovis High

Occupation: Clovis city vehicle fleet employee

Education: Fresno State, bachelor's degree in psychology

Family: Married to Maggie, a special education aide in Fresno Unified School District; two children who graduated from Clovis Unified

Online: facebook.com/ReElectScottTroescher

RICHARD LAKE

Age: 61

Closest school to home: Clovis High

Occupation: Certified public accountant

Education: Fresno State, bachelor's degree in accounting

Family: Married to Karleen, a homemaker; three children who graduated from Clovis Unified

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, plopez@fresnobee.com, or @beecourts on Twitter.

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