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School Board Race Battle Lines Drawn
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A pair of Riverbank High School teachers and coaches has come out against an endorsement that was given by the Riverbank Teacher’s Association.

Jeff Jennings and Monte Wood claim that the vote authorizing endorsement for school board candidates Patrick Hagan and Charles Neal is not a true representation of the RTA. Both men said the endorsement came on the vote of only 17 teachers voting ‘yes’ and 13 voting ‘no’ out of more than 115 members in the teachers union.

“We are writing on behalf of a large group of informed teachers from various sites in the Riverbank Unified School District who would like to come out publicly and renounce the Riverbank Teacher’s Association mailer that endorsed three specific candidates for the RUSD school board,” Wood and Jennings wrote in a letter sent to The News. “We feel the RTA endorsement does not reflect who most of the teachers feel would be the best candidates for the RUSD school board. We feel this election is too important for the public to make an uninformed decision on the candidates.”

The two teachers noted that with such a small percentage of teachers voting, the endorsement went through, but they believe it does not represent the majority of the association members. While the two said they have no problem supporting Susan Taylor in her bid for the board, they are concerned that the perceived support of Charles Neal and Patrick Hagan – both of whom have the backing of current board members John Mitchell and Steve Walker – could be detrimental. Jennings and Wood said their concerns lie primarily in the fact that if Neal and Hagan are elected, they will always side with Mitchell and Walker, monopolizing the board.

Mitchell and Walker were involved in recent controversial votes in an attempt to bar outgoing trustee Ron Peterson’s son from being appointed as an assistant football coach. Many saw their votes as retaliation for Peterson’s earlier vote against Mitchell and Walker in connection with district-paid health benefits for board members.

Peterson and current board president Egidio ‘Jeep’ Oliveira will see their terms expire this year and neither is running for re-election. Walker and Mitchell have two years left on their terms, while incumbent Elizabeth Meza is seeking to retain her post. She is joined in the race for the three available seats by Neal, Hagan, Taylor and Susanne Dean.

Wood and Jennings, saying they were writing on behalf of a large group of teachers, said they wanted to offer their thoughts on the issue, especially in light of a mailer put out by the RTA endorsing the trio.

“The vote to endorse Charlie Neal, Patrick Hagan, and Susan Taylor only had 17 “yes” votes. Seventeen “yes” votes out of 119 teachers in the union. That is less than 10 percent,” the letter added. “It is true that there were only 13 “no” votes. How does that happen? How do only 30 teachers out of 119 vote on such a critical issue?”

The two go on to offer some insights, such as the RTA vote only being done at one site, the RTA office, rather than at multiple school sites to make it easy for teachers to vote where they work; the high school teachers not being informed of the union vote until the morning the vote was being done and not being informed in advance of who was being recommended for the RTA endorsement.

“When we showed up to vote, we had the option of voting for all three or none. If we supported Susan Taylor, which we all do, but not Charlie Neal or Patrick Hagan we had to vote “no”. Why were we not given the opportunity to vote for each individual candidate that we believed were best for the positions? The question was posed to the leadership and a clear answer was never given,” the letter states. “To add to all of that, Susan Taylor requested that RTA not endorse her alongside Charlie Neal and Patrick Hagan in the appearance that they were a “team” that voters should vote for, yet the recent mailer by RTA did just that and went against Susan Taylor’s request.”

Jennings and Wood urged residents to learn about the candidates and ask questions as well, to see where each candidate stands on issues facing the district, from health benefits to declining enrollment.

“While we support the union in most endeavors, and we want to be clear on that, we do not support this endorsement, especially in light of the last two candidates that were endorsed by the RTA – Steve Walker and John Mitchell. RTA endorsed both of those individuals in the last election, and these two individuals have recently caused a lot of controversy in Riverbank,” Jennings and Wood wrote. “We feel their votes in retaliation against Ron Peterson served themselves and not the community they were elected to serve and brought unnecessary negative publicity to our community and schools.”

The two added that, in response to the recent RTA mailer, they will also send out a mailer within the next couple of weeks, listing the names of those teachers, support staff and coaches who agree with them and are in line with a ‘no’ vote against Neal and Hagan.

“We need a group of board members who can work together for the good of our schools. We feel strongly that a vote for Patrick Hagan and/or Charlie Neal is a vote for Steve Walker and John Mitchell,” the two added. “We desire for all community members to research each candidate and make an informed decision. We do want to express our public endorsement of Susan Taylor who has served with the utmost integrity in the district as a teacher and administrator for decades.

“However, we could not let the RTA mailer lead the public to believe that all or even a majority of the teachers endorse Charlie Neal and Patrick Hagan. That just is not the case.”

Voters in Riverbank will elect three school board members in the Nov. 5 election; the school board members are elected at-large, with the top three vote getters winning the seats.