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Publication Date: Friday, November 09, 2001

Kernan, Fredette win school board race Kernan, Fredette win school board race (November 09, 2001)

Low voter turnout for three-way contest

by Jeb Bing

In one of the smallest school board election turnouts ever, voters re-elected incumbent Patrick J. Kernan to another four-year term on the Pleasanton school board Tuesday while giving running mate Gloria Fredette even more votes in a tightly contested three-way race for two seats.

With all precincts reporting, Fredette received 3,516 votes, or 38.8 percent of the total number of votes cast, to Kernan's 3,159, or 34.8 percent. Marion Leach, who like Fredette was seeking her first elective office, received 2,378 votes, or 26.2 percent.

Only 5,189 voters went to the polls Tuesday, or 14.7 percent of Pleasanton's registered voters. While that was a slightly higher percentage than the record-low 14.4 percent that voted in the school board race 10 years ago, it was far below the record-high 37.7 percent voter turnout in the school board race of 1993 and the 36.4 percent just two years ago. Observers attributed the low turnout to a lack of controversial issues facing the three candidates and the public's satisfaction, as shown in surveys, for the quality of schools here and the work of the school board and district staff.

Fredette succeeds Trustee Deborah Kleffman, who chose not to seek re-election. Both Fredette and Kernan will join Board President Cindy McGovern and the other trustees - Juanita Haugen and Kris Weaver - at a meeting of the State School Boards Association in San Diego after Thanksgiving. Then the new board will assemble for its first regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11, when a board president and other officers are scheduled to be chosen.

Kernan and Fredette said the newly constituted school board will focus especially on curriculum and students, and less on new facilities.

"During the campaign, I talked about priorities," Fredette said. "The voters have decided that they want us to focus on the students and to make sure that we have the kinds of educational programs in place that touch every child."

"As for new facilities, we'll have to look at our finances come Jan. 1 to make sure that we can adequately fund and maintain all of our current programs and facilities before we try to build new ones," she added.

Referring to charges during the campaign that she and Kernan were supported by special interest groups, such as the teachers' union, Fredette added: "The voters also sent a message that they won't tolerate name-calling, whether it be on our playgrounds or in the classrooms or in our campaigns for school board."

Kernan said that due to good financial planning by Buster McCurtain, the school district's financial chief who retired last year, and his successor Sandra Lemmons, the Pleasanton system has been well prepared to handle the fiscal concerns of the energy crisis and economic downturn.

"Because we have been very conservative in our planning," Kernan said, "we are able to meet our financial obligations. We have a 6 percent reserve, twice that mandated by the state. We anticipated and budgeted for the energy rate increases that have totaled up to $100,000 on an annual basis. As a result, we're probably the most financially stable school district in the state."

Looking ahead, Kernan said he will ask city authorities to report housing construction numbers on a quarterly basis, instead of annually, since the district depends on developer fees to pay for new facilities and uses building permit figures to make enrollment projections. At the same time, he wants to make school board meetings more appealing by moving up the time for public comments. He also favors a proposal by McGovern to hold the meetings at various school sites during the year to improve direct communication with parents.

Leach, who was making her first run for public office, said she was disappointed in the voter turnout.

"It's difficult in an off-year school board election like this one to get the public interested in coming out to vote," she said. "Even so, it was an interesting experience and showed what a wonderful community this is and how the people who live here can be very supportive of a candidate."

Superintendent Mary Frances Callan, who left after the election for an education conference in Chicago, said she is looking forward to working with the new school board.

"We can move ahead with our focus on student achievement, on our goals and shared vision, and on refining the strategic plan," she said.



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