Sue Zwahlen leads in 6-way Modesto schools race

naustin@modbee.comNovember 5, 2013 

DB MoCityMeet 01 .jpg

Modesto City Schools Board of Education president, Sue Zwahlen, conducts a public meeting of the board on Monday, March 7, 2011.

FILE PHOTO — The Modesto Bee

— In very early returns, incumbents Sue Zwahlen and Cindy Marks looked likely to return to the Modesto City Schools board, with Rubén Villalobos and newcomer David Allan running neck and neck for the two remaining full terms in play. In the race for the one short-term seat, Jordan Dickson stood in the lead, with only mail-in ballots counted.

Zwahlen, who had a large number of her signs defaced this year, held a solid lead with 22 percent of the vote in the six-way race for four seats. Tuesday night, Zwahlen said the anti-campaign may have helped her. “People were angry and pretty upset about the situation,” she said.

Assuming her lead holds, she said, “The battle cry for my next four years will be parent and family involvement.”

Marks, head of the California School Boards Association this year, campaigned while juggling trips around the state to help train other school boards in the changes in state funding. “I just appreciate the support,” she said Tuesday night.

David Allan, whose wife is a special-education teacher in the district, received the Modesto Teachers Association endorsement, along with Dickson, Villalobos, Zwahlen and Michael Scheid, who trailed in the early returns.

Business owner Brett McBay raised far more money for his campaign than other candidates, but that extra financing did not appear to pay off in vote totals. “It’s gonna be a long shot at this point,” McBay said.

“We did our best and tried to reach as many people as possible,” he said, adding he walked 17 precincts. “It was just not to be this time.”

Dickson said he was “still in wait and see mode” with a 4 percentage point lead in early returns over sheriff’s Lt. Charlie Grom for the Modesto City Schools two-year seat. Dickson ran on a platform of being the voice of youth, eager to engage community members with easy-access technology.

“We ran a different kind of campaign. I think when you’re a 23-year-old, you have to,” Dickson said. His six-person campaign team went each week to Modesto Junior College and vocational colleges in the Modesto area to sign up young voters and encourage them to vote. Another worked Facebook and Twitter, analyzing posts to see what type worked best.

The campaign “really has laid some groundwork we can use in the school district,” Dickson said. “We need to make sure we’re talking to people we haven’t talked to in the past.”

All the candidates focused on raising graduation rates as Job One for schools and essential to get the area’s economy back on track.

The winners of this election, to be seated in December, face far different challenges than the board sworn in two years ago, when precarious finances topped the list of concerns. The improving state economy and a new funding formula will bolster Modesto City’s revenue significantly, and the new board will have a greater role to play in spending decisions.

The switch to new state standards has begun, with dollar demands for more teacher training and more computers for students. Fresh sets of teaching materials will be chosen and a different style of testing will begin.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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