Local Elections

Hansen, Woo retain Sac City Unified seats; Cochrane, Ryan join board

One of the most expensive and bruising campaigns in Sacramento City Unified School District history ended Tuesday with two new trustees, one incumbent ouster and losses for three candidates backed by the Sacramento City Teachers Association.

The teachers union sought to install a fresh slate of candidates, complaining that incumbents had failed to block test-based teacher evaluations under former Superintendent Jonathan Raymond and, more recently, did not intercede when the district eliminated a popular health insurance option used by a large share of teachers and retirees.

But after spending $50,000, SCTA succeeded on behalf of just one candidate – teacher Ellen Cochrane – who won with 56 percent of the vote to unseat Area 2 Trustee Jeff Cuneo.

Union-backed candidates Anna Molander in Area 1, Maria Haro-Sullivan in Area 6 and Linda Tuttle in Area 7 went down in defeat to Jay Hansen, Darrel Woo and Jessie Ryan, respectively.

“This is a democratic process,” said SCTA President Nikki Milevsky. “And only every (two) years do we get to hold Sacramento school board members accountable. We’re very happy about the win for Ellen Cochrane.”

The races were brutal on several fronts. An SCTA attack mailer showed Hansen, appointed to the board two years ago, as a shotgun-toting, cigar-chomping trustee serving Area 1. He represents one of the school district’s most politically active areas covering most of downtown, Curtis Park, Land Park and South Land Park neighborhoods.

Hansen, chief strategy officer for the California Medical Association, said the mailer helped him win backlash funding in his effort to best government attorney Molander and real estate agent Kate Woolley.

He said he raised about $80,000 for his own campaign account. The advocacy arm of the California Charter Schools Association independently spent $32,600 on his behalf,

Molander said she worked hard to generate campaign money to offset Hansen’s fundraising edge.

“I know that we couldn’t have competed if we didn’t try to spend what my opponent was spending,” she said. “It’s hard. School board races should be a door-to-door adventure. That’s what I wanted to focus on.”

Alluding to the conflict with the teacher’s union, Hansen said Tuesday he would “reach out to people who were not with me and look forward to working with them.”

On Wednesday, SCTA Executive Director John Borsos responded, “We’ve already reached out to Jay Hansen and we appreciate his overture. We think the first place is to get him to help the district abide by the contract on health benefits.”

During the campaign, Milevsky showed her frustration with another incumbent.

“I’ve met with Jeff Cuneo over the last 4 years and sometimes feel like I am talking to a brick wall,” she wrote to SCTA members in September. “He smiles at me and continues to tell me that student test scores need to be included in our teacher evaluation system, despite our strong advocacy on this issue.”

The union helped Cochrane defeat Cuneo in Area 2, which includes East Sacramento and Tahoe Park. Cuneo, who was seeking a third term, declined to comment Wednesday on his loss.

The California Charter Schools Association campaign arm also allocated $30,000 in independent expenditures on Ryan’s behalf, while she raised $47,000 in her own campaign. She said she was surprised when she learned about the association expenditure after she declined direct funding from them.

SCTA has long been at odds with charter school advocates on the question of seniority-based teacher hiring in the district.

Ryan said Wednesday that she sees value in charters. “I’ve been clear they can work alongside public schools,” she said. “I think it’s disingenuous to not recognize that nonprofit charters have seen good gains for students.”

She said she supports teachers. “I understand we’re not going to have great schools and classrooms if we don’t have great dialogue with teachers. While I might not have had the endorsement of the SCTA, I enjoyed the endorsement of many teachers in the community.”

Tuttle, a former SCTA president, was overwhelmed by her opponents’ campaign spending in the five-way contest that Ryan won. As she walked precincts, she said, she talked to Oak Park residents who became supporters. But that support, she said, did not translate into votes. Tuttle received 22 percent of the vote compared to Ryan’s 42 percent.

Woo won re-election as Area 6 trustee with 67 percent of the vote, defeating Haro-Sullivan, president of the school district’s District Advisory Council. Woo was targeted by the teachers union after he supported Raymond’s “Priority Schools” initiative, which eliminated seniority protections at certain low-performing campuses.

Haro-Sullivan said during the campaign that Woo was out of touch with parents and students on socioeconomic issues. But Woo sailed to victory in the district that includes the Pocket, Greenhaven and parts of South Land Park.

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.