Through no fault of their own, parents and taxpayers in the Twin Rivers Unified School District have to deal with a highly politicized special election for only one year on the school board – at a cost of $113,000.
The blame mostly lies with the school board, which bungled the appointment to fill the seat after Cortez Quinn resigned in disgrace. When the board short-circuited its public process to tap Sonja Cameron, local Democratic Party activists launched a petition drive to undo the appointment and force an election. It then recruited Basim Elkarra, who has the backing of big-name Democrats and the local teachers union.
Mail ballots started going out this week and are due by election day, which is May 12 for 11,200 voters in Area 5, which includes North Natomas and Robla.
Voters need to put the politics aside and decide who will be the best for the children. It’s a close call, but because the school district could use a shakeup, the scale tilts toward Elkarra.
Cameron, 69, is more of a known quantity. She knows the district budget inside and out and offers 30-plus years of education experience. She’s chief operations officer of the Pacific Charter Institute in Rio Linda, which serves a small number of Twin Rivers students in a home-school program. There are good reasons why she ranked highest among the 13 people who sought the appointment and why the school board is still behind her.
With Elkarra, 35, there’s higher risk, but also higher reward. For a decade, he has been executive director of the Sacramento office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and has led diversity and leadership training. He grew up in a rough neighborhood in San Francisco, attended UC Berkeley and came to Sacramento in 2004. He and his wife have two children, including one who will attend Regency Park Elementary in the fall, plus twins on the way.
While his education résumé is thinner, with his life story, energy and connections, he could inspire students to reach higher, to go into high-tech careers they wouldn’t otherwise. He could be a stronger partner for Superintendent Steven Martinez, who has championed necessary reforms since coming to the district in July 2013.
On the issues, there isn’t a whole lot of daylight between the candidates. Given the district’s low test scores, they both pledge to focus on student achievement and on keeping students after elementary school. They agree that a top priority is to improve communication and rebuild trust with parents. That’s essential after Quinn betrayed the public, not resigning until he pleaded no contest last October to conspiring to obstruct justice in a paternity case.
Both candidates also told The Bee’s editorial board that they plan to run again in June 2016.
Since the winner will serve only a year, voters can think of this as a tryout. If Elkarra flames out – or if the other school board members freeze him out – voters can change course. For now, he deserves the chance to prove he can do the job.