Fresno Unified School Board trustee Larry Moore said this week he will not seek re-election when his term expires this year, an unexpected announcement that opens up the race for the Roosevelt High School area.
Moore's departure could shift the political balance of the fractured school board. Moore, who previously was president of the Fresno Teachers Association, has been a vocal opponent of Superintendent Michael Hanson and district policies during his four-year tenure. His absence could leave trustee Michelle Asadoorian as the lone remaining Hanson critic.
Former Fresno City Council Member Brad Castillo and Luis Chavez, chief of staff for City Council Member Sal Quintero, had already declared as challengers -- both have had campaigns in full swing since January.
"The fact that he is no longer in the race, I guess that's good news for me and my opponent," Castillo said.
Even better news for Castillo -- Moore said he would endorse him for the trustee Area 2 seat. "He's the best man that declared," Moore said.
With Moore's announcement, the race could get more crowded. The filing deadline is Aug. 10.
Moore said he recently changed his mind about seeking re-election and decided to "take a break" after just one term.
A retired FUSD teacher, Moore said he wants to dedicate more time to his family in Fresno and a long-distance relationship. He has been criticized for his frequent trips to visit his girlfriend in Southern California.
Moore has often opposed budget expenditures and programs that he believes are being forced on schools by the administration or outside organizations. He said the Graduation Task Force recommendations miss the mark.
"You have to start at the school level and build up. You don't start with a task force from the top and bring in a politician," he said, referring to former Assembly Member Juan Arambula, who Hanson tapped to lead the task force.
Released this month, the recommendations aim to increase graduation rates by reducing truancy, implementing new discipline models and expanding services for struggling students.
Moore has called for a new district leadership and grass-roots efforts to improve student success from the school level up. His head butts with Hanson and the board majority have led to at least a few fiery altercations during his tenure -- and one police report after an incident between Moore and Hanson during the May 2011 board meeting when Hanson accused Moore of battery. According to the police report, the men had a heated argument that resulted in Moore allegedly shoving Hanson, causing him to lose his balance and hit a wall. The dispute is ongoing; Moore sued the district last month in small-claims court, seeking $4,980 for attorney's fees.
"Disagreements and sometimes controversy -- this is democracy," Moore said.
Moore joined Asadoorian in walking out of the June 6 school board meeting after they were silenced by former board President Tony Vang when they tried to raise concerns about his residency issues. Vang has been under scrutiny after it was revealed that he bought a house on East Goshen Avenue in the Clovis Unified School District and voted there while serving on the Fresno Unified School Board.
Moore admits the walkout was dramatic -- but necessary to convey the seriousness of Vang's residency issues. He points to the board's inaction on the issue as one sign that it is dysfunctional and lacking accountability and transparency.
Moore, 65, taught in the district for more than 24 years and served eight years as FTA president. He was elected with union support, although his relationship with the FTA has faltered at times. In 2009, FTA President Greg Gadams accused Moore of interfering with union business.
Moore said his commitment to teachers has never wavered. Many times, he said, he has advocated for teachers and helped them work through disputes with administrators.
He plans to continue to dabble in politics, but not as a candidate, and help school board candidates such as Castillo. Moore calls him an experienced politician who won't get "overwhelmed" on the board.
Castillo served one term representing District 4 on the Fresno City Council but lost to Larry Westerlund in his re-election bid. He said he remained calm and rational during the "circus" that City Council meetings often became.
"I think we have to have a certain decorum, because what we do and how we conduct ourselves reflects on our kids," he said.
Moore said he is more wary of Chavez, a "would-be politician" aiming to use the school board as a stepping stone to bigger political stardom.
Chavez, who is from southeast Fresno and a Roosevelt alumnus, said his school board ambitions are about his dedication to education: "It is personal for me. I've always seen education as a great equalizer."
Chavez has endorsements from eight former and current City Council members, Fresno County Supervisor Susan Anderson and Arambula.
Chavez thanked Moore for his service as a teacher and trustee, but said Roosevelt needs someone who could identify with the predominantly Latino neighborhood. Chavez said his "strong ties to the community" will give parents and teachers a chance to participate more fully in district decisions. Chavez, 33, has children who attend FUSD schools. Both he and Castillo have Hispanic roots.
Moore agrees the board needs more diversity. In fact, he'd like to see many of the sitting trustees voted out, replaced by new faces and fresh ideas.
"None of us are irreplaceable," he said. "A lot of these people have been on the board a long time and got used to doing things a certain way. We get stale after awhile."
In addition to the Roosevelt seat, the Fresno High area, represented by trustee Carol Mills, and the Hoover High area, represented by trustee Janet Ryan, also are up for election in November.