Elections

Patterson school board race flips, lone incumbent leads in unofficial total

Students study an exhibit during National History Day at Creekside Middle School in February in Patterson, part of a districtwide program expanded this year. Schools in the Patterson Joint Unified district will be governed by a new board in December, with the election of at least two board members still unresolved.
Students study an exhibit during National History Day at Creekside Middle School in February in Patterson, part of a districtwide program expanded this year. Schools in the Patterson Joint Unified district will be governed by a new board in December, with the election of at least two board members still unresolved. Modesto Bee file

Low voter turnout has created a squeaker of a race for a two-year seat on the Patterson school board, with the hopefuls for Area 4 still separated by only two votes Friday. The lone incumbent who filed for re-election now holds the lead for his area, a turnaround from the early totals on Election Day.

The Patterson Joint Unified School District board had five of its seven seats up for election this year. Two candidates, Mike McLaughlin and Carlos Gustavo Fierros, were the only filers for their seats and will take the four-year posts automatically.

One short-term seat and two full terms fell to the voters to decide in three races for Patterson’s first by-area elections.

In early returns Tuesday night, challenger Jeffrey Nosek held the lead over current board President Jose Reynoso. But as of Friday, Nosek’s 57-46 lead had reversed. The count stood at 85 for Reynoso to 75 for Nosek.

“It’s still close. Ten votes is not that much,” Reynoso said Friday. Still stung by local reports of his loss, Reynoso said he was not celebrating yet. “It’s not 100 percent in yet, so I cannot count victory,” he said.

The count of the Election Day absentee returns finished Friday, with official certification of the vote still at least a week away.

Ten votes is a wider margin than that of the short-term seat where Alyssa Homen had 53 votes versus 51 for Angelica Reyes. On election night, Homen had 39, compared with 36 for Reyes. Two votes were cast for write-in candidates and a third Area 4 voter marked choices in other contests but did not vote in this race.

Each of the district’s seven trustee areas has roughly 1,200 voters, going by the total number of registered voters in the Patterson district at its last contested election in 2011. The Reyes-Homen race so far has counted 106 votes, only about 8 percent or 9 percent of those possible. There is an unknown number of absentee or provisional ballots remaining to count and verify.

“It’s very close,” Homen said Friday. “I’m kind of on pins and needles here.”

But she sees the sliver of a lead as raising interest. “It would be nice to know, but it’s really exciting,” Homen said.

The low turnout is disappointing, she said. “I believe it’s because it’s an off-year election and the school board was the only item on the ballot.”

Also contributing was confusion over the first contested by-area elections, she said. Many residents wanted to vote for particular candidates who did not appear on their ballots, and areas of the city outside the contested areas had no ballots at all, she said.

“It’s sad that people didn’t come out to vote for their children’s future,” Reyes said Friday. “This was my fear from the outset, knowing that nothing else was on the ballot.”

Reyes said she is very active at Walnut Grove School, the district’s dual-language immersion school. “I’m very well-known on the school campus,” she said. “Families call me if they have questions.” But because it is a school of choice, many parents whose children go there live in other trustee areas and could not vote in her race.

Reyes, who is bilingual, was concerned that only one Latino candidate appeared to have won a seat in the by-area elections, but added that she is a woman of faith. “I believe God only knows what I could do,” she said.

In the fourth full-term race, James Leonard held a steady 110-69 vote lead over Jeffrey Cross to represent Area 7. Their race had drawn the highest turnout as of Friday, 179 votes or 14 percent.

In other school board races Friday morning:

▪ Oakdale Joint Unified: Larry Betschart led Michael Tozzi, 2,064, or 58 percent, to 1,489, or 42 percent.

▪ Modesto City Schools: Incumbents Amy Neumann and Steve Grenbeaux remained comfortably ahead, with challenger John Walker holding a 1,000-vote advantage over Chad Brown for the third seat in contention. Their numbers: Neumann had 14,660, or 31 percent; Grenbeaux 11,716, or 25 percent; Walker 10,808, or 23 percent; Brown 9,800, or 21 percent.

▪ Gratton Elementary: Ruth Villarreal was ahead with 65 votes, or 29 percent. Only one vote separated Kristin Stackhouse-Johns and Mark Threet, 61 and 60 votes respectively, both with 27 percent, for the second of two seats being decided. Ken Rocha lagged the field with 36 votes, or 16 percent.

▪ Denair Unified: Only a handful of votes apart, incumbents Kathi Dunham-Filson and John Plett, and Ray Prock Jr. led in the at-large race for three seats with 26 percent of the vote each. Their numbers: Dunham-Filson, 555 votes; Plett, 551 votes; Prock, 544 votes; T.J. Lake, 476 votes.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin

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