A campaign by the Fresno Teachers Association to fill three seats on the Fresno Unified School District board fizzled Tuesday night.
With most precincts reported, Carol Mills and Janet Ryan -- two-term incumbents up for re-election -- were leading in their races to overcome FTA-endorsed challengers Andrew Doris and George Whitman.
In the race for the third seat, which is being vacated by Larry Moore, voters were choosing Luis Chavez, a nonunion candidate with endorsements from the business community.
The re-election of Mills and Ryan will maintain a board majority that favors Superintendent Michael Hanson. Mills and Ryan have sided with President Valerie Davis and Cal Johnson in support of Hanson. Sitting trustee Michelle Asadoorian and outgoing trustee Moore have been vocal critics of the superintendent.
Mills, an attorney in the Fifth District Court of Appeals, said Tuesday night her wide margin in the race could indicate that "voters are probably pleased with the direction the district is headed."
As of midnight, in the Fresno High area race, Mills had 60.5% of the vote for a wide margin over challenger Doris, a business consultant backed by the teachers union. Doris had 25.1%. Nicholas Montoya, a mental health caseworker, was running a distant third with 14.2%, the unofficial results showed.
Incumbent Ryan was ahead in the Hoover High area race with 32.9% of the vote. Challenger Whitman, a commercial lender endorsed by the FTA, had 23.0%. Challenger Carole Blomgren, an insurance agent, had 15.8%; Daniel Harrison, a music teacher/economist and full-time student, had 14.5%, and Ken Trapp, a retired teacher, had 13.6%.
Chavez had a sizable margin over two other candidates to fill the Roosevelt High area seat opened when Moore did not seek a second term.
Chavez, Fresno City Council Member Sal Quintero's chief of staff, had 47.6% of the vote. Esmeralda Diaz, the FTA backed candidate who also had Moore's endorsement, had 29.7%. She was trailed by Daren Miller, a high school counselor in Madera, who had 22.4%.
The races snap a track record of candidates with the FTA's endorsement winning elections. Moore, a former union boss who waged war against Fresno Unified during teacher contract talks, won his seat in 2008. Mills, Johnson and Davis had the union's support when they were elected.
Some have called the race a referendum on the superintendent.
This year's race produced some strange alliances, such as Republican Michael Der Manouel Jr. appearing with Democrat Fran Florez at a campaign event for Mills and Ryan. Der Manouel was there because he supports the direction of the school district under Hanson, and Florez was there because of her friendship with Mills. Doris, a conservative and Whitman, a Republican -- the FTA's endorsed candidates -- were bashed at the event.
The most contentious race was between Mills and Doris. They butted heads, with Doris blaming Mills when his 16-year-old methamphetamine possession arrest came up in the campaign. They disagreed on what is the true graduation rate at Fresno Unified.
In the Roosevelt High area race, Chavez could be an independent voice on the board. He has said he shouldn't be labeled a supporter of Hanson, contrary to what some have suggested. He attributed his early lead to his roots in the community and to walking the district three times.
The newly elected trustees will join a board overseeing a district with about 73,000 students.
During their campaigns, all the candidates focused on the district's high dropout rates and increasing high school graduation rates. Both issues have plagued the district, but incumbents Mills and Ryan have said both are improving.
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