Analysis: Hotly Contested Three-Person Race For Two Spots on School Board


School Board Stock

People keep asking me my assessment of the school board race for Davis Joint Unified.  It is tough to predict these things, as we have limited polling and limited insight into voter mindset.

We have two incumbents, one unusually strong challenger and one protest vote.

I will dispense with Mr. Granda first.  This is his third candidacy for school board.  He is the only candidate who is opposing the parcel tax and he has improved his messaging over his first two races.  Nevertheless, I just don’t see a huge swelling of opposition against the parcel tax – if anything, that campaign is quieter than usual and, with just four candidates, there is no deep split to take advantage of.

To put this simply, in 2012 Jose Granda actually under-performed on the No on Parcel Tax ballot.  He received votes from 18.7 percent of the voters, while Measure E received 31 percent No votes.  In 2014, running in a more populated slate of candidates for three seats, he received almost the same, 18.8 percent of the ballots.

Can he do better?  Yes.  Those numbers show that he has room to grow, but there is likely a cap, especially if he’s spending only limited money.  In a five-person race in 2012 it took 32 percent of the ballot to win.  Given this is only a four-person race, that number figures to be closer to 40 percent, which would mean he would have to over-perform the No on H vote, which is likely to be 30 to 32 percent, by a sizable margin to win.

That leaves three candidates for two spots, and one of these strong candidates will not have a chair when the music stops.

Susan Lovenburg has some vulnerabilities, but so far I don’t see them coming into play.  I haven’t heard an overwhelming sentiment for change on the school board, so this being her third term might not be a huge detriment and she has been touting her experience as an asset.

Her handling of the Nancy Peterson sage was similar to that of Sheila Allen, but given that two years of time have passed, I don’t hear much on that.

Finally there is AIM, but while there were quite a few AIM people in the audience a week and a half ago, I don’t see an uprising there either.

Alan Fernandes has some strengths, but as we have noted previously, he really has never been elected to office in a contested election.  In 2012, he finished third behind Susan Lovenburg and Nancy Peterson.  He was 1900 votes shy of second place.  But he was appointed in 2014 when Ms. Peterson resigned and elected that November uncontested for a two-year seat.

As we reported yesterday, Susan Lovenburg and Alan Fernandes have received some key endorsements from the Yolo County Democratic Central Committee and the Davis Teachers Association.

In a normal year, they would probably be shoe-ins for reelection, but they have an unusually strong challenger.  In November 2014, Bob Poppenga finished 1100 votes shy of third place, which would have earned him a seat on the school board.

His second race shows a good amount of strength.  He has some key endorsements.  Last night, a fundraising event at the restaurant Our House featured Will Arnold and Rochelle Swanson from the city council, former Mayor Dan Wolk, Gina Daleiden, a former school board member, and Senator Lois Wolk.

Add in support from people like Mayor Robb Davis, Board President Madhavi Sunder and Supervisor Jim Provenza, and you have a pretty formidable team of endorsers in their own right.

Bob Poppenga has raised the most money so far, has a strong campaign organization and has been hammering the pavement – as well as the Vanguard and Enterprise with letters.

None of this means he will knock off an incumbent, but he certainly has the organization and is putting in the work to get that done.

The big question is, if Bob Poppenga gets one of the two seats, who is out?

This is a strong field, so there really are no weak candidates.  That said, I think Alan Fernandes is much more likely than Susan Lovenburg to be one odd person out if Bob Poppenga gets in.  I think he would acknowledge that as well.

Earlier in this campaign, the Vanguard questioned how much effort was going into this by Mr. Fernandes.  In the end, I think Susan Lovenburg wants this a bit more than Alan Fernandes does, and she and her campaign are working just a little harder.  She has finished first twice and, in a field of four, is the only female candidate.

Bob Poppenga probably has the strongest organization of the three and is working the hardest, but he has the most hill to climb to get in.

If forced to pick odds here, I would still go with the incumbents.  But Bob Poppenga is running a strong campaign and is a strong candidate.  Of the three, Susan Lovenburg seems the most likely to get a seat and finish first.  Alan Fernandes is more likely than not to get a seat, but Mr. Poppenga is probably nearly even money to get on the board.  I think it’s that close and it will come down to what happens in the next 40 days.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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41 thoughts on “Analysis: Hotly Contested Three-Person Race For Two Spots on School Board”

  1. MAli

    For me, and I think people will see this by his responses to questions from the Vanguard, Bob’s depth of analysis is far superior to any other candidate and that is why I’m supporting him.

    As for Aim/Gate this is the unseen elephant in the room. If Susan is re-elected the school board will continue gutting the program and there is a good chance that the board majority will end the program altogether, blaming their decision on the need to address the Office of Civil Rights complaint. If you look at the people who have donated to Susan’s campaign you will see many are the same people who have opposed the GATE program over the years. David might dismiss the issue as it hasn’t been a loud discussion in this campaign yet but this is an oversight of the undercurrents roiling beneath the surface of this campaign.

