By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Only a fraction of school board seats up for election this fall will be contested as most races have just enough contenders to fill the vacancies.
There is competition for seats in just six districts, including Santa Rosa, as well as for two seats on the Sonoma County Board of Education.
And nine districts could have board vacancies because not enough people filed paperwork to join the board.
Sonoma County’s largest school district, Santa Rosa City Schools, has five contenders for four seats.
Incumbents Laura Gonzalez, Larry Haenel and Donna Jeye are seeking re-election and Jenni Klose and Brian Noble, both attorneys, have entered the race. One-term incumbent Tad Wakefield did not seek re-election.
The contest comes in the wake of a tumultuous year for the district in which the seven-member board endured emotional battles over whether to shutter Doyle Park Elementary School. The school was closed in May.
Santa Rosa Teachers Association President Andy Brennan said a contentious election might add to the divisions that emerged last year — tensions that were heightened with the board’s decision to locate the Santa Rosa French American Charter School on the former Doyle Park site.
“The whole Doyle Park issue definitely left some fissures within the school district and the board itself,” he said. “A campaign would definitely harden those fissures and probably make it more difficult to come together.”
But Brennan, a high school government teacher, said a contested election also will push the community and district to take a stand on emerging issues and ongoing budget struggles.
“It’s really going to depend on how the candidates approach the campaign,” he said.
Other contested races include Cotati-Rohnert Park where four contenders are vying for two seats currently held by Karyn Pulley and Ed Gilardi, both of whom are seeking re-election. They will be challenged by Michael Bowcut, a parent and financial officer, as well as Jennifer Wiltermood, a parent and Realtor.
In the West Sonoma County High School District, incumbents Diane Landry and David Stecher face a challenge from Ted Walker, an environmental health specialist.
Bellevue, Old Adobe, Oak Grove and the county board also will have competitive races.
Rincon Valley, along with Bennett Valley, Gravenstein and six other districts did not get enough takers to fill their boards.
In Rincon Valley, Superintendent Casey D’Angelo said the district will seek applicants who, if chosen, will hold the position until the next election, meaning they will serve for two years rather than four.
The election is Nov. 6.
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @benefield.