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When all the Election Day votes finally were counted Monday, the Santa Rosa School Board was in for a big surprise.

Longtime school board member Frank Pugh didn’t win reelection. Pugh, 63, who has served for 28 years on the board, lost his seat to newcomer Omar Medina, 39, program coordinator for fire-relief organization UndocuFund.

Medina’s upset victory means for the first time there will be two Latino representatives on the school board.

“It’s a surprise because it’s a big swing in the trend, and it just doesn’t happen very often,” said Jenni Klose, the school board president. “But it was close, so we knew it was possible.”

Klose said as the vote tallies trickled in last month following the Nov. 6 election, the trend indicated Pugh would come out on top.

But when the final results were released Monday afternoon, Medina had beaten Pugh by 318 votes. The final tally was 52 percent to 47.5 percent, with Medina winning 3,706 votes to Pugh’s 3,388.

This election was the first test of the school board’s new system of picking school board members by geographic area. The previous at-large system allowed voters across the city to vote on each school board position.

That system had been heavily criticized by advocates who argued it disenfranchised Latino voters.

Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman had threatened to sue both the school district and the City of Santa Rosa over their at-large elections, and both switched to district-based systems to ward off legal action. Shenkman has sent the Town of Windsor a letter about the same issue.

Medina won the Area 4 board seat to represent south-central Santa Rosa.

Medina expressed his support for the new system, which he said leads to fairer representation of the various communities in Santa Rosa.

“I think it’s just a reflection of the impact district elections can have. And two, I think it’s a more accurate representation of the demographics of the district,” he said.

The new district-voting system led to Santa Rosa electing two Latino school board members, Medina and Stephanie Manieri, who ran unopposed. Medina said having two Latinos on the board “gives a lot of those Spanish-speaking, Latino parents someone on the board that they can communicate with in their first language.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Pugh, a counselor and instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, is also a strong proponent of the district-voting system, even though it cost him his position on the board.

“What I’ve been working on for the last few years, to have our school district go to district elections to increase the diversity on our board has really worked, and it wasn’t to my advantage,” he said. “But more diversity on the board is a good thing. … In the past, board members tended to live in the same areas, but now we have full representation through all areas of our district.”

Medina, the community organizer, said he’s relieved to finally have all the votes counted.

“I’m glad to have the wait be over. It’s been quite a wait,” he said.

The lengthy process of Sonoma County officials counting all the votes, and the fact that the election remained contested through the end of November, meant Medina has missed some of the orientation process for new school board members.

He said he’s ready to get started with his work on the school board at its next meeting on Dec. 12.

To start with, he said, he’s going to work on helping the board with its planned ethnic-studies curriculum, which the board already has decided to implement at schools in Santa Rosa.

“I believe that I have the most experience with ethnic studies, given that Chicano Studies was one of my majors,” Medina said. “Ultimately, it’s about getting the students a good option of courses that could empower them.”

Medina said his other top priority will be working on contract negotiations between administrators, teachers and staff.

“We’re going to be looking at how we can work with the limitations we have on resources, to see how we can better attract more teachers,” he said.

Klose said Medina, who has served as counties industry chair for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, will bring his negotiating experience to the table in the contract talks.

“His experience, I think, will be valuable in our closed-session discussions,” she said. “He has been a leader with SEIU, I believe, so he has some strong knowledge with negotiations.”

Pugh also expressed his support for Medina, saying he expects he will do a great job on the school board.

“I’m really happy for Omar. He’s going to have a great experience as a school board member. He’ll do a fine job. He’s a great guy,” Pugh said.

Pugh currently serves as the president of the National School Boards Association. He said that even though he’s not on a school board anymore, he will finish out his term as the organization’s president, which is over in March 2019.

Along with two other senior school board members whose terms were up this year, Pugh’s election loss means Klose, with six years on the school board, will become the longest serving member.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com.

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