Former superintendent Todd Oto is now leading in votes over three challengers including incumbent Catalina Blair, for Area 4 in the Visalia Unified School District school board elections
TULARE COUNTY – Though election day has passed and votes are still being counted, the most recent election night reports give parents a glimpse of who will sit on the school boards.
Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) is the largest in Tulare County, and was the most contested local school board elections this November. In Area 4 alone, there were four candidates seeking to snag the same seat. As of right now, the leading candidate for this area is the former superintendent of VUSD, Todd Oto, who was dismissed from his position as superintendent in 2019 over test scores and behavior. Oto garnered the support of 44% of voters, while incumbent Catalina Blair trailed behind by 242 votes, earning herself 35.8% of voters.
Oto placed his name on the ballot after resigning from the district three years ago. He was originally dismissed after a closed session meeting, which was met with booing crowds and lines of people in support of Oto, who hoped he would be able to stay. Now, he is securing his place on the VUSD school board.
Crystal Reynolds, who is the owner of Momentum Dance Academy where she has taught as a dance instructor for roughly 25 years, was also in the running, but received only 14.4% of votes. Challenger Jesus Morales-Grace, owner of ARPAC Financial Solutions, held 5.8% of votes.
In the next area over, incumbent Juan Guerrero for Area 2 is set to relinquish his seat to Paul Belt after a toe-to-toe election, with the two candidates being only 37 votes apart. The fourth election night report states that Belt led with 51.0% of the votes, while Guerrero was trailing close behind with 49.1% votes. Guerrero was the school board’s president, and had been serving on the board since 2001.
In Area 1, incumbent Walta Gamoian led the way with 60.1% of voters, leaving challenger Jesse Perez with 39.9%. Likewise, incumbent Randy Villegas led the race for Area 6 with 69.3%, while newcomer Jonelle Murphy garnered 30.7% of votes.
TULARE, EXETER AND PORTERVILLE RACES
The Tulare City School District – that oversees elementary schools in Tulare – has five seats total, but only one that was up for grabs in this year’s ballot for a short term race, which was Area 5. Incumbent William Adkins ran against parent Connie Diaz. Diaz led the race with 59.23%, leaving Adkins with 40.77%.
Likewise, out of the seven districts in the Exeter Unified School District, only Area 2 was on the ballot. Incumbent Amanda Kay Reser Renteria ran against Julie Watson. Rentaria is currently the principal of Woodville Elementary School, and Watson retired from Exeter Unified School district as their personnel analyst. Watson is leading in the race with 57.8% of votes, while Renteria received 42.2%.
Over in Porterville Unified School District there are seven districts, but only two up for election. Area 3 incumbent Pete Lara ran against Cheryl McCrillis, where Lara is leading with 58.1%, while McCrillis carries 41.9%. Incumbent Lara is an independent farmer in Porterville who has been sitting on the board since 2006. 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.
In Area 5, incumbent Felipe Martinez is running against Rae Dean Strawn. Currently, Martinez is leading with 60.1% of votes, with Strawn having 39.9%. Some citizens in the district were concerned about insensitive social media responses made by Strawn, mainly on Twitter.
FARMERSVILLE, WOODLAKE AND LINDSAY RACES
Farmersville Unified School District currently has three seats open, but only two incumbents running. The FUSD council is an at-large election that is not separated by districts. Incumbents Johnny Alvarez and Jorge Vasquez ran once again for reelection. Isamar Hernandez-Ramos, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, did not seek reelection this year. Sabrina Gomez, Cynthia Godwin, and former city council member Ruben Macareno were on the ballot this year.
Macareno released a statement when declining to run for city council for another term, and said he had completed his goals as a councilman. Now he’s leading in the race with the most votes at 24.5%. Alvarez comes in with the second highest percentage of votes at 22.6%, with Gomez just behind the two at 20.8%, with all three potentially securing their seats on council. Incumbent Vasquez carried 16.72% of the votes, while Godwin secured 15.4%.
Gonzalez. Blue received 56.8% of the votes, whereas Gonzalez garnered 43.2%. In Area 5, incumbent Alex Ray Flores will be running against Dennis Doane, former principal at John J. Cairns Continuation High School in Lindsay. Flores reached 51.2% of votes, just above Donae, who received 48.80%.
In Woodlake, there are seven areas, but only two made their way onto the ballot. In area B of Woodlake Union School District, incumbent Donna Fraser ran against firefighter Ryan Wallace, where she led with 51.1% of votes, with just a mere three votes separating her and Wallace, who received 48.9%.
In Area D, Rolana Rochin ran for the seat that was held by her late husband, Richard Rochin, who was on the board for 16 years up until June 2022. Rochin ran against former Woodlake city council member and social worker Florencio Guerra, who was removed from council in January after a slew of unexcused absences. Retired educator Al George and Woodlake Kaweah Health Center physician Rocio Medina were also in the running. Al George is in the lead for Area D, with 41.1% of votes, whereas challenger Medina trails just four votes behind him, putting her at 38.4%. Guerra received 16.4% of votes, while Rochin carried 4.1%.