Area 5 is Fresno Unified's most hotly contested race

The Fresno BeeOctober 13, 2012 

The Fresno Unified Area 5 trustee race may be the most contentious of three seats up for election.

Incumbent Carol Mills is being challenged by Andrew Doris, a business consultant backed by the Fresno Teachers Association, and Nicholas Montoya, a mental health caseworker.

The area includes Fresno High School and its feeder schools.

From the start, Mills and Doris have locked horns over school achievement and district leadership. Doris has been an outspoken critic of Superintendent Michael Hanson and Mills is viewed as an ardent supporter.

Last month, Doris blamed Mills for dredging up his methamphetamine possession arrest from 16 years ago. Mills has denied making the issue public.

Doris has said the meth found in his car belonged to a former colleague with a drug problem. The felony charge was dismissed after he completed a drug-diversion program. Police have said he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he was arrested in 1996. In a recent interview, Doris said he would speak about the arrest one final time: "This is an attempt by Ms. Mills to get attention away from her record as a school board trustee. If she were doing a great job, I wouldn't be running."

Mills, said in an interview that she stands behind her record, including increases in test scores and a steady improvement in graduation rates in her eight years on the board.

An attorney with the Fifth District Court of Appeals, Mills has served on the board since 2004. She has one son. This is Doris' first shot at public office. He consults with businesses that are under stress. He has a son at Manchester GATE and a daughter at Gibson Elementary.

Both Mills and Doris have backing for their campaigns. Doris has the support of the teachers union, while Mills' endorsements include the Fresno Chamber of Commerce's Political Action Committee.

Their key disagreement is over the reported graduation rates for Fresno High.

In a candidate statement filed with the Fresno County Registrar of Voters, Doris says 50% of Fresno High students graduate and more than 66% of students are habitual truants.

The graduation rate he cited is from a Fresno High study for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in 2010; the truancy rate is from the school's own attendance records, he said. "Fresno High during Carol's time on the board has basically become a factory for dropouts and truants," he said.

But Mills said Doris' statistics are inaccurate. The graduation rate at Fresno High in 2011 was 76.6% and the truancy rate was 31%, according to the California Department of Education, she said.

Mills has another beef with Doris' candidate statement. An original version contained inappropriate statements that had to be deleted, she said. Registrar Brandi Orth confirmed there were redactions.

Doris said he was not aware that he couldn't mention the name of his opponent in the statement.

In a copy of the original statement provided by Doris, the deleted lines contend that Mills "has become a rubber stamp vote for Superintendent Hanson" and voted to give him a positive job evaluation.

Mills said the superintendent's evaluations were deserved because the district is on the right course, with improving test scores and graduation rates.

But she said there's still room for improvement. The district's decision last month to spend $7.4 million of a potential $17.5 million in Proposition 30 funds to expand preschool education is a step forward, she said.

By state standards, students should be able to read and write a paragraph by the end of kindergarten, she said.

But Doris said the money would be better spent rehiring teachers to reduce classroom sizes in lower elementary grades. "To me, that was the last big cut that may be bringing us to some of the problems that we have now," he said.

The two also tangle over the college-prep International Baccalaureate program, which Mills supports and wants to expand. Doris said the district focuses too much on specialized programs for high academic achievers and ignores students at the bottom who need the most help.

While they clearly have differences and their campaigns are targeted at each other, Doris and Mills both claimed politics is not an issue. "Every decision I make as a trustee, my first thought is going to be what is best for the children, their parents and the teachers," Doris said. And Mills said, "I make my decisions based strictly on the issues and the evidence and what is best for the students."

Nearly overlooked in the back-and-forth between Doris and Mills is the other challenger, Montoya.

Like Doris, Montoya acknowledged having legal problems in the past. They include an arrest for drunken driving when he was 19 and a second DUI with jail time at age 22. But he got help and "was able to turn my life around."

When he was a 20-year-old college student, Montoya walked from Visalia to Sacramento to protest state cuts to education. His main campaign issue is the Fresno Unified budget, which is top-heavy, he said. "I don't see priorities for our children. I see priorities first for administration, second for teachers and third for our children."

He has two sons, one a toddler and the other an infant, and said he will stand for parents "shoulder to shoulder, demanding change ... and that our children are made a priority."

Fresno Unified School District, Area 5 candidates


Age: 47

Occupation: Business consultant

Education: Fresno State, bachelor of arts in communication

Family: Two children

Online: Andy Doris on Facebook


Age: 57

Occupation: Lead attorney, Fifth District Court of Appeal

Education: University of California at Riverside, bachelor's in political science; McGeorge School of Law, juris doctorate

Family: Single, one son



Age: 30

Occupation: Mental health caseworker

Education: Porterville College, associate degree in social science; Fresno State, bachelor's in psychology

Family: Engaged, two sons

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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