Turlock School Board contest pits perspective, experience

September 26, 2009 

TURLOCK — Incumbents running for re-election on the Turlock Unified School board tout their record of balancing the district's budget without layoffs. They are facing three challengers who claim the district has been well run, but it's time for new perspectives.

Incumbents Timm LaVelle, Tami Muniz and Felica Renshaw are facing challenges from Josh Bernard, Lori Crivelli and Bob Weaver.

Bernard said he is running for his children, ages 2, 4 and 6.

"Education is, next to their safety, the most important thing I have control over," he said. "With kids in the schools for the next 16 years I think it's a good time for me to get in and get started."

Bernard said his varied background, which includes the military, work for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and a teaching credential, gives him valuable skills for board service.

"This isn't really an issue-based campaign," he said. "(The current board) has done well for the most part. ... I'm running my campaign more as why you should pick me, not why you should not pick someone else."

Lori Crivelli came the closest to criticizing the incumbents.

"A lot of the current teachers feel the current board is just a rubber stamp and have encouraged me to run," she said, adding that her accounting background will be a valuable asset for the district. "There's definitely room for things to be looked at further than they have been."

Crivelli said she worked on the committee that came up with a five-year strategic plan for the district and wants to be part of implementing it. She also wants to help the district expand its vocational education programs.

"Every child is going to have the ability to reach their individual potential. It's a great plan," she said. Despite the financial challenges ahead, "I think it's a great time in the school district's history to be part of it."

LaVelle, who owns an accounting services business, said he feels an obligation to continue his work on the board he joined in 2001, before the elementary and high school districts were unified.

"Now is the time for experienced and qualified people," LaVelle said. "I feel an obligation to use the experience and my years on the board to continue to get us through some of the most difficult financial times we've seen in a generation."

LaVelle, like Muniz and Renshaw, said the current board doesn't always agree, but "we know how to compromise, to work with our administration and work with our bargaining units."

Though the last couple of years have been painful — "I was the first president in memory to send out a bunch of pink slips" — LaVelle said he was proud the board managed to work out agreements with employees to save those jobs.

"You have a team that has brought you up to the finals," he said. "Why would you bring the rookies in now?"

Muniz also touted her experience on the board and as the only member who lives in the city's southwest side.

"We feel like we have a voice now," she said.

Though the economy and concurrent drop in state funding have forced the board into difficult decisions, Muniz said members got through it by working together and keeping their highest priority in mind:

"No. 1, we have to do what's best for students, making sure we have the best staff and the best programs," she said. Though other districts have made drastic cuts to their arts and music programs, Turlock has kept its going.

"We've been conservative financially, and that's really helped us out," she said. "It's been challenging. You're affecting people's lives."

Felica Renshaw, in her fourth campaign, didn't plan to run again.

"Twelve years seemed like a good run," she said. But she cited the district's new strategic plan, which spells out goals for physical growth and philosophy such as character education, as a reason to continue.

"I was fortunate enough to be on that initial committee, and it's one of the most empowering things I've done in such a long time," she said. "It gives a focus for our entire district."

She said she wants to continue to work with schools within the district as well as feeder districts, such as Keyes and Chatom.

Weaver said he doesn't have a problem with the way the district has been run, but "this was the year." With children in fifth, seventh and ninth grades, he's involved at all school levels.

"I have no agenda on this," he said. "I've been involved with my boys since my oldest was 4 or 5 years old, coaching, being a scout leader, PTA, the (school) site council. This is just another step."

Though the district's finances are looking good through the 2010-11 school year, he said, "we could be facing some difficult times down the road, if the state changes its plans. ... I want to bring a new perspective, a new energy."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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