Final votes counted: Newcomer Cowan, both incumbents win seats in Antioch School Board race
Measure B passes
By James Ott
Antioch voters elected one new member and chose to keep the status quo and voted back in the two current Antioch Unified School District Board Members who ran for re-election, while approving Measure B to improve Antioch High School.
Newcomer Barbara Cowan took the top spot with 13,933 votes for 19.65% of the vote, followed by school board incumbents Diane Gibson-Gray and Claire Renee Smith with 11,033 votes for 15.57% and 9,167 votes for 12.93% of the vote, respectively.
Those figures are as of today, December 3rd. But, the County Elections Office finalized their vote count, earlier today.
The vote wasn’t all that close. The next highest vote-getters were Debra Vinson with 7,860 votes for 11.08% and Jack Yeager with 10.79% of the vote for a total of 7,654 votes. In sixth place was retired school nurse and former teacher’s union representative Linda Anderson with 7,043 votes for 9.93%; seventh place finisher was Randy Benevides with 5,667 votes for 7.99%; Synitha Walker placed eighth with 5,005 votes for 7.06% and Zandra Raphael who was unable to campaign much due to knee surgery in October, was last with 3,358 votes for 4.74%. There were 188 write-in votes.
Trustees Gibson-Gray and Smith were part of a school board including Walter Ruehlig and Gary Hack, who were faced with large state budget cuts to education. Although they made changes including laying off teachers, renegotiating teacher contracts, and increasing class sizes they also currently have surplus general fund balance of about $30 million, which may have swayed voters to bring them back.
Both Cowan and Gibson-Gray said they believe their educational experience as well as Gibson-Gray’s experience on the school board, helped them gain a majority vote. They were both endorsed by the teacher’s union, known as the Antioch Education Association.
In addition to the financial difficulties the board has faced in recent years they are also facing angry teachers who are upset at the cuts to their pay. Teachers have flooded recent school board meetings demanding some type of raise after they say they made pay sacrifices to get the school district back on track.
Teachers say they have not received a pay raise of any significance in six years and now that the board has a surplus, they are asking that the board pay them back for their willingness to take pay cuts when the district was struggling in the past.
Cowan said that she is looking forward to working with the teachers and the students to improve the district.
“I’m looking forward to continue a fiscally conservative policy in that we need to keep a healthy reserve but we need to allow for teachers and employees to make a living wage,” said Cowan. “I’m looking forward to assisting school teachers and students in making Antioch schools a better institution.”
Gibson-Gray also said that she believes that the district is on the right track because of their surplus and said that negotiations with teachers are underway.
“I don’t see much changing because we are on the path for negotiations and Prop 30 passed which is a windfall,” said Gibson-Gray. “I’ll be a fiscal conservative and continue what I’ve done for the last four years.”
Prop 30 is expected to raise billions for public schools and community colleges over the next seven years by increasing income tax on earnings over $250,000 and by increasing sales tax by a quarter cent over the next four years.Measure B monies cannot be spent on administrative costs and decisions on how the money will be spent must be decided in public meetings and is subject to an annual audit.
The school board members will take their oaths of office at their regular meeting on Wednesday, December 12, which will include reorganization of the leadership, with a new Board President and Vice President, as well as committee assignments.
Also benefiting the school district was the passage of Measure B, the $56.5 million bond for improvements to Antioch High School. It required only a 55% vote to pass and garnered over 62%, with 11,520 votes in favor and 7,008 votes against the measure.
According to the Impartial Analysis from the County Counsel, the bonds will cost “$49.80 per $100,000 of assessed valuation during each year beginning in fiscal year 2013-2014, when the first bonds would be sold, and continuing through fiscal year 2046-2047, which is 30 years after the last bonds would be sold.”
There will be an citizen’s oversight committee formed and appointed by the school board, who will keep an eye on the use of the Measure B bond funds.
NOTE: Claire Smith was unavailable for comment for this article, due to a family emergency.
Publisher Allen Payton contributed to this article.