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Santa Rosa school board candidates

Trustee Area 4 (south central Santa Rosa)

Omar Medina

Age: 39

Occupation: Program coordinator at UndocuFund

Frank Pugh

Age: 63

Occupation: Counselor, instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College

For the first time ever, Santa Rosa residents will pick school board members by geographic areas. The school district shifted to a new election system, and although three seats are open, only one is contested.

Incumbent Frank Pugh, who has served on the school board for 28 years, will face challenger Omar Medina, who brings with him about 20 years of community organizing experience. The two men are running in Trustee Area 4, which represents south central Santa Rosa.

About 20,000 residents live in that area, and around 12,000 of them are registered to vote on Nov. 6, said Pugh, 63.

The new election system the school board chose to move forward with in February amid criticism the previous, at-large system disenfranchised minorities could help an underdog candidate like Medina, who doesn’t have the same name recognition as Pugh.

Medina, 39, unsuccessfully ran for school board in 2014, and in 2004 when he was a student at Sonoma State University. He said he struggled to reach voters citywide.

“This time, I feel like there’s a chance to reach out to everybody,” said Medina, the son of Mexican immigrants.

Medina and Pugh both support the new election system and diversifying the board, which currently has no Latino members even though 53 percent of the district’s students are Latinos.

Pugh predicts other districts in Sonoma County will follow suit or risk being sued for potential violations of the California Voting Rights Act.

“It is a different kind of race,” Pugh said. “In my case it gave me an opponent.”

Under the new system, candidates run in the trustee area they live in, but once elected they represent the entire school district of 16,000 students, the county’s largest. There are seven trustee areas.

Stephanie Manieri, 23, is running unopposed this November for the Area 6 seat, which represents southwest Santa Rosa.

The school board will select next week the Area 2 candidate after Lyndsey Burcina, 18, withdrew her campaign last month.

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital is the northernmost point of Area 4, with SSU and the Foxtail Golf Club to the south. To the west is Highway 101, and its eastern edges are bordered by Bennett Valley, Crane Canyon and Orange Road.

The two Area 4 candidates have some shared views. Both say there should be more student support as the district transitions to more rigorous college-prep course requirements.

But they differ with their backgrounds. As a child of immigrants, Medina frequently translated for his parents and helped with tasks that required his English skills, such as filling out forms.

“I understand the different issues people are going through,” he said.

Medina, the program coordinator of UndocuFund, also has experience as a leader at the county’s largest labor union, Service Employees International Union Local 1021. He attended Lawrence Cook Middle School and graduated from the first class at Elsie Allen High School in 1997.

He’s campaigning on improving teacher recruitment, parent engagement, having a shared governance model, adding supportive services as the district starts requiring college-prep classes to graduate, and a push toward including ethnic studies classes.

Santa Rosa school board candidates

Trustee Area 4 (south central Santa Rosa)

Omar Medina

Age: 39

Occupation: Program coordinator at UndocuFund

Frank Pugh

Age: 63

Occupation: Counselor, instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College

“I want to do whatever I can to make our district a leader on implementing ethnic studies,” said Medina, who studied history and Chicano studies at SSU. “It benefits everybody, not just students of color.”

Pugh supported Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent decision to veto a bill that would have implemented a pilot program to add ethnic studies in schools. While Pugh supports incorporating ethnic studies in the district, he prefers decisions be made locally.

A counselor and instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, Pugh is well-connected as the president of the National School Boards Association and the previous director of the California School Boards Association.

A few years ago he introduced to the board the restorative justice program, which encourages students to work through behavioral problems instead of being expelled.

“When you throw kids out of a school, where do they go?” said Pugh, who would like to see the program become more institutionalized.

Pugh said there’s other work he’d like to contribute to, like the looming parcel tax discussions next year.

School board president Jenni Klose, who endorsed Medina in his 2014 election bid, endorsed Pugh this month in a Facebook post.

“There is no one on our board, or likely any local school board for that matter, with more knowledge of education policy,” Klose wrote.

Medina was endorsed by the Sonoma County Democratic Party and the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, which claimed Pugh didn’t adequately address teacher concerns when he voted to change graduation requirements.

Both candidates said they’ve sent out mailers. Pugh said he’s raised about $7,500, and Medina said he’s spent about $10,000.

If Pugh loses this election, Klose will be the veteran board member with six years of experience.

“I think it’s important to have continuity and experienced leadership,” Pugh said. “There’s a sense of urgency on my part.”

Medina said if he wins, he hopes Pugh will stick around to lend his expertise and institutional knowledge in a consulting role.

“Students succeeding is a reflection of our community and the future,” Medina said. “I think I got a real chance, but we won’t know until Nov. 6.”

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