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)
Occupation: Program coordinator at UndocuFund
Occupation: Counselor, instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College