Education

Central Unified board: Longtime trustee faces challenge

Four of Central Unified School District's seven trustee area seats are up for election, and all four incumbents are running again -- but only Judith Geringer faces a challenger.

"So, why is that?" Geringer, who represents Area 2, asked jokingly.

Challenger Julia Shields hopes to take the trustee seat that Geringer has held for a quarter century.

Trustees Phil Rusconi (Area 1), George Wilson Jr. (Area 4) and Diana Milla (Area 7) also are seeking four-year terms.

Shields said she isn't unhappy with Geringer or her representation on the board, but she wants the chance to serve. She said she believes her experience qualifies her for the job.

"I have always had an interest in school board," said Shields, whose youngest child, Jerod, graduated from Central High School last year.

She said she has always been an involved parent who has been a classroom volunteer and served on parent advisory committees when her children attended Saroyan Elementary, Rio Vista Middle and Central High schools.

Election to the district's governing board is just a logical extension of her work to improve Central schools, said Shields.

She said the biggest concern facing Central Unified today is academics -- specifically student test scores and the need to improve them. Shields calls herself a parent advocate because she was often the "go-to" person at her children's schools when other parents needed to get something done or had questions. "A lot of them thought I worked for the school," she joked.

Geringer realizes she will have to work to win her seat and wonders what effect the district's recent change to by-district voting will have on the election.

Many districts have altered board elections after coming under fire for not adhering to the 2002 Voting Rights Act. The act requires public agencies to elect by districts if it's proven that at-large elections -- in which all voters can vote for any candidate -- lessen the chances for a minority candidate to win. Hispanic groups have pushed for such changes, saying candidates favored by minorities lose elections to white candidates who have the money to finance large, citywide campaigns.

Geringer said that since it's a smaller pool of people voting in Area 2, "I could lose this election."

Meanwhile, voters elsewhere in the district who previously were able to vote for her are concerned that they no longer have her support, which is not true, Geringer said.

One of the biggest issues she sees in Central Unified is growth and the need for additional schools -- even at a time when voters may not want to approve more bond measures. "We were fortunate to pass the last bond issue," she said.

Another brewing issue is whether the district should switch to full-day kindergarten, upon which she is still undecided. Geringer said she is leaning against it because there aren't enough aides to help teachers.

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