Who will run for Gilroy Unified School Board?

The Gilroy Board of Education

November’s general election will see “new blood” pumped into the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education, but it won’t include six of the eight former candidates who interviewed in December 2011 to replace former Trustee Francisco Dominguez.

So far, no GUSD school board hopefuls have requested for, or filed candidacy papers with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters to run for office. The deadline to do so is Aug. 10.

With one longtime member hanging up her hat, another trustee of eight years “leaning against” running and a third who might be forced to call it quits in order to help take care of his mother as she struggles with health issues, the pool of future school board candidates is more of a small puddle – at least for now.

One possible candidate is Rebecca Armendariz, the Lead Worksite Organizer for Services Employment International Union, Local 521.

Armendariz is one of eight people who applied for the vacancy left by former Trustee Francisco Dominguez, who resigned Nov. 10 from the seven-person school board in the midst of embezzlement allegations involving a leading South County social services agency.

“Honestly, I have thought about it,” said Armendariz, on jumping into the race – although she has yet to decide which race that might be.

The mother of three GUSD students has “more faith in the school board at this point,” prompting her to seriously consider running for a spot on City Council instead.

Following the Council’s recent 4-2 decision to not support a joint city-school sales tax proposed by GUSD to help fund local schools, that “was really eye-opening for me,” said Armendariz. “I think that recently the City Council has made some decisions that are very questionable.”

A former opponent of Armendariz also has mixed feelings on whether to run again.

As the only candidate out of eight who – prior to being appointed by the board to her seat in December 2011 – was on the fence about running for re-election, Trustee Pat Midtgaard, 68, is weighing a handful of reasons to stick it out for another year.

After filling the vacancy left Dominguez, staying on another year “seems like a nice way to finish out the position that he had,” said Midtgaard.

As Dominguez’s term would have lasted until 2014, his seat will turn into an elected seat in the November 2012 election. Midtgaard may opt to run for the remaining two years, or run for one of the four-year seats.

After telling the school board in December, “I’m just focusing on helping you in the interim,” Midtgaard – a veteran educator who worked for 28 years in Gilroy as a teacher and principal – has become “very exited and enthusiastic” with her involvement on the Gilroy High School Facilities Subcommittee. The campus is currently undergoing $11 million worth of renovations, slated to wrap up sometime in summer 2013.

“It would kind of be nice to see that finished,” Midtgaard acknowledged. “I think that would be a good experience.”

Continuity on the board is another sticking point. As new trustees rotate in, “sometimes goals and directions you’ve set can change,” she said. “I think that’s definitely something to consider…that’s a big thing, just to leave midstream.”

At least one longtime trustee has confirmed she is hanging up her title for good.

Board member Rhoda Bress, 61, will follow through on a promise made eight years ago, when she told voters “I would be serving for eight years only – and the time has come for me to move on and to pass the torch to someone else.”

Founder of the Gilroy High School Parent Club as well as the local Odyssey Theatre Company, Bress and her husband have four sons who graduated from GHS. Bress currently works as an office manager.

During her board tenure since 2004, Bress has served as president once and vice president twice. She coins the commitment as “a very big job” demanding more than just “going to a couple of meetings a month.”

While Bress has “other challenges I’m looking forward to working on in my life,” public school education is a “passion” she’ll continue to stay involved with.

“It’s been an honor to serve,” she said. “I want to thank the voters for giving me this opportunity.”

Another trustee of eight years might also exit alongside Bress.

Mark Good, 54, the school board’s decidedly candid member, says he is “leaning against running again.”

Highlighting the bunch of “really great candidates” who rose to the occasion when Dominguez’s seat opened up last winter, “I think that it’s time to get some new blood in there,” said Good, a partner and member of Terra Law, LLP in San Jose. “I haven’t made my decision yet, but I’m leaning against it.”

The same thing goes for Trustee Fred Tovar, 42. The Director of Student Affairs at the Stanford School of Medicine continues to juggle the responsibilities of a GUSD trustee with caring for an ailing family member.

Tovar is currently being tested to see if he can be a donor match for his mother, who is preparing for a kidney transplant after undergoing a liver transplant and a double bypass surgery in the last two years. Tovar expects to know the results of his tests in a week or so.

A trustee going on four years, Tovar says he has every intention of running again – but family comes first.

“If things don’t go as planned and I need to take care of her, then I obviously won’t run for re-election,” he said.

As for the eight candidates who applied in December 2011 for Dominguez’s open seat, the stratified group with diverse backgrounds and skill sets certainly impressed the panel of GUSD trustees during interviews.

Six of those folks will not be throwing their hats in the ring.

This includes James Pace, Director of Land Development for Pembrook Development in Morgan Hill who made the final round of interviews alongside Midtgaard. The former computer programmer who diligently attends parent club meetings and has been involved with five school site committees does not anticipate running this year.

“I don’t think the board position would be a good fit for my life right now,” he wrote via email.

At the tail end of a busy year dotted by the statewide budget crisis, massive capital projects at various Gilroy school sites, the exploration of a sales tax measure, the unexpected resignation of a GUSD trustee, contention over the district’s field trips policy and parent complaints about bullying and bad cafeteria food, “this is a very, very big commitment for someone to make in their lives,” alluded Bress, who underlined the amount of time it takes “to feel as if you’re on solid ground.”

Serving on the board is “not for the faint of heart,” she said. “You have to know whether you’re willing to put the time, energy and thought that needs to go into doing this job.”

Those interested in running for the GUSD School Board must file for candidacy through the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters by Aug. 10.
n Visit sccgov.org/sites/rov/Pages/Registrar-of-Voters.aspx. Call (408) 299-8683 or email [email protected] with questions.

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