New faces are coming to the school boards of Fresno Unified, Clovis Unified and Central Unified, as challengers won a number of seats Tuesday. The outgoing board members will attend a final meeting in the month of November before the new trustees are seated.
With Area 1 trustee Cal Johnson retiring, the southwest Fresno region will be represented by Keshia Thomas, who beat the Fresno Teachers Association-backed candidate, attorney Robert Fuentes.
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Thomas said she feels she won voters over by knocking on doors and introducing herself as a former teacher and vice principal.
“People are looking for educators to step up and take on these leadership roles,” Thomas said.
Thomas said her first priority will be to meet with district leaders to find what’s behind the inequities in education at Fresno Unified.
In Area 3, incumbent Valerie Davis will keep her seat despite a last-minute Fair Political Practices Commission complaint filed by her opponent, Mark Ratchford, accusing her of improperly disclosing her donations.
Challenger Veva Islas, who was also backed by the FTA, ousted Area 4 trustee Christopher De La Cerda.
In the Bullard region, Terry Slatic said he thinks he stood out in a crowded race by winning the “sign wars,” or placing 8-foot-wide banners featuring his name in key spots around northwest Fresno. An endorsement from the Lincoln Club didn’t hurt, either, Slatic said.
He will replace outgoing Area 7 trustee Brooke Ashjian, who endorsed him. But Slatic said he has an entirely different personality and set of priorities than Ashjian, citing his background in the U.S. Marine Corps, which he said gives him a global perspective.
“In the Marines, you are responsible for everything you do and you fail to do, and we do not have a culture of accountability at the district.” Slatic said. “If something isn’t working here, we can look at what’s working somewhere else and try that instead.”
The outgoing board members’ final meeting will be Nov. 14, with the incoming trustees taking over in December. You can hear more from the new board members themselves at their interviews with The Bee editorial board on Facebook Live.
In Clovis Unified Area 1, challenger Susan Hatmaker won out against incumbent Sandy Bengel Budd, who has served on the board since 1993. Tiffany Stoker Madsen took the Area 3 seat left open by outgoing trustee Jim Van Volkinburg. In Area 6, Betsy Sandoval ran unopposed.
At Central Unified, a coalition of parents upset with the incumbent board members appears to have made good on its promise to vote them out. Jason Paul will replace board president Cesar Granda in Area 1 and Yesenia Carrillo will replace Ruben Coronado in Area 2. Richard Atkins, the lone trustee up for re-election who had the approval of the group of parents, kept his seat in Area 4.
Area 7 remains too close to call, with incumbent Rama Dawar up only 20 votes over challenger Naindeep Singh Chann on Wednesday morning. The Bee will keep checking on this race.
Central’s election has been particularly heated after a year that saw the ouster of a popular superintendent, an action that parents felt the trustees took without listening to their wishes. Challengers, including Carrillo, reported that their lawn signs and posters had been torn down.
Carrillo, an attorney, said seeing her signs taken down was “discouraging,” but that she was able to remain positive with the support of Central teachers and parents.
“If they weren’t able to see my signs, they met me when I knocked on their doors,” Carrillo said.
She said it’s too early to speculate on whether the new board will try to reinstate former superintendent Mark Sutton, but that her first priority is to listen to parents’ concerns.
Paul said he was proud of the way that candidates stepped up to run in Central’s board races, and that despite the tension of the year, he encountered mostly positive reactions while campaigning. He said he doesn’t know if this board will bring back Sutton.
“We go to Central games and see Mark,” Paul said. “So obviously that lingers, especially for him.”