A pair of sitting Visalia Unified School District’s (VUSD) trustees will defend challenges to their incumbencies, and a third trustee’s seat will be filled by one of five newcomers as a slate of nine candidates vie for three positions this fall.
Two of the three races on the November 3 ballot will feature sitting trustees attempting to stave off attempts by single challengers to replace them, while the third race will put a new face on the VUSD Governing Board following Area 7 Trustee William Fulmer’s decision to not seek a fourth term. He was first elected in November of 2007.
Fulmer Out With a Bang
A retired teacher and school administrator, Fulmer sparked a minor controversy recently when he joked during the VUSD’s August 25 meeting that the United States has been in decline since women were granted suffrage in 1920.
“Country’s been going downhill for a hundred years,” Fulmer said during the online meeting, following it with an immediate apology. “Sorry, once that occurred to me I couldn’t not say it.”
“Yeah,” responded VUSD Board President John Crabtree, “you’re not coming back.”
Fulmer’s sexist quip came moments after he condemned a newly adopted textbook for a VUSD class on ethnic studies, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki. The outgoing trustee called the book an improvement over a text previously used in the class, but criticized it for its supposed underlying political message.
“The predecessor was straight Marxism,” he said. “This is pretty much diluted Marxism.”
He then warned against using the book.
“Frankly, I think that’s a serious mistake,” he said.
The District 7 Race
Fulmer’s tenure in Area 7–which includes the southwestern most portion of the district–ends December 11, and the person who replaces him will come to the job with no prior experience on a school board.
Seeking the seat are Nora Allstedt, former teacher, and current district librarian and instructional technology specialist for the Exeter Unified School District; Randy Evans, a businessman running on the strength of not being a professional educator, as are four of the sitting trustees including Fulmer; Jacquie Gaebe, a current VUSD employee who works at the Visalia Adult School as an assistant principal; Colijia Feliz, a clinical social worker and trainer for the Tulare County Office of Education; and James R. Reynolds, owner of the ABC Taxi Company.
The District 6 Race
In District 6–covering most of north-central Visalia at the heart of the VUSD–two-term incumbent Dr. Lucia Vázquez is being challenged by retired teacher Christopher Pope.
Pope is also listed as a division director for Division 1 on the Visalia Unified Teachers Association (VUTA) on the organization’s website. The VUTA is the collective bargaining unit that represents VUSD teachers. Division 1 includes the Annie R. Mitchell, Elbow Creek and Ivanhoe elementary schools.
Vázquez was elected to her seat in 2011.
The District 5 Race
In addition to incumbent Neissen Foster, balloting for District 5–covering south-central Visalia–includes Megan Casebeer-Soleno.
Casebeer-Soleno, an attorney working as a senior public defender in Tulare County, is making her second attempt at the District 5 seat, having run against Foster and teacher Lori Quinzon in 2018.
Foster, a longtime postal employee, began his current term in 2018, but served previously beginning in 2000. Foster resigned from the school board in 2002, following a controversy apparently involving his improper use of confidential personnel information, as indicated by letters of apology Foster penned at the time of the incident. He claimed to have been defending the jobs of three teachers against what he said was illegal union busting by the district.
No News on Crabtree Recall Effort
Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick for a group of citizens who initiated a recall effort against Board President Crabtree.
The group filed a notice of intent to recall Crabtree in August, and have until November 18 to collect 2,411 signatures of registered voters living in District 4, which covers the northwestern portion of the VUSD. They claim Crabtree intentionally adopted a deficit budget for 2019-20, is refusing to build a fifth high school campus, and fumbled the district’s COVID-19 response, as well.
Crabtree has claimed the effort to recall him is politically motivated, and it is not immediately clear why those who initiated it have not also begun efforts to recall the rest of the trustees, all of whom had a hand in making the decisions for which Crabtree is being targeted. The office of VUSD board president is largely ceremonial, with the exception of overseeing the conduct of board meetings.
If successful in their efforts, the recall election could take place no sooner than March of 2021. Crabtree’s current term ends in December of 2022. He has served on the board since 2013.