Four candidates vie for two seats on the Turlock Unified School District's board of trustees

mrowland@modbee.comOctober 27, 2013 

— The Turlock Unified School District will hold its first area-based elections this November.

The district approved a switch from an at-large board to a trustee-area board in 2010 and since then has been waiting for approval and finalization of the trustee area map. The final map divided the 13,900-student school district into seven areas, three of which are up this election.

Four candidates are vying for the spots, creating races for trustees in Area 2 and Area 6. The new structure ensures that at least one new face will be coming to the seven-trustee board.

Running for Area 2, which covers the middle and western part of the district, are incumbent Tami Harrill-Muniz and challenger Deborah Martin. Running for Area 6, which spans the northwestern part of the district, are political newcomers Jennifer R. Carter and Joe Lewis. Area 6 incumbent Josh Bernard, who was elected to the board in 2009, did not seek re-election.

Incumbent and Board President Bob Weaver, who represents Area 4, is running unopposed.

In questionnaires, all of the candidates listed the implementation of the new Common Core standards among their priorities if elected. Training for the district’s more than 700 teachers for the new curriculum begins next month. Other issues include continued strong fiscal management of the budget overseeing the district’s nine elementary schools, two junior high-middle schools, two high schools and two alternative schools.

Here’s a closer look at the candidates running in Area 2 and Area 6:

Harrill-Muniz, 46, is the lone incumbent running opposed this election. The eight-year veteran on the board is a lifelong Turlock resident who has worked for 24 years in customer service for Foster Farms.

The 1985 Turlock High School graduate attended Modesto Junior College and has two sons, ages 22 and 14. During her time on the board, Harrill-Muniz has served on the district Strategic Planning Committee. She points to her work on the board during the recession, when the district avoided large layoffs and salary cuts.

She said her priority if re-elected would be Common Core implementation.

“(I) want to be sure the district is ready for Common Core and that the teachers receive the training they need to be successful, and that the parents are receiving information on the changes as they are implemented,” she said.

She said she also would like to work on improving the overall teacher training, parent communication and safety on campuses.

“I truly believe we are doing a great job,” she said. “These (issues) are all things we are working on all the time.”

Martin, 55, is a retired public utility director. She had applied to fill the seat left by board member Grady Welch, who abruptly left his position in early July. The board unanimously appointed Turlock Education Foundation President Barney Gordon to that spot in August.

Martin said she moved around a lot growing up as the daughter of an Air Force pilot. She graduated from Washington State University in 1980 with a degree in civil engineering. She recently retired as the director of operations for Avista Utilities, based out of Washington state. Martin is married to Stanislaus County Fair CEO Chris Borovansky and the couple have three children ages 22 and 8 (the latter are twins).

She also said her top priority would be Common Core, and that what sets her apart from other candidates is her 30 years of experience as an executive.

“I have new ideas, energy and perspectives regarding our children, their futures, education, supporting our teachers and having quality schools in Turlock,” she said. “I am not a Turlock native, but I have lived here for three years with my family and we love this community.

“My business and leadership background has given me the experience to contribute to TUSD issues such as managing large capital and operating budgets, strategic planning, contract negotiating, communicating and working collaboratively to achieve common goals,” she said.

If elected she plans to work on closing the “learning gap” with the lower-performing students, improving graduation rates and staying current with curricula.

Carter, 41, is a human resources director for the Merced Irrigation District. Born in Massachusetts, Carter moved to Turlock when she was 6, went to TUSD grade schools and graduated from Turlock High in 1990.

Carter earned a bachelor’s degree at California State University, Stanislaus, in 1994. Along with husband Brian K. Carter she has two children, ages 19 and 17.

Like the other candidates, Carter stresses the importance of the upcoming Common Core implementation. She is also concerned about the changes to local control in funding policies.

“With my background in human resources-information technology and experience in process implementation and change management, I feel I would have a unique vision as we implement the Common Core Standards,” she said. “In addition, we have a responsibility to ensure the fiscal health of the district and all of our decisions must look at this issue prior to making decisions.

“Oversight of the budget will become more critical as the state moves to Local Control Funding Formula. This formula is still be developed at the state level, but the new funding model will put more money in the schools with the greatest need and will allow the district to determine the best use for these funds,” she said.

Other areas of concern for Carter include improving the district’s graduation rate and test scores, and improving community and family involvement in students’ academic careers.

Lewis, 40, is a community volunteer and first-time public office seeker. He coaches youth sports and has volunteered in various capacities for the past 19 years.

Lewis graduated from Turlock High in 1991 and attended Modesto Junior College. He graduated from the Modesto Police Academy in 1992 and received his peace officer standards and training certification. He went on to work for more than a dozen years as a plant utility operator for Covanta Energy. Lewis and his wife, Dawn, have two children ages 21 and 17.

Common Core and fiscal responsibility are among his priorities.

“I will work hard to make sure our school district continues to improve test scores and that every dollar benefits our district,” he said. “I believe (in) keeping a balanced budget without losing valuable teachers and staff, and being fiscally responsible, also to look after the best interest of the district and work with other board members and superintendent to achieve those goals.”

Lewis also wants to see funding for building and facilities maintenance increase.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter @marijkerowland.

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