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Surprised by Mt. Diablo school board results?

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, November 4th, 2010 at 6:28 pm in Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington

With the election of three women to the Mt. Diablo school board, no one can call the district “an old boys’ network.”

Here are the final results in the race between seven candidates for three open seats (not including results from some late-arriving mail ballots or provisional ballots):

Cheryl L. Hansen: 18.78 percent or 20,068 votes
Linda K. Mayo: 18.33 percent or 19,581 votes
Lynne B. Dennler: 17.01 percent or 18,172 votes
Brian T. Lawrence: 15.43 percent or 16,484 votes
Jeffrey L. Adams: 14.72 percent or 15,725 votes
Roy A. Larkin: 10.66 percent or 11,391 votes
Jan Trezise: 4.77 percent or 5,091 votes

Newly elected trustees Cheryl Hansen and Lynne Dennler will join re-elected incumbent Linda Mayo and trustee Sherry Whitmarsh on the board, along with Trustee Gary Eberhart — who will be the only man on the five-member panel starting in December.

The three women beat three men and another woman in a race that has surprised many, because Hansen and Dennler weren’t well-known by voters and didn’t provide ballot statements.

“I was really surprised,” said Allen, the day after the election. “I think things have changed this year. I always thought voters went by the candidate statement, interviews they saw on television and the newspaper articles. I felt Linda would win because of her name recognition and the things she’s done in the school district. And I’m glad she’s on there, because she’ll provide some stability and we’ll need that.”

Eberhart has served on the board 15 years, but Whitmarsh is a relative newcomer with just two years as a trustee. Like Allen, Eberhart was surprised that two candidates who didn’t provide ballot statements defeated two who did: Brian Lawrence and Jeff Adams. Mayo was the only other candidate to provide a ballot statement.

“Why does someone get elected and someone else doesn’t?” Eberhart said Wednesday. “Who knows? If you had asked me a week ago, ‘Could someone get elected without a ballot statement?,’ I would say, ‘No,’ because I would think voters would want to read something about them. I guess the ballot designation was more important than the ballot statement in this situation.”

Hansen was designated as an “educator” on the ballot and Dennler was listed as a “retired teacher.” Hansen garnered an endorsement from the district’s Local One Clerical, Secretarial and Technical Unit and Dennler was endorsed by the Lamorinda Democratic Club.

But Lawrence (designated as a “technology executive”) and Jeff Adams (designated as an “attorney”) appeared to have stronger community recognition and better organized campaigns. Yet, Lawrence and Adams came in fourth and fifth in the seven-candidate race.

Retired CFO Roy Larkin and retired real estate appraiser Jan Trezise — who both ran very low-key campaigns — placed fifth and sixth, respectively.

“People respect teachers,” Eberhart said. “To have a teacher sit on a school board, a lot of people look at that and say, ‘That’s valuable knowledge to have a grasp of, as you’re trying to deliberate about the policies of a school district and how those policies are going to meet the needs of kids.’ Then, you look at other candidates that have been around for a long time, that have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying to get elected.”

Hansen is an instructional coordinator for the Contra Costa County Office of Education and former Mt. Diablo school district principal. She is the sister of Ron Hansen, a retired Local One Maintenance and Operations rep.

She had a few signs posted around the district and participated in three candidate forums, but didn’t send out any campaign mailers (as far as I know). Here’s what she said about her victory in an e-mail Wednesday night:

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to you sooner, but today was actually a full day of work for me. I just returned from training a group of middle school teachers in one of our county’s districts.

I am honored that the MDUSD community gave me their vote of confidence, and I look forward to representing the best interests of our students, parents, community members, and employees. These are very challenging times in our district, and I am pleased to offer my educational experience to help rejuvenate a sense of MDUSD pride and purpose.”

Dennler participated in a CCTV forum and special education panel, but didn’t join in a later forum in Pleasant Hill. She didn’t post any campaign signs or send out mailers, since she worried her inability to persuade the teachers’ union to endorse her would make her candidacy less viable in the eyes of voters.

Dennler told me she was surprised by her win, but is determined to make a difference for teachers and students.

“This is all really new to me,” she said before the election. “This is really important for me and it’s an emotional thing for me. I was really an ordinary elementary school teacher who was obsessed with just doing the best job possible. Every night between 7 and 10 p.m. I would sit at the table and grade papers and make up new questions, based on what I got. I know it can be done well, and that’s why I’m distressed by what’s going on. I know it can be done well without having a script. So much of the teaching that teachers are given now is done by script. You’re supposed to stay on script and you have to sort of limit questions. And those ‘teachable moments’ — you’re not as able to jump on those.”

She’s excited that the union was recently able to convince Superintendent Steven Lawrence to pay for clerical help to fill in bubbles on “Scantron” tests for primary level students, but she questions the value of the tests, which are intended to help teachers modify their instruction based on the results. (Lawrence intends to discuss district assessments at the Parents Advisory Committee meeting next Wednesday.)

Mayo’s second-place finish surprised some people, since she had the most experience, and nabbed several endorsements. She also put up several campaign signs and sent out a mailer.

But Allen said Mayo may have been lucky to win re-election, since some people are unhappy with the district and a few incumbents in other races lost.

“She did very well to win,” Allen said. “Look at the County Board of Education. Incumbents lost big-time.”

In that race, incumbents Michele Foster, Glenn Ruley and Daniel Borsuk all lost their bids for re-election.

Mayo, who endorsed Jeff Adams in the race, said she was happy to be re-elected, but disappointed that voters didn’t seem to know about the many contributions Adams has made to the district.

