Seven candidates are vying for three seats on the Central Unified School District Board of Trustees this November, where the issues continue to revolve around the district’s growing pains and improving student academics.
Incumbent Cynthia Berube (Area 5) has two opponents while incumbent Terry Cox (Area 6) has one challenger. Trustee Leonard Ramirez is not running for re-election, clearing the way for a new face to represent Area 3.
Central Unified covers 88 square miles west of Highway 99 and serves children in new neighborhoods that have popped up on the fringes of the city over the last decade and across rural areas into the unincorporated town of Biola.
VOTER GUIDE: Find out more about the candidates, along with other races on the Nov. 8 ballot
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Five new schools have been built since 2000 – four elementary and one middle school – while the high schools were expanded and the district’s technology, vocational and art programs have grown, said Cox, 58. She was appointed to the board in 2000 and later ran for the seat.
Another high school is desperately needed in the district, which has grown from around 10,000 students to more than 16,000 over the last 16 years, Cox said. Central Unified has the land and the engineering plans ready but is waiting for voters to approve Proposition 51, the state facilities bond initiative, which could help pay for the project.
“It’s a perfect storm right now,” said Cox, whose three adult children graduated from Central. “We’re going to get an opportunity, if the bond passes, to get (the high school) and complete the elementary school we have now.”
There’s just so many more good things to do.
Terry Cox, incumbent
Cox, who is chief of staff for Fresno City Council Member Esmeralda Soria, is running again because “there’s just so many more good things to do,” she said.
Her opponent, Richard Martinez Jr., 45, a management consultant and U.S. Army veteran, thinks it’s time for someone new to get things done.
Martinez, who attended Central schools and has a daughter in high school, ran unsuccessfully for school board in 1996. He managed the controversial “Four Horsemen” campaign in 2014, which billed four school board challengers as a set of Wild West cowboys on a quest to improve the district.
“As a parent, alumni, and part of a family that has been here forever, I’m tired of waiting on the promises that were made by this school board and its leadership for two decades,” Martinez said.
He also is critical of the district’s 2-year-old tablet program, which aims to put a device in the hands of each student. There were early glitches in the program and instead of going home with students, the tablets were kept at school until problems were ironed out.
“We still have nothing to show for that expenditure of money,” said Martinez, who is married to the president of the Central Unified Teachers Association. That’s several millions of dollars that could have been spent on new teachers which would create smaller class sizes, he said.
Newcomer Phillip Cervantes, 51, a medical sales consultant, doesn’t want to point fingers or criticize the board. Instead, the longtime community service volunteer who grew up in Biola is focusing on solutions and working collectively with fellow board members to the best for the students.
“I don’t look at this as a political position,” said Cervantes, who has three daughters, two still in the district. “I feel like it’s a true public service position ... just trying to do some good for our students.”
If elected, Cervantes wants to help more students be “job ready” if they do not continue to college after graduation. That means technology and vocational training, he said.
His opponent, Maria Petrogonas Brar, a web designer and mother, did not return calls.
Third-generation raisin grower Randy Rocca, 56, wants to focus on schoolkids, too, and bring transparency and fiscal responsibility to the district. He has two adult children who graduated from the district, and his first grandchild is due in November.
We need to be good stewards of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollar.
Randy Rocca, candidate Area 5
“I’ve been going to the board meetings, and there’s been a lot of micromanaging and helicoptering around,” said Rocca, who in January termed out of the Fresno County Planning Commission, where he served eight years.
“A board’s job is to oversee, not micromanage. We need to be good stewards of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollar. ... We need to set policy, hold district staff responsible and be an advocate for the students in our community,” he said.
Incumbent Berube, 64, a nurse practitioner, is counting on more than 20 years of school board experience to help her get re-elected. “It’s my way of providing and giving back to my community. I have been an advocate for children for the last 25 years.”
Berube wants to see construction of a new high school and the completion of Tilley Elementary School. State funds have not been available to move forward with projects or to maintain existing schools, she said.
The third candidate in the race, Richard Solis, 57, is running on his ABC’s – accountability, belief in academic achievement and clarity of services.
Solis, who has three children in the district, is a caseworker for Fresno County’s mental health department. He has volunteered for years in Central Unified schools as president of the Parent Teacher Association, on the school-site committee and the English learner committee. Running for school board is the next step.
“We need to have a welcoming philosophy so when parents come in, we don’t expect them to just sell hot dogs at the carnival,” Solis said. “We want their input, what their opinions are.”
Central Unified school board candidates
TRUSTEE AREA 3
Occupation: Medical sales consultant
Family: Married, three children
Maria Petrogonas Brar
No information provided.
TRUSTEE AREA 5
Occupation: Incumbent, nurse practitioner
Family: Married, six children, 17 grandchildren, 1 great-grandchild
Occupation: Farmer, business owner, field representative for Sun-Maid Growers of California
Family: Married, two children
Occupation: Casework for Fresno County’s mental health department
Family: Married, three children
TRUSTEE AREA 6
Occupation: Chief of staff, Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria
Family: Married, three children, two grandchildren
Richard Martinez Jr.
Occupation: Management consultant
Family: Married, two children
Facebook: SuperMex 2016