    1. ryankelly

      For some, GATE is the single issue of the election.  I think Poppenga suffers because, due to his involvement in opposing changes to GATE, he is, appropriately or not, viewed as the “GATE” candidate.  People appreciate that Susan responded to years long and repeated calls to reform that program and took the heat. The Civil Rights complaint is unfortunate, but it has value in evaluating our program.

      There are bigger issues ahead.   Susan has correctly identified troubled waters ahead regarding teacher retention and recruitment.  She is thoughtful, prepared, educated and calm, which is what we need.   Poppenga may also have these same characteristics and may be an asset to the District, but he needs to get by the “GATE” candidate designation.  His supporters could help with this.

      1. Don Shor

        repeated calls to reform that program

        “reform” is a unique euphemism for “reduce the size of”.
        It may take two election cycles to undo the serious damage this board majority has done to the GATE program. There are three qualified candidates running. All other things being equal, their positions on GATE are not an unreasonable basis for choosing between them.

          1. Don Shor

            “Profiteering”? Please explain. And what “corruption?” Those are extraordinary charges, ryan. You really need to either substantiate or retract them.

        1. ryankelly

          Parents with children scoring in the 80th percentiles and no risk factors paying private psychologists to retest the children, repeatedly in some cases, until their scores were high enough to qualify.  Certain psychologists were reputed to provide this better than others.

          1. Don Shor

            Private testing was eliminated in 2015. That was a simple change that was accepted by nearly everyone. So basically you are saying that local psychologists were profiteering and corrupt.

        2. wdf1

          Don Shor:  “reform” is a unique euphemism for “reduce the size of”.

          I think reform included eliminating private testing, which you pointed out above, and including differentiated instruction.

          1. Don Shor

            Both fine, yes. We’ve discussed many times what “differentiated instruction” really meant with regard to gifted teaching.

      2. VoiceOfReasonInDavis

        RyanKelly–you have been anti-gate for a long time, but now you want us to focus on bigger issues. Lovenburg and the folks she supported are the ones who focused the district on GATE over the last couple of years, rather than other key things. She succeeded in gutting GATE, so now we should move on?

        1. ryankelly

          Yes, twist my words.  No, I’m not saying that you should move on.  I’m saying that it is a mistake to pigeon-hole Poppenga into being a one issue candidate.  It may be a key issue for some voters, but he needs more than just these voters to win.

  2. SODA

    I am also supporting Bob. His thoughtful consideration and analysis of issues, his open mindedness about AIM and his (I believe) important distinction between high achieving and ‘gifted-excelling in self contained classrooms taught differently’ and his UCD connection are all reasons for my support.

    In addition his early entrance into the campaign with energy for the long haul impress me.

  3. lotaspark

    After listening to many board meetings and meeting with all of the candidates I too am supporting Bob. Although people might not have been approaching David to tell him as such, the district is in dire need of new leadership. I have never lived in a town where the school board is so dismissive of parental concern and have let the teachers and students down in so many ways as DJUSD. The teachers are one of the greatest assets we have in Davis, yet Susan has been on the board for 9 years and hasn’t come up with any thoughtful or ingenious ways of recruiting or retaining great teaching talent. This is one of the many issues that she has failed to rectify for our community. When it comes to creating “trust” within the community she has been the biggest factor against it. Based on the ways that she speaks to parents and the “plans” she has for the children everyone in Davis should be terrified of her continued reign. She has indicated that she prefers bringing in a new chorus program, which would be taking time and money away from Math, English, and Science, yet those subjects are part of the “achievement gap” that she pretends to be trying to fix. Bob on the other hand has been thinking outside of the box for ways to solve these issues. He was the only one who had real solutions that the district could implement quickly to make a serious positive change for our children. One of his ideas was that the district should look at providing subsidized housing for teachers on vacant district property as an incentive to bringing in new teachers and retaining seasoned vets. He discussed working on new grant opportunities that Davis hasn’t even tried to pursue and that Susan dismissed without even a thought. For goodness sake, he is the only one that provided a website in English, Spanish, and Chinese in the efforts to build a community where the same information is available to everyone. No one else could have been bothered to include all parts of the community. It is time for the parents of Davis to give their children a bright hope for the future by making their vote count this election. A vote for Bob is a vote for a bright future for all of Davis’ children!

  4. VoiceOfReasonInDavis

    From what I have seen Bob is very wide in the issues he cares about. I don’t really know enough about Alan to have a view.

    Susan Lovenburg has been on the board for a decade–actually, can someone tell me whether she still has kids in the schools?– Lovenburg’s been the one responsible for gutting the AIM program, which is why the government is conducting a civil rights investigation. A few years ago, I voted for Lovenburg and Nancy Peterson. But then I watched Lovenburg side with Peterson in firing the coach and then tell us in the community that we should move on and not worry about that action any more. I won’t make that mistake again this November.