“I value Jeff’s commitment to our district in supporting Measure D (the failed 2009 parcel tax) and Measure C ($348 million bond voters approved in June) and being one of the founders of UMDAF (the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation) and also working so hard on the music foundation, as well as his continued support of his children through their schools (El Dorado Middle School and Concord High),” she said. “Both he and his wife have been very active. It’s sad that the community wasn’t aware of the service that he’s provided in those areas.”

Adams, who ran and lost in 2008, said he doesn’t know if he’ll try again in two more years.

“It’s premature to even consider that at this point,” he said, adding that he would serve out his term on the UMDAF board. “I’m certainly going to fulfill my commitment to the foundation. We’ve got to keep sports going.”

Adams also said he’s pleased that Mayo was re-elected.

“Whenever something had to be done, she was there,” he said. “When I’m at the meetings, she carefully considers the issues. I’ve always appreciated her dedication to the students and the district and I have no doubt that she’ll continue to do a great job.”

Lawrence posted large signs around the district, sent out at least one mailer and was endorsed by many local Democratic Party officials. Here’s his reaction to the election results, from an e-mail he sent today:

“I’m disappointed in the results, but I am proud of the campaign we ran. Starting from scratch eight weeks ago, we were able to get over 16,000 votes on Election Day. My only regret is that I didn’t have a few more weeks to introduce myself to the voters. It looks like ballot designation played a big role in the results.

I will absolutely continue to be involved in MDUSD, starting with the PAC (Parent Advisory Committee) meeting next week. My wife and I will also continue to be very active at Monte Gardens (Elementary), which is where our eldest child is in kindergarten.

I will certainly consider running again, but that decision is a long way off.

I personally congratulated Ms. Mayo, Ms. Hansen and Ms. Dennler yesterday, and I am hopeful that we can all work together to improve the district for the benefit of students.”

Larkin may have been the first candidate in the county to retrieve all his signs. He told me his grandchildren made four signs and he posted two in Concord and two in Pleasant Hill.

Right after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Larkin went out and picked up three of the signs. The fourth was missing, he said.

“It was obviously a bit surprising to me and a little disappointing, obviously,” he said of the election results. “I would have liked to have done my part and helped turn the district around. And so it goes.”

Yet, Larkin won’t be sitting idle. He will be sworn in on the Mt. Diablo Health District board for a seat he won with no opposition.

He said he also plans to keep up with what’s going on in the Mt. Diablo district and speak up, or write letters to board members or the newspaper, if he feels it’s necessary.

“I guess I’ll see what happens over the next couple of years,” he said. “Right now, yeah, I’d be more than happy to run a second time.”

Trezise couldn’t be reached for comment after the election. She said during a CCTV forum that she would drop out of the race because she was pleased with the caliber of her opponents, but she later reversed that decision and ran a low-key campaign.

Eberhart said he’s committed to helping the new board members get up and running, because they have a lot of work ahead of them.

“I’m eager to get things done,” he said. “This board is going to be facing a lot of challenges…negotiatons….the budget issues. We’ve got a school closure committee that’s likely going to be coming forward with a recommendation. We’ve got some tough issues and at the end of the day, a lot of them have to do with the fiscal health of the district. So, if there are folks that don’t like the direction we’re going, we’re going to have to figure out how we move in a direction that accomplishes what the community wants, while balancing the budget.”

“It’s going to be tough for a new board member,” he said. “I think the learning curve is going to be straight up and they’re going to have to get a really good understanding. And it’s going to be incumbent on us that have been around to make sure they get all the information they need so they can make some decisions. It will be fun.”

Were you surprised by the results? How well do you think the new board members will work together?

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  • Doctor J

    Its no surprise that voters trust women more than men in Education matters. Its no surprise that voters chose two educators in light of the dismal record of MDUSD in having 10 schools in Program Improvement, and six of the worst schools in California desginated as persistently underachieving. Its no surprise that voters were tired of lawyers on the Board. Its no surprise that Linda Mayo’s hard work, pleasant demeanor, and dedication to the district overcame the district’s poor record of performance of the last 13 years while she has been on the board. Let’s hope this new Board can unify all the schools who now operate so independently into a well oiled unified district machine of educational excellence. That will take a Strategic Plan with particiaption and buy in of all stakeholders, not top down dictator goals and objectives.

  • Joe Smith

    Well seeing as how the main dictator will be gone we will at least have a shot at not having policy shoved down our throats.

  • Realia

    I look forward to having actual educators on the school board. Aside from health care (and look how that turned out), I can’t think of any other type of oversight committee with major decision making authority where the members often know nothing about the mission and operation of the organization, yet in education district voters typically elect non-educators to oversee public education. I hope the educators on the school board are able to steer the district in a more positive direction and can place a meaningful check on all the top-down directives the superintendent is trying to force on it.

  • Doctor J

    The fiscal shell game will reach new heights with fiscally uneducated Board members. Both of these new Board members are in part responsible for the educational decline of MDUSD in accomplishing having TEN schools in program improvement, SIX schools as the worst of the worst — persistently underperforming — and very soon the entire district will be appropriately desiginated as “Program Improvement”. The Supt will manipulate these innocent women like no other.

  • Doctor J

    Lynne Dennler’s comments demonstrate she needs to go to school board trustee training to learn the job difference between being a school board member and a Second Grade Teacher. She now has to act in the “best interests” of ALL the children, not just her class. http://www.csba.org