Twin Rivers school board candidate’s use of ‘educator’ faces challenge

Twin Rivers district office in North Highlands in 2012.
Twin Rivers district office in North Highlands in 2012. Sacramento Bee file

The Democratic Party of Sacramento County will take the county elections department to court Friday to remove “educator” as the occupation listed on the June ballot for Twin Rivers Unified board candidate Michelle Deleon.

Candidates like to use the “educator” designation because it polls well, said Kerri Asbury, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County. “They try to find a way to use that whether they are an educator or not.”

The organization contends that Deleon should not be able to use the term educator because she isn’t paid for her volunteer work at the district and none of the positions qualify her as an educator.

Her opponent, Basim Elkarra, 36, is endorsed by the county Democratic Party for the open Area 5 seat on the school board.

Deleon, 46, said she is using the title “educator” because she leads workshops for parents and students offering information about school district programs, among other things. She is also using the designation “parent leader.”

“I expected going into this there would kind of be a battle and I would have to defend myself a lot,” Deleon said of her decision to run against Elkarra. “I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy battle.”

She was a substitute teacher for 30 days in 1999 and held an emergency permit to teach from August 2000 to September 2001, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, though she said she is not relying on that past work to justify her current ballot title.

County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine says candidates are allowed to use terms such as educator to describe their occupation, even if it is for volunteer work.

“She should be able to use the term as her occupation even if she doesn’t earn income for the work as long as she spends a major amount of time in that capacity,” LaVine said. “We accepted that ballot designation.”

The county Democratic Party chose to challenge Deleon’s designation in court, in part because it is endorsing Elkarra. “This has a significant impact on the campaign,” Asbury said of the educator designation.

The county Democratic Party challenged five candidates’ occupations on the June ballot, not all for using “educator,” Asbury said. The elections department accepted three of the challenges and changed the occupations of those candidates, but officials would not change the occupations listed for Deleon and another candidate.

Asbury said elections officials emailed her to say they had contacted Deleon and that she is choosing to use educator; that prompted the county Democratic Party to pursue its lawsuit.

“I’m running for Central Committee,” Asbury said. “I don’t get to choose. … I don’t get to use Fairy Godmother.”

Asbury is a teacher in the Twin Rivers Unified district and a member of Twin Rivers United Educators.

The county Democratic Party has been challenging more designations over the past two years, Asbury said. “It’s something we are stepping up,” she said. “One of the things we pushed for is being more transparent and ethical.”

She said the party has challenged both Republicans and Democrats. “We don’t want lying Democrats,” she said. “We are going to hold people accountable.”

The county Democratic Party supported Elkarra, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter in Sacramento, in a special election last year. That contest occurred after the Democratic group collected signatures to force an election after the school board appointed charter school operator Sonja Cameron to fill the vacant seat.

Cameron won the election over Elkarra. The contentious race included an anonymous attack flier that attempted to link Elkarra, a Palestinian American, to Muslim terrorists. Local elected officials and Cameron denounced the flier.

Elkarra called himself an educator on the ballot in that race, as well as a parent and nonprofit executive director. He omitted his “educator” title this year but defended his previous use.

“I am an educator,” he said Thursday. “Today I gave four lectures at a high school. I speak to and train law enforcement. It’s part of my job.”

Elkarra said he gives about 40 lectures a year on civil rights, school bullying and current affairs as part of his job.

Asked about Elkarra’s use of “educator” as his occupation last year, Asbury said: “A lot of people use it and try to use it when they can. He is an educator and he does civil rights in the community.”

Asbury suggested that Deleon called herself “an educator because she was president for the PTA.”

She said she wants to see uniformity in the ballot designation statewide. “It’s a little personal for me because I’m a teacher,” she said. “You get frustrated because we get slammed for being teachers and for our union, and we have everyone and their brother becoming educators when it’s time to run for office.”

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert