In general, I prefer elections with more, not less, candidates. But the school board election, with potentially as few as three candidates, could prove to be among the most interesting in recent times. With both incumbents in the race, this Friday is the last day to file.
So far, only Susan Lovenburg and Bob Poppenga have officially filed, according to the county elections website. However, Alan Fernandes sent out a press release late last week which we ran on Sunday, indicating he will seek a second term (or a first full term).
That makes for an intriguing matchup.
Susan Lovenburg is seeking a third term and she has been on the board for nine years already, having been elected in 2007, and getting an extra year when the board moved their elections to the even year cycle to save some money a few years ago.
Two years ago Gina Daleiden, Sheila Allen and Tim Taylor, all of whom were elected first in November 2005, all exited the board together after nine years.
In our time covering the school board, no one has served three terms. In fact, three consecutive times is fairly rare in Davis to begin with.
In 2012, Susan Lovenburg ran for reelection and finished first – well ahead of second place Nancy Peterson and third place Alan Fernandes, who would two years later be appointed to fill the remainder of Ms. Peterson’s term.
We have three other recent examples of incumbents running for a third term in Davis races – all them city council races. In 2008, Sue Greenwald ran for a third term. In her previous run in 2004, she finished first and became mayor in 2006. However, in 2008, she finished third, narrowly placing on the council over fourth place Sydney Vergis.
Four years later, she ran for a fourth term and finished fourth behind Dan Wolk, Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee. That same year, Stephen Souza finished fifth, running for his third term. In his previous election he placed a strong second.
Part of the problem with running for a third term is that you end up making tough decisions while in office that inevitably may anger some constituencies who previously supported you. We saw this with Sheila Allen in 2014. She had served two terms on the school board, but when she ran for city council, some of her previous decisions caught up with her and she ended up finishing fourth.
Alan Fernandes has only been on the board for two years and this will be his first full term, having finished third in 2012 behind both Ms. Lovenburg and the person he eventually replaced, Nancy Peterson.
Meanwhile, Bob Poppenga finished a solid fourth in 2014, in a race where the top three vote-getters were elected. He comes back for a second bite at the apple and figures to be competitive in a race with two incumbents.
The other key question will be whether this becomes a referendum on AIM. Certainly there are other critical issues facing the school district, but it is not clear where the lines of demarcation will be on other issues.
With AIM, you have three very distinct points of view.
Susan Lovenburg is possibly the most outspoken critic of what had been the current AIM program. It was she who led the way on reforming the program. It was her motion last spring that led to the fall changes to the program. It was Ms. Lovenburg who pushed for the non-renewal of Deanne Quinn’s contract.
Alan Fernandes has attempted to be a middle-broker on AIM. He joined with three of his colleagues on the initial motion to direct the superintendent to make changes to the AIM program. However, he supported staff recommendations to renew Deanne Quinn’s contract.
He joined with Madhavi Sunder this spring on a compromise motion to keep three strands of AIM pending further investigation, but that motion died for failure to receive a third vote and, ultimately, he voted against Susan Lovenburg’s motion that created a two-strand program.
Finally, Bob Poppenga has been a consistent supporter of the AIM program and seems most aligned with Madhavi Sunder on the issue.
In the Vanguard’s June interview with Bob Poppenga, he responded as follows:
“Well, it’s been very controversial in Davis and I think it’s really unfortunate that the community has not been able to come to some sort of common ground, at least, or come up with some sort of compromise on that. It seems to be very polarizing. My view is that there are children that learn differently and that their needs need to be addressed. I think maybe even the University can help in that regard, providing maybe some challenging opportunities for the kids that are academically advanced. I firmly believe that every group, whether you’re talking about at-risk kids – there’s [such] a lot of at-risk kids that it’s hard to identify them because they haven’t had the opportunities to excel but they’re there, so I think really one of the challenges is to provide really the best available ways to identify those kids and give them opportunities to excel. I think if you go to the Healthy Kids Survey, and you dig down into some of the numbers there, that there are a significant number of kids that don’t feel challenged. I think that’s something that I would certainly be interested in – trying to find ways to challenge every kid, no matter what their background is.
“In the past, it (AIM) was a pretty good reflection of the diversity of the community and this past year that’s changed. I just don’t think that we can overlook the kids that really need to be challenged in our public education. We need to obviously offer opportunities for the kids that don’t have opportunities, but we can’t hold any kids back. That’s the bottom line.”
There figure to be clear implications for the AIM program’s future, depending on who wins. If it is Susan Lovenburg, the district will have three votes to continue down its current path. If it is Bob Poppenga and Alan Fernandes, Mr. Fernandes would appear to have the votes to carve his more moderate path.
It is possible another issue will emerge with that kind of clear-cut alignment, but at this point, the race could very well shape up to be a referendum on the AIM program.
—David M. Greenwald reporting