Twin Rivers Unified school board member Sonja Cameron is not on the June ballot for the seat she fought mightily to fill less than a year ago.
She has a new battle to wage.
The breast cancer she thought she had conquered four years ago has returned, and Cameron said she doesn’t think she can handle a strenuous campaign.
“It was a real bummer, because I certainly intended to run again,” Cameron said. “I guess it wasn’t in the master plan.”
Charter school operator Cameron, 70, obtained her Area 5 seat after a contentious fight with civil rights activist Basim Elkarra, 36, to fill the short-term vacancy created by the departure of Cortez Quinn. Quinn stepped down after he pleaded no contest to conspiracy to obstruct justice in a paternity case.
The school board initially appointed Cameron to complete Quinn’s term, but was forced to hold a special election after the Democratic Party of Sacramento County and neighborhood activists held a petition drive to put the seat to a vote.
An anonymous attack flier released during the race attempted to link Elkarra, a Palestinian American, to Muslim terrorists. Local elected officials and Cameron denounced the flier.
In the end, Cameron won the seat by 52 percent of the vote and the election cost Twin Rivers Unified about $113,000. Both candidates vowed to run for the seat representing North Natomas and Robla again this June.
“I appreciate her serving our district for the past year, and I hope she gets better,” Elkarra said Friday.
Cameron expects to be able to serve through June when the term ends. “I’ve enjoyed it and think I’ve made a difference,” she said. “The district is moving in a positive direction and it’s something, when you care about kids, that you’d like to be a part of.”
“I’m sad that she is stepping down,” said Michelle Deleon, 46, who is now challenging Elkarra for the board seat in the June election.
Deleon’s daughter attends Regency Park Elementary School. She said Cameron met with teachers and attended events at the school to speak to parents.
“I’m happy with the work she did,” Deleon said.
Deleon, a parent and former teacher, was among those who applied for an appointment to the seat last year. “I didn’t run in the special election because I didn’t think it was worth the money the district would spend for just one year,” Deleon said, adding that she had been considering a June run before she heard of Cameron’s decision. “When I found out she wasn’t running, it solidified my decision,” Deleon said.
Cameron is endorsing Deleon because she helped with her campaign last year. “I’m going to help her in whatever limited capacity I can,” she said.
Deleon, who has volunteered on numerous boards and advisory councils within the district, said she would like the district to build more schools and to increase tutoring and other programs that help keep students in school and on the road to graduation.
Twin Rivers Unified has been losing students in North Natomas and Robla to other districts and charter schools because parents aren’t aware of the programs available at district schools, Deleon said. “I feel we can do a much better job communicating with parents.”
Elkarra has been the executive director of the Sacramento office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for more then 10 years. He has volunteered on a school site council in Twin Rivers Unified and on other community boards and commissions.
He would like to see the district invest in smaller class sizes, the recruitment and retention of good teachers and safe, healthy and technologically modern classrooms. “The board needs to deal with the public in a more transparent fashion,” he said. “As a board member it’s about governance and accountability.”
He says will be able to work with the board if elected, despite the fact some have opposed him in his past effort to gain a seat. “I’m someone who works well with others,” he said. “There are challenges with the school district, but working together we can make a difference.”
In Area 7, incumbent Linda Fowler will have to fight off two challengers: Francisco Garcia, 51, a stock clerk for Sacramento County who previously served on the North Sacramento School District board, and Daniel Savala, 34, a field representative for Sacramento City Councilman Allen Warren.
Fowler, 80, is a retired investigative auditor for the state Department of Justice. She is currently the subject of a state Fair Political Practices Commission investigation into whether she violated conflict-of-interest rules by accepting thousands of dollars in consulting fees from Highlands Community Charter School, which she helped establish. The investigation began in July.
Fowler, who represents the school district on the charter’s school board, has said that school board members can legally work for charter schools in their district, and that she should get paid for her efforts on behalf of the school.
Incumbent Walter Garcia Kawamoto, 48, is being challenged by community volunteer Ramona Landeros, 59, in Area 3. Incumbent Michael Baker will retain his Area 1 seat with no challengers.