ELECTION 2022: PUSD incumbents face fresh challengers in November election

Area three’s 15 year incumbent Pete Lara Jr. faces Cheryl McCrillis and area five’s seven year incumbent Felipe Martinez faces Rae Dean Strawn

PORTERVILLE – There is no shortage of people on the ballot in November, and two long term incumbents on the Porterville Unified School Board will each be challenged by one individual. One of which, citizens have shared their concerns regarding racially charged comments made over social media.

This year, two areas will be on the ballot for Porterville Unified School Board. Area three incumbent Pete Lara Jr. will be challenged by Cheryl McCrillis and area five incumbent Felipe Martinez will be challenged by Rae Dean Strawn. 

Area three

Incumbent Lara is an independent farmer in Porterville who has been sitting on the board since 2006. He said he calls himself the reluctant board member, because he was reluctant to join in his early years, and he is reluctant to do anything without further research. Lara said he has been non-partisan since he registered to vote as an 18-year-old, and that is something he is proud of. Lara said he is a true American patriot, and that means doing what is best for everyone.

“I have been non-partisan all my life, I vote for the issue and the person that I feel best represents what I think we need to be at the national, state and local level,” Lara said. “Some people think I’m Republican, some people think I’m a Democrat, I am neither. I don’t belong during the party. I’m pretty proud of it.”

Albeit, local school board races have no party designation. The same is true for all local positions including the board of supervisors.

Lara said it is his job to ensure students have the best opportunity to succeed and he will continue to do that. He also said he is committed to doing what is necessary to do the best and give everyone an equal chance to succeed. In addition, along with others in the nation, Lara has a main focus on improving the learning gap so many students experienced during the pandemic.

Lara believes in individuals having their own personal choices, and he said he believes he is the best candidate because he did not come in with an agenda or with the purpose of fixing something. Rather he came in because he cared about what was going on. Lara said it is concerning when individuals come in with an agenda.

Currently Porterville provides a total of 14 different pathways for their students to participate in. Lara said being a part of the process and seeing the pathways come to fruition over the years is something he is proud of. The pathways range from a military pathway, to animatronics, solar, agriculture and even cabinet making. 

Last year Porterville had students place third, second and first at the state championship for cabinet making. Lara said he was proud of his district that the number one cabinet maker in the state was a young woman, and that was an example of doing what is best for students on all levels. 

Running against the long time incumbent is Cheryl McCrillis.  She did not respond for an interview as of press time.

Area five

For the seat in area five, incumbent Felipe Martinez has been on the board since 2014. He is an independent insurance and financial advisor. Lara is running for his third term on the school board, and before that he served one term on Porterville City Council. Martinez said he believes education is incredibly important in society and that is why he continues to serve on the board. 

“I think education is the most important thing one can do to improve [the students’] status and life, along with their family,” Martinez said. “So that was always my first choice to run for [school board].”

Like Lara, Martinez is proud of the pathways that have opened up within the past few years. As the board moves forward, Martinez’s main focus is to work toward recuperating the learning loss students endured during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“[One of the biggest scenarios] is to recoup some of our learning loss,” Martinez said. “Because there’s no substitute for in person learning.”

Some additional heavy focuses Martinez has are the students, student safety and providing the “best quality education.”

Running against Martinez is Rae Dean Strawn. She did not respond as of press time, but some citizens in the district are concerned about insensitive social media responses made by Strawn, mainly on Twitter. 

On several occasions she has responded to tweets with derogatory terms, like “muslim idiots” on Aug 15, 2019 responding to a tweet from The Babylon Bee. On Aug 15, 2020, she referred to Vice President Kamala  Harris as a “Jamaican/Indian [expletive]” in response to a tweet from conservative activist Ryan Fournier. On Sept. 18, of this year she also claimed that Democrats sell children for body parts on the black market. 

Being that Strawn did not respond to The Sun Gazette as of press time, there was no comment made by her. However on her facebook page, there is an infographic stating Strawn is “committed to putting Children first.” It also states she is running to restore parental rights, “end teaching critical race theory (CRT), social emotional learning (SEL), equity, end sex education, and make our schools safe again.”

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