Twin Rivers board candidate can’t call herself ‘educator,’ judge rules

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

Twin Rivers Unified board candidate Michelle Deleon cannot describe herself as an “educator” on the June ballot because the title is too vague, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

Deleon, 46, defended her use of the term because she is a volunteer who educates parents about school district programs and students about community support, according to documents she filed with the county elections office.

“Isn’t that a very broad use of the term ‘educator’?” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny asked.

The use of the term would be confusing to voters, he said. “You need to be more precise.”

Deleon is running against Basim Elkarra, 36, for the open Area 5 seat on the Twin Rivers Unified School District board.

Kerri Asbury, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, sued county Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine to challenge Deleon’s use of “educator” on the ballot. Asbury said Deleon’s work with the school district is voluntary and that none of the positions she has held make her an educator.

The county Democratic Party has endorsed Elkarra in the race.

Richard Miadich, an election law attorney representing the Democratic organization, suggested Deleon instead use titles such as “parent,” “community volunteer” or “homemaker” because her work as a volunteer “is not her primary obligation.”

Deleon will use “community volunteer” on the ballot instead, she decided after conferring with attorneys on both sides and county elections staff in a courthouse corridor after the ruling.

“I’m very disappointed,” Deleon said after the hearing. “Community volunteer. I’m more than just that.”

Elkarra is executive director of the Sacramento office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Candidates like to use “educator” as their designation because it polls well, Asbury told The Sacramento Bee this week. Besides serving as county Democratic Party chairwoman, Asbury is a Twin Rivers Unified teacher and a member of the Twin Rivers teachers union.

“I’m pleased to see that the judge agreed that the term was used too broadly and went with a more appropriate designation for representing the activities she does,” she said Friday.

The county elections department had supported Deleon’s use of the educator designation, saying candidates are allowed to use such terms to describe themselves, even if it is for volunteer work.

The ruling may change the advice Sacramento County elections officials give candidates who want to use the term on the ballot.

“We will probably caution anyone who chooses (educator) as a ballot designation,” LaVine said Friday afternoon. Elections officials will tell candidates the designation has been challenged successfully in court, she said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story mistakenly said Basim Elkarra called himself an educator on the ballot in a 2015 special election for a seat on the Twin Rivers Unified School Board. His ballot designation was parent and non-profit director. Elkarra used the term educator as part of his title when he filled out his candidate’s statement for that race.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert