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Four Compete In School Board Race
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Three seats are open and four candidates in the running for the Riverbank Unified School District board in the Nov. 3 election.

Incumbent trustees Egidio "Jeep" Oliveira and Ron Peterson are defending their seats and seeking a second term. But there is also a third seat that has remained vacant since the death of trustee Patricia Blount at the beginning of May.

Cohen Blount, a son of Patricia Blount, and Elizabeth Mesa, the mother of two daughters in the school system and a classroom volunteer, are challenging Oliveira and Peterson for the three at-large positions. The top three vote getters in the election win the seats.

Blount is a Stanislaus State student who ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat four years ago. He is 28, has lived in Riverbank all his life and is pursuing a degree in political science.

"Why am I running for office? I've been part of the community so long...I'd like to make a difference. I thought of running for mayor, but decided to focus on the school board. My mother was so devoted to the schools. I guess her passion carried over to me."

Once elected, Blount said he would focus on making sure funds go to the highest priorities, ensure the new elementary school is properly completed and strive to raise test scores.

At a recent candidates' meet, Mesa said she is a wife, mother of two daughters in the local school system and a Riverbank resident of 14 years. She also has done considerable work as a volunteer for the schools.

She is also studying political science at Stanislaus and will have her bachelor's degree by the end of the semester. Mesa has been helping in the classroom besides being a Parent Teacher Association member and treasurer at California Avenue School and becoming involved with the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program.

"I have no previous experience in politics but I will be a voice for your children and prepare them for adult life. I will also handle finances with integrity and use funds in the best interests of the children," she said.

Mesa noted she is the only school district candidate that is endorsed by both the Riverbank Teachers Association and the local chapter of the California School Employees Association.

Oliveira recalled his family moved here in the 1970s and he grew up on a dairy farm and graduated in 1979 from Riverbank High where he was deeply involved in sports. Now he is an officer of All Star Properties, a property management company covering the county.

Oliveira added he grew interested in a school board seat four years ago when he sought a change in direction on the board and worked to get Riverbank High's new gymnasium built.

"In making board decisions, I ask a couple of questions, is it fair to the taxpayers and a benefit to the district?" he said. "There's a lot more we can do. My business experience helps me decide how district money should be spent, not at the top in the management office but where the children are in the classroom."

Peterson said he was seeking reelection to the school board because he felt the current trustees have achieved some positive things in the last four years and he wants to continue working on the board.

Now retired, Peterson spent 36 years as a history teacher and varsity basketball coach, the first 16 years at Riverbank High School and the remainder at Turlock High. He came to work at RHS in 1969, bought his home here in 1975 and later commuted to Turlock.

He and Esther Rosario (at the CASA Del Rio Family Resource Center) with the help of high school students campaigned to get a local bond passed to raise funds to replace the high school gym and build a new elementary school and succeeded on the third try.

"It was inspiring to see how hard the high school kids worked, manning the telephones, sending out fliers, translating from Spanish, putting up signs, everything," he said.