      1. Don Shor

        It was a response, we assume, to the demographic outcome of the changes the board majority implemented. They had plenty of warning those outcomes were likely, and in the face of evidence of it actually having happened they chose to do nothing. This actually creates a possible existential threat to self-contained GATE in the Davis school district. So the board majority actually created the issue of GATE as being relevant in this election.
        Bob is not a single-issue candidate. He is addressing many issues, very cogently. But it is clear that GATE is going to have to be revisited by the next board, and probably the one after that. So it is relevant in this campaign.
        The notion that the OCR investigation is somehow beneficial is just flat-out spin. It is going to cost the district money; in fact, the ongoing costs should be made public. The costs to other districts resulting from these investigations should be detailed for the voters. It is a waste of staff and budget resources, and is likely to continue for a year or more. That’s an issue, it seems to me. Those dollars are diverted from somewhere.

        1. MrsW

          The issue of GATE/AIM’s racial make-up has been on-going, since the late 1990’s when Jann Murray-Garcia first pointed it out to DJUSD.

          DJUSD has had more than 15 years to figure it out.

          More than one experiment has been performed in the last 15 years that either addressed directly (e.g. universal testing, lottery, lowering admission test scores, employing a non-verbal test) or indirectly impacted the ethnic make-up of the program (e.g. expanding the elementary program from 1 to 4 campuses).

          IMO, DJUSD simply does not know how to implement a GATE/AIM program that simultaneously complies with non-discriminatory laws and ethics.  This isn’t something the School Board can fix.

        2. wdf1

          MrsW:  DJUSD simply does not know how to implement a GATE/AIM program that simultaneously complies with non-discriminatory laws and ethics.  This isn’t something the School Board can fix.

          I think the earlier GATE/AIM policies were already discriminatory enough to have brought a complaint.  The more glaring factor for GATE/AIM is the parent education level of the students.  Students of parents with less than college education were extremely rare in the GATE/AIM program last year (which was part of the old system).  I doubt that it has improved for the current year.

          Also, standardized tests don’t adequately measure all of the characteristics of giftedness, as formally defined.  Changing standardized test score cutoffs will not change anything.

  5. ryankelly

    People can vote change for change’s sake, but I don’t think there is drastic difference between the 3 candidates.  This is the School Board.  I would be happy with any of the three.   Give me a reason to vote for Poppenga that is not GATE and I may vote for him.

  6. MAli

    Ryan Kelly: “The Civil Rights complaint is unfortunate, but it has value in evaluating our program.”

    Well we could have evaluated the program for a lot less money had the board avoided making the changes that were obviously going to spur the complaint. The district has now spent how much money responding to the Feds? Money that could have been spent elsewhere like on a teacher or a nurse. An unbiased cost benefit analysis would likely conclude that not taking actions that trigger an investigation by the Federal Government is always a preferred outcome. Certainly there is value in the OCR investigation but is the value worth the cost.

  7. Matt Williams

    My first vote is going to Bob.  I’m still undecided on my second vote.

    I agree with David that Jose is significantly better prepared and more appealing than he was two years ago (he flew under my personal radar in his first candidacy); however, for me that only brings him up to a “close fourth”rather than a “distant fourth.”  The fiscal issues he is raising are very important, especially since it is highly likely that the School District and the City are both likely to be appealing to the voters for Parcel Tax approvals. I believe Jose needs to more clearly delineate some of the specific steps he believes DJUSD should be taking in order to be more efficient and effective in the money it spends.  The only way to have a balanced budget when cutting/reducing revenues is to have balancing cost reductions.

    Bob gets my first vote because of his approach to problem solving.  He hasn’t proposed heavy handed solutions.  He wants to be sure we understand the problem we face before embarking on the formulation of solutions.  That kind of critical thinking more often than not means the problem solution, when formed, actually addresses the real problem rather than a half-baked problem that suffers from incomplete and/or biased analysis.  The result of that kind of solid critical thinking is more efficient and effective solutions.

    Bob also gets my vote because of his passionate commitment to forging a much, much stronger partnership between DJUSD and UCD.  UCD has so much to offer by comingling its educational mission with DJUSD’s educational mission.  Add to that the fact that many, many DJUSD students are the children of UCD faculty and staff … and students, there is such a huge opportunity to build additional win-win bridges between DJUSD and UCD.  I suspect that many DJUSD teachers have spouses who are part of UCD.  Bob will work toward building, enhancing and leveraging those synergies.

    Between now and Election Day, I hope to meet with Alan and Susan to better understand their respective approaches.  Once I have done that I will be better able to decide how to cast my second vote.

