Monday Morning Thoughts: Why Only Four Candidates for School Board?

Cindy Pickett at her campaign booth

Four years ago, following the Nancy Peterson saga, there were three open school board seats, but a total of seven candidates vying for those seats.  That doesn’t even include the two-year seat when Alan Fernandes, appointed to replace Nancy Peterson by the school board, ran unopposed for it.

Earlier this year, with two open council seats, there were nine candidates competing to replace Robb Davis and Rochelle Swanson.

Seven candidates emerged willing to fill a four-month vacancy on the school board left by Madhavi Sunder’s move to Georgetown Law School, but only four candidates have stepped up to fill what is now two open seats with only one incumbent, Tom Adams, among the announced candidates for the third seat.

It might be worse than you think because the fourth candidate, Chris Legal, may not be a serious candidate.  He has yet to speak to the media or show any outward signs of campaigning.

Some have speculated that the political climate in Davis has contributed to the lack of candidates.  But that seems odd.  We just had nine candidates for city council and we had seven candidates for school board just four years ago.  If anything, the climate for the school board was worse.

I would argue that, while school board candidates have to put up with intense parents concerned about their children, the true blood sport in Davis follows the city council.

This is just a theory – and in part it may be it is just cyclical.  In 2016, we only saw four candidates for three positions on the city council.  Granted, there were two incumbents in that race and Will Arnold, while not an incumbent, given his history in this community was widely considered the frontrunner.  The fourth candidate, Matt Williams, under different circumstances, might have been a strong candidate, but in that field, he finished a solid, but predictable fourth.

My first thought is that Barbara Archer decided literally at the last minute not to run for reelection.  Having talked to some of her colleagues, she seemed ambivalent for a long time about running and was probably leaning against it for some time, but she had never announced it in the community.

That meant, instead of one open seat, there were two open seats.  Had folks known earlier that there were two open seats rather than one, it might have changed their minds.  As it was, someone not planning to run on Friday was not going to suddenly launch a campaign (at least a viable one) by Wednesday.  That made it hard.

My second thought is that the two emerged candidates are pretty strong candidates.  Cindy Pickett has been running for a good amount of time, she has strong ties in the community and her kickoff had an impressive attendance and array of support.

Joe DiNunzio has a long period of work in the community and ties across a lot of different groups, from schools to athletics to innovation, both through his work with Davis Roots as well as his work with the university.

In short, one theory is that when it was assumed there would be just one open seat, you figure the advantage to the incumbents and that the challengers would be battling for the open seat.  It may not have worked that way, but it is possible.  That may have deterred quality challengers.

Joe DiNunzio talks with a campaign volunteer

But where are perennial candidates like Mike Nolan, who was visible with the taxpayers association, and Jose Granda, who has opposed most of the parcel taxes?  They have never been shy about facing long odds.

I was out at Farmer’s Market on Saturday.  There were Joe DiNunzio and Cindy Pickett, both out there working the crowds as though they faced formidable opponents.  The right approach – not to take anything for granted.

On the other hand, Tom Adams was nowhere to be seen.  Four years ago, Tom Adams was elected along with Barbara Archer and Madhavi Sunder, but he probably had the lowest profile of the three campaigns.

Finally, it is not like the school district is not facing critical challenges.  They are attempting to pass a facilities bond.  The good news: there appears to be no real opposition to it.  The opposition did not even file a ballot statement.

The district still needs to figure out what to do about a parcel tax.  Will they sit back and allow Alan Fernandes to attempt the 50-percent citizens’ initiative?

What will the board do about the teacher compensation issue?  As we have pointed out, the salary increase doesn’t close the compensation gap.  But what it does do is create a deficit that the district is going to have to grapple with.  They will have critical choices: parcel tax, rollback the salary increases, or cut other spending (which will be dicey at best).

We have argued that our district is facing the sort of existential challenge that the city is: right now they are on the cusp of not being able to provide the types of school programs that we are accustomed to, and still be able to compensate teachers at a level which they will be demanding.

Where do we go from here?

That will be the challenge for the school board.  Maybe the community is just in the dark as to how much of a threat this poses.  You would think there would be a lot of people lined up to try to help – much as they did for the four-month vacancy.  That that didn’t happen is a bit concerning.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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  1. Dave Hart

    Why are you so concerned?

    You would think there would be a lot of people lined up to try to help – much as they did for the four-month vacancy.  That that didn’t happen is a bit concerning.

    You also thought it was concerning that we had such a ‘thin’ coterie of candidates for the City Council, but I think we did okay with the two that won in that election.  So, why be concerned?  Looks like we have two very strong and committed candidates. I can only wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to be elected to a local position like School Board or City Council. I’m grateful that we get enough good candidates every time, at least in recent memory.

    1. Alan Miller

      I can only wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to be elected to a local position like School Board or City Council.

      You have of course answered your own question.

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