PATTERSON -- Voters are apparently pleased with the direction of the school board, electing Tuesday to send all four incumbents back for another term.
Bruce Kelly, Barbara Hartsell, Bobby Yamamoto and Gilbert Lujan were in the lead for four seats late Tuesday, with 90 percent of Stanislaus County precincts counted. They faced challenges from political newcomers Sonja Gunderson, Violet Wells and Cerise Cameron-Grice.
"The district's been doing a pretty good job, so that tends to favor the people who are in there at the time," said Kelly, school board president. He received 617 votes, or 18.9 percent.
Board members for the Patterson Unified School District oversee 5,655 students in nine schools, with an annual budget of $40 million.
The biggest vote-getter was Yamamoto, who easily won re-election with 751 votes, or 23 percent. Yamamoto, a longtime Westley farmer and assistant football coach at Patterson High School, has been a board member since 2005.
Yamamoto stressed campus safety during his campaign, saying that children can't learn in an environment where they don't feel secure. He advocated for more campus supervisors and community involvement at the schools.
Safety became an issue after a series of brawls and a subsequent lockdown Sept. 19 at Patterson High School. The district held community meetings in the wake of the incident, and has implemented several other safety measures.
"We got a lot of people thanking us for the way we handled the fights and so that wasn't a negative," said Kelly, a CHAOS system administrator at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and board member since 1993.
Hartsell said the board has achieved a number of other accomplishments in recent years, including remodeling schools, installing an artificial turf football field and remaking some programs. Hartsell, a retired educator, garnered 543 votes, or 16.7 percent.
"I feel that the community has confidence in the current board," she said.
Lujan echoed his colleagues, saying that the board has demonstrated a "good, positive, fair approach" to making decisions. Lujan, a native of Mexico and engineer with the state Department of Water Resources, earned 427 votes, or 13.1 percent.
Hartsell had high praise for the three challengers in the race, saying that she was especially impressed by Cameron-Grice, a child welfare analyst who routinely shows up at board meetings and shares ideas.
"I was sorry to see that she did not have a bigger following," Hartsell said.
Of the three challengers, Wells had the strongest showing. The community developer earned 337 votes, or 10.3 percent. Gunderson and Cameron-Grice trailed shortly behind, earning 8.7 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively.
Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at email@example.com or 238-4574.