    1. wdf1

      MW:   Add to that the fact that many, many DJUSD students are the children of UCD faculty and staff … and students, there is such a huge opportunity to build additional win-win bridges between DJUSD and UCD.  I suspect that many DJUSD teachers have spouses who are part of UCD.  Bob will work toward building, enhancing and leveraging those synergies.

      This is my concern with Poppenga.  He is on the Vet School faculty.  How well can he connect to and appreciate the perspective of a DJUSD student who is not on a trajectory to a competitive academic program like that of the UCD Vet School?  Not everyone in DJUSD will go on that path.  Many may not even come close by virtue of not having college educated parents.

      Jose Granda also likes to tout his experience as an educator, in his case teaching upper level/graduate level engineering classes.  What is his personal experience in connecting with DJUSD students who will not be like the higher caliber math/science students that he works with on a daily basis?

      1. Don Shor

        This is my concern with Poppenga. He is on the Vet School faculty. How well can he connect to and appreciate the perspective of a DJUSD student who is not on a trajectory to a competitive academic program like that of the UCD Vet School? Not everyone in DJUSD will go on that path.

        Is there something in the career paths of Susan Lovenburg and Alan Fernandes that you feel gives them better perspectives in this regard?

        1. wdf1

          I am looking for how all candidates will address a broad spectrum of student abilities, but because both Poppenga and Granda have highlighted their status as educators (and at a high level) as a reason to be taken seriously as candidates, I think they also have an obligation to explain how their specific personal experience might be applied to a broader range of student abilities than they seem likely to have encountered in their professional lives.

        2. JosephBiello

          I’m sorry WDF, but that’s a straw man comment if I’ve ever seen one.

          1) Bob’s written a lot about his goals for education for students choosing all career paths.

          2) By your criterion, I would then ask why should any of the current school board members have ANYTHING to say about Science and Math education?

          3) Reductio ad absurdum – we can only elect presidents of the US who have been in the military, or else they can’t understand the role of commander in chief.  That’s clearly nonsense.

          4) Reductio ad absurdum – nobody can be thoughtful about anything outside of their immediate field of knowledge.  That too is nonsense.


          Don’t make straw men arguments, they undermine any credibility you have as a thoughtful commentator.











        3. Matt Williams

          Joseph, your comments to wdf1 are quite confrontational, and based on my personal discussions with Bob, I see him as more thoughtful than confrontational.  You might want to dial the rhetoric of your responses back a notch.

          wdf, your question is a very good one, and based on my meetings with Bob and my observations of him at the Vanguard forum, I believe his Critical Thinking approach to problem solving will be a huge asset in addressing the very problem you have articulated here.  I believe Bob is not a person who uses a cook book approach.  My observations tell me he goes out of his way to listen to the stakeholders in an issue, and does his best to walk in their shoes to get an understanding of the challenges they face.  In a word, Bob has shown me a significantly greater level of empathy than the other candidates.  I believe that empathy will well serve the DJUSD students who are not on a trajectory to a competitive academic program.

  8. Misanthrop

    At least Bob has teaching experience. Its more than can be said for the other current serious candidates. Sadly, some incumbents have over stepped their roles as fiduciaries and delved into pedagogy on differentiation, an area for which they are ill suited because they have little or no expertise in that area. If the school board is going to continue dictating how the curriculum must be delivered it would at least be a good idea to have people who actually have classroom experience making those kinds of decisions.

  9. Sulla

    Great analysis ……But the problem is that everybody gets two votes.  I agree that Susan has a plurality of First choices, followed by Bob and Alan.  But the Susan voters will tend to vote for Alan as their second choice.  Those whose first choice is Alan will split between Bob and, to a much lesser extent, Susan as their second vote. And those who vote for Bob as their first choice, will tend to vote for Alan, or leave the second vote blank and definitely not vote for Susan.

    So:  First choice votes, as of now, will break: 1st Susan; 2nd Bob; and 3rd Alan.  But Second choice votes will break: 1st Alan, (by a large margin); 2nd Bob; and 3rd Susan.

    Final result:  Alan, Bob, and Susan, in that order.

    The reason for this outcome is that after nine years in office people either love or hate Susan.  Those who love her will scatter their second votes.  But those who hate her will cast a second vote against her to squeeze her out.  And Alan has successfully positioned himself to be the “running mate” to both Susan and Bob.

    As for Jose, his voters will either just vote for him as a “single shot” or vote to “throw the bums out” which means the only other non-incumbent, i.e. Bob.

    Finally, of all the candidates, Susan is most closely identified with Don Saylor.  And the Wolk folk  endorsements indicate that they have soured on her.

  10. Tia Will


    Having had several extended conversations with Bob at this point, I completely agree with your assessment of him as a thoughtful listener who strongly believes in an evidence based approach and shows willingness to consider viewpoints that he may not have considered. He will definitely have my vote.

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