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Did Voters Oust Central Unified Trustees Over Sutton Firing?
By Myles Barker
Published 5 years ago on
November 9, 2018

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Tuesday’s election results in Central Unified School Board races were welcomed by community members who see the outcome as a rebuke over the firing of district Superintendent Mark Sutton last February.

Mark Sutton

Board chair Cesar Granda and trustee Ruben Coronado both lost their bids for re-election. Incumbent Rama Dawar is barely holding on. All three— along with Richard Solis who was not up for re-election— voted in favor of Sutton’s termination.

“I think the voters spoke” on election night, said Tina Tompkins, a Central Unified parent. Tompkins was one of the leaders of an abortive recall effort following the board majority’s controversial decision.

Area 6 Incumbent Terry Cox, who voted against firing Sutton, agreed with Tomkins’ assessment.

“I interpret the results as the voice of the community saying the board was not going in the direction that aligned with the community.” — Terry Cox, Area 6 trustee

“I interpret the results as the voice of the community saying the board was not going in the direction that aligned with the community,” she said. “They, through their ballots, voted to change that direction.”

Granda, Coronado, and Dawar all ran as part of a so-called “Four Horsemen” slate in the 2014 election. Together, they swept incumbents out of the Area 1, 2, 4, and 7 seats. The other winning “horseman” was Richard Atkins.

All ran for re-election this year.

So far, Atkins is the only one to secure his bid for re-election. On Tuesday, he defeated challenger Shawn Brooks by a 62%-38% vote margin.

Atkins joined Cox in voting against Sutton’s termination.

Two Incumbents Defeated

Jason Paul, a geologist and farmer, defeated Granda 60%-39% while Yesenia Carrillo, a local attorney, beat Coronado 55%-45%.

Dawar, meanwhile, leads challenger Naindeep Singh Chann by just 20 votes with late mail-in and provisional ballots yet to be counted. An updated vote count is expected Friday.

“I am still hopeful that he (Singh Chann) is going to win,” Tompkins said.

Jeff Yribarren said he and other parents are hopeful too.

“That is the only race we are disappointed in,” Yribarren said. “We are hoping that switches.”

“I am very thankful to the community and those that have voted for me and trusted me to do the right things.” Rama DawarArea 7 incumbent

With over 100,000 ballots left to count in Fresno County, Cox said it is too early to determine who is going to win. Not all those ballots, however, are in the school district.

“It is only a two percent margin,” Cox said. “In the middle of Tuesday night, the first set of votes was four percent so the gap is actually closing.”

Dawar said he is not concerned about his small lead over Singh Chann.

“I am very thankful to the community and those that have voted for me and trusted me to do the right things,” Dawar said.

Doing the right things, Dawar said, is why a new high school is finally going to get built. He said it is also why Central Unified now offers curriculum in Hmong and Punjabi languages.

If re-elected, Dawar said he will continue making decisions that will benefit students and the district.

“I want to settle the community with the depth of my heart,” Dawar said.

“I want nothing but the best for the newly-elected board members and the district.” Cesar Granda 

In Touch With the Community

Cox said she hopes both Granda and Coronado understand that board members need to be in touch with the needs of the communities they represent.

“Anytime a board makes a decision that is not in alignment with the community, they have to remember that it is the community that elected them,” Cox said.

Granda said he is aware that his involvement in Sutton’s firing may have cost him another term, but said he doesn’t regret his decision.

“Unfortunately, sometimes the people don’t see all of the facts,” Granda said. “Because Sutton was an employee, we can’t release all of the information so it is one-sided.”

Meanwhile, Tompkins said she is excited about Paul and Carrillo joining the board.

“I think that’s what the community wants,” she said.

Granda said he wishes the new board members best of luck. “I want nothing but the best for the newly-elected board members and the district,” Granda said.

Cox said she is looking forward to working with the new board.

Each of the elected candidates brings valuable professional knowledge that will make our district even greater,” Cox said.

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