TURLOCK -- Three of the four incumbents were on their way to re-election to the Turlock Unified School District board, and retired schoolteacher Eileen Hamilton held a lead for the fourth seat.
As the count continued late Tuesday, incumbent Victor Pedroza was in fifth place, trailing the next highest vote-getter by more than 500 votes.
Hamilton wasn't ready to declare victory at 10:15 p.m. Tuesday. "Time will tell when we see the results tomorrow," she said.
Hamilton, who taught Turlock high school students for eight years and is active in community groups, said she was grateful for the support. "I am overwhelmed," she said. "I have had a lot of support from people and I appreciate the kindness people have shown me."
Pedroza trailed the leaders by at least 450 votes in the absentee balloting. The absentees were proving to be a factor because of light turnout at the polls.
"I was at the polls at 1 o'clock, and the turnout seemed low," said Pedroza, who served 10 years on the elementary school board before joining the unified board two years ago.
"The absentees were important this year," he said, adding that he was counting on the support of people going to the polls.
Trustee Frank Lima led with 20.5 percent, followed by Hamilton with 18 percent, John Sims with 17.2 percent, Loren Holt with 16.9 percent, Pedroza with 13.6 percent, Jonna Baughn with 7.8 percent and Yolanda Perez with 5.9 percent.
The school district, which was unified in 2003, is in the process of selecting a superintendent to succeed William Gibson, the top administrator for 16 years. At a board meeting Tuesday night, trustees voted to hire a search firm to come up with qualified candidates.
Virtually all the school board candidates stressed that hiring the right person to succeed Gibson was the top priority.
Sims, who is executive director of the Stanislaus County Children and Families Commission, said Tuesday evening the district needs an excellent communicator with a vision for schools.
If he sustained his lead, he wanted to help the district "continue to work with the schools to improve student scores and achievement."
Hamilton said she would like to be involved in choosing the superintendent. She has not held public office before, but the 39-year Turlock resident is well-known. She won the Rotary Club 2002 Outstanding Teacher Award and in retirement has been working with a dozen community groups.
She promised during her campaign to address issues that parents are concerned about.
"School safety is important," she said. "People are concerned about test scores. We need to address those issues."
She added: "I think I can give another perspective to things, having been in the classroom."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.