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A decision for change

POSTED November 6, 2009 6:20 p.m.
Turlock voters made a statement on Tuesday: They want change.
And change they will have, as it looks as if almost half of the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees will be replaced. There are 13,000 to 15,000 mail-in ballots that still have to be counted and could potential change the election results, but I doubt it.
I must admit that I was a little shocked at the outcome of Tuesday’s TUSD board election. While I expected at least one incumbent to fail in their reelection bid, all three getting the ax was a surprise.
To try to understand the mindset of local voters, I went back and reread stories written about the two debates held before the election. In both debates — held Oct. 1 at Walnut Elementary and Oct. 12 at Turlock High — the incumbents, Timm La Velle, Tami Muniz and Felica Renshaw, emphasized their experience on the board and touted their new strategic plan. At the Oct. 12 debate, co-hosted by the Journal, I thought the incumbents expressed through their verbal and nonverbal communication a feeling of camaraderie and similarity of opinion that lumped them together in the minds of the audience.
I’m not sure if the incumbents purposely wanted the public to think of them as a group or not, but in the end I think it was a mistake.
The incumbents also displayed a shockingly cavalier attitude toward the recent budget cuts and the effects they have had on the district. While the majority of voters know that the closure of Crane School, cutbacks in special programs and district employee furloughs are the result of state budget cuts and not mismanagement by the school board, the incumbents did not take any responsibility for the decisions they have made nor did they show any emotion at the possibility of further cuts.
I also think that instead of brushing aside low test scores and blaming the testing system, the incumbents should have proposed a plan to increase test scores in the district while educating the public about problems in the way schools are rated by testing.
The incumbents also disregarded or played down recent controversial topics such as the possibility of Turlock Redevelopment Agency funding being designated for renovations at Joe Debely Stadium and the conversion of Osborn Elementary School from a neighborhood campus to an immersion program only site. Bringing up these hot topics and making the effort to further educate the public on the details of each decision would have gone a long way to cementing voter loyalty.
The challengers, on the other hand, were more willing to address the bleak prospect of further budget cuts with straight answers. They also played up their lack of experience on the board with the angle of bringing a fresh perspective to the district. Bob Weaver, Lori Crivelli and Josh Bernard all stated how they would run the district a little bit differently, if elected, than the current board. Apparently, a fresh perspective is exactly what the voters wanted.
I also believe the challengers’ use of signs and door to door campaigning was a deciding factor in the outcome of the election. It was apparent the challengers just wanted the win a little bit more than the incumbents. I don’t know if the incumbents thought they had the election in the bag or if they thought their experience would speak for them, but they just didn’t make a big enough effort. There were demonstratively fewer campaign signs for incumbents around town — with the possible exception of Tami Muniz — and I did not speak to one resident who received a personal campaign visit from an incumbent.
Whether it was displeasure with recent board decisions or incumbent campaigning laziness, the voters of Turlock made the decision for change. In the upcoming months, it will be interesting to see if the challengers make good on their promises of change or if they slide into going with the flow of business as usual.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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