Thompson, Urias, Kolbeck, Luna, Stewart top SPUSD race, but toss up possible

November 11, 2016
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly

Santa Paula Times 

Voters have elected two newcomers and three incumbents to the Santa Paula Unified School District Board in a crowded race of eight candidates, but it still could be a toss up as to which candidate takes the last seat.

The race for the SPUSD board was the first for the district, unified in 2013, to seat board members on a staggered schedule. All five seats were open, but the top three candidates win four-year terms while the two fourth and fifth place candidates will win two-year terms. One incumbent, Diana Ponce-Gomez, declined to run for another term.

Pamela Thompson, a political newcomer and retired teacher, took a strong first place lead with 3,379 votes, 16.55 percent of the vote. Longtime school board incumbent Christina “Tina” Urias, a state workers’ compensation consultant, was second with 2,950,14.45 percent; third was another incumbent Michelle Kolbeck, who had 2,667 votes, 13.06 percent.

Rounding out the panel was fourth placeholder Derek Luna, a teacher, with 12.79 percent, 2,612. 

Fifth place is a toss up: board incumbent Kelsey Stewart, a children’s author and graphic artist, had 11.96 percent with 2,441 votes. Jeri Mead, a retired schoolteacher and administrator, had 11.69 percent, 2,387 votes, just 54 votes less than Stewart. Incumbent Chris Wilson, a contractor and arborist, came in seventh with 11.49 percent, 2,345 votes, just 42 votes shy of Mead’s count. Tim Hicks, who had served a term on the former Santa Paula Elementary School District board,  garnered 1,601 votes, 7.84 percent.

“It’s not over till it’s over,” said Luna, a Santa Paula native whose father Ray Luna is a former City Councilman and Mayor.

Thompson said she was “Shocked” at her strong turnout albeit, “excited…I had been wanting to do this for the last few years of my teaching career. It just so happened I retired in June then wham-o! The election came so I decided to just jump in.”

Thompson said she had “no idea” she would do so well.

“I feel very humbled by this, the parents of Santa Paula are depending on me to do my best for the kids. That’s been my whole life.”

She believes being a teacher for 35 years at Santa Paula private and public schools “had to be a huge part of it.”

She believes if parents are not in contact with the teachers “they’re surprised when report cards come out,” and “I feel the kids are the bottom line.”

Thompson said the school board has served to the best of their abilities but she sees other aspects of education.

Her wants to separate “What’s nice to have which isn’t always what you need, like the Literacy Centers,” that Thompson believes should be a lower priority than solving the high temperatures in classrooms that studies have shown negatively impact learning.

“My first priority,” she noted, “is to create a safe and comfortable learning atmosphere for the students that could include some type of air conditioning for everybody — real soon!”

“Everybody ran a great campaign,” said Luna. “I can’t complain I worked pretty hard.”

And, “In case it is over,” Luna said his first priority will be to get to know the procedures and policies of the district, “make sure I know what has gone on in the past, what needs are and the budget. I want to work on Measure P money,” and the oversight committee’s recommended spending of the approximately $37 million bond to improve elementary school campuses.

“Basically,” he added, “representing all the students and families.”

Working with the city on joint use facilities is also a priority of Luna’s, “So kids and families get the best out of it.”  

He complimented “Everybody that ran for office for taking the time from their families to try to make a difference for Santa Paula. I look forward to working with the families, members of the community, staff and the board.”

An unknown number of votes remain to be counted, mail in ballots and provisional ballots not yet tabulated. Past elections have seen thousands of ballots not counted in the first 48 hours following the election. The county has 30 days to finalize results.

The next update, according to the Elections Division, will be November 10, Thursday afternoon. 

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