Eight candidates are jostling for three seats in hotly contested races for the Elk Grove Unified School District board.
The crowded field is unusual for the district, where races have been nearly always uncontested.
But this year's Nov. 6 election is different as two incumbents who were appointed to the board in recent years seek voter approval to stay in office. A third seat is open with the retirement of trustee William Lugg, who was first elected in 1983.
Chet Madison, the current school board president, is running unopposed in Area 3, which represents the area south of Meadowview and north of Sheldon roads.
Tony Perez, James Letoa and Susan Parvis are vying to represent Lugg's district based in the Florin area.
"It's a good time to run," said Perez, 60, a retired educator. "It's a crucial year because of budget cuts."
If tax initiatives fail in November and the state cuts the education budget again, Perez would like residents to pass a bond to fund schools in the district.
"I went to school during the golden era, when there was a lot of funding," Perez said. "As a result of investing in our children we had a lot of success with our children. Now we are just building prisons."
Letoa, 25, said he is running because of a lack of transparency from district officials. He wants the full board packet agenda and accompanying paperwork online.
He and other parents are frustrated, he said. "They have been fundraising for their kids," Letoa said. "And they don't know what they are fundraising for."
Letoa has been chairman of the advisory committee on English as a second language at Florin High School and a member of the school site council at multiple schools.
He works part time at the Office of Samoan Affairs and volunteers at a food bank.
School volunteer Susan Parvis, 49, says she has been involved in the school district at every level. She is currently on the district's budget committee.
She says the school board can't make everyone happy when it comes to budget cuts, but that everyone in the district should have input.
She wants to ensure that schools in the Florin area get strong representation. Schools there usually in poorer neighborhoods don't always get equitable facilities with the same amount of maintenance, she said. "We've always felt like the little red-headed stepchild."
Appointed incumbent Jake Rambo and Steve Ly are vying for the seat in Area 6, which represents the East Franklin area of Elk Grove.
Rambo, 35, an administrative judge, says he's running for the board because he is a product of the school district. The Elk Grove High School alum said he returned to that campus shortly after graduation to serve as a coach and mentor.
He said he came on the school board as "a leader of reconciliation" in March as the district was ending a contentious yearlong contract battle that centered on health care premiums. Since then, he has had regular meetings with executive staff and teachers, he said.
Rambo said he also has helped to prepare a new master plan for future growth and rehabilitation of campuses.
Ly says he's the best choice for the job because he is an educator. The 38-year-old, who is employed by the Sacramento County Office of Education, is a teacher for foster children in Natomas.
Ly said he would like to see relationships between unions and administration improve. He said a school board that asks administrators hard questions would go a long way toward mending bridges with employees.
"I'm a beneficiary of the public school system and this is my opportunity to give back," Ly said.
Carmine Forcina, a retired teacher, and Theresa Beals, a parent, are taking on appointed incumbent Alfred Rowlett in Area 7, which covers the area from the Vineyard community north to Rancho Cordova.
Rowlett, who has been a trustee for three years, says that the board has achieved a lot in that time. The 53-year-old says the board cut $110 million from the district budget while managing to keep class sizes among the lowest in the region.
Rowlett is the chief operations officer for Turning Point, a recovery and mental health program, and has taught classes at UC Davis and Sacramento State.
"I'm a huge proponent of public education," Rowlett said. "It is one of the most important resources in our country, let alone our community. It think there are challenges. I think I am the best suited to confront these challenges."
Forcina, 70, is a candidate because of "his dissatisfaction with what I see occurring the last four years in the district." He said the board has a poor relationship with employees and has lowered morale.
He would bring in all stakeholders from teachers to custodians to develop budget recommendations for board approval, he said.
"That just forms tighter bonds between all the stakeholders regardless what the issues are," Forcina said.
The retired teacher says he volunteers at the schools of his grandchildren and has seen dramatic changes. He says schools are no longer able to meet the needs of students because of higher class sizes.
Beals, 46, would like to be the first parent from Rancho Cordova to take a seat on the school board.
Beals has spent the last five years as president of the Parent Faculty Organization at Sunrise Elementary School, located on the district's northernmost tip.
She stepped down from that role after parents and staff encouraged her to run for the school board seat.
Beals says she wants to ensure that the majority of education dollars make their way to classrooms.
"I'm running for the school board because the school board hasn't been making decisions that I, as a parent, understand," she said.