Voters oust two trustees, with busing a core issue

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comNovember 8, 2012 

Two Merced Union High School District trustees who voted last spring to scale back bus transportation were voted out of office Tuesday.

One of the board candidates withdrew from the race but his name remained on the ballot, and he resoundingly defeated the incumbent.

Dora Crane, a Tenaya Middle School teacher and Merced City Teachers Association president, got 3,972 votes or 53.34 percent of the tally, beating Trustee Mike Carpenter who received 3,456 votes or 46.41 percent of the total. There were 19 write-in votes in Trustee Area 4.

Board President Kurt Kollmann, appointed in September 2011 to fill the rest of Trustee Tim O'Neill's term, logged 1,402 votes, or 36.83 percent of the total, compared with 2,348 votes, or 61.68 percent for William G. Snyder III, a substitute teacher. There were 13 write-in votes in Trustee Area 5.

Crane said she would work hard at seeing if busing could be restored.

Carpenter is not convinced his vote to furlough 15 bus drivers was to blame for his defeat but stood by his decision to trim more than $1 million in costs from the district budget.

"I'm not so certain it was transportation," Carpenter said. "It's too difficult to really know. It could be that (bus cuts) or something else, and the alternatives were not very appealing either."

Crane said there has got to be a better plan for busing before winter and students start walking long distances. The board's April decision limited busing to students who live more than five miles from their campus.

"There was no reason to cut busing," Crane said. "I have been in education 28 years and people know they can trust me. I put students first before anything else."

Stacy Cotter, Merced County assistant registrar of voters, said Snyder did not formally withdraw from the board race before the deadline and the county elections office considers him elected.

Snyder, an Atwater resident, has decided to accept the position. He has been a substitute teacher for six years, at Merced High School, Delhi and Atwater schools.

"With such an overwhelming support from voters, I'm going to take the position," Snyder said. "That's what the people want. I'm grateful and want to do my best to represent students and the people who supported me."

Crane, a physical education teacher, said she would serve out her term as MCTA president through May. Before Tenaya, she taught at Cruickshank Middle School, John Muir Elementary School and Our Lady of Mercy School.

"I'm excited and looking forward to serving parents and students in this community," Crane said. "It's been a great experience running for office. I'm really thankful to the voters."

Carpenter, a Merced insurance agency executive, was elected five years ago.

"I am thankful for the time I was able to serve," Carpenter said. "I wish Miss Crane the best of luck. I really enjoyed working with the other board members and staff. I look forward to the next chapter of my life."

Carpenter said the election outcome is how the process is supposed to work, and he respects it.

Kollmann said obviously members of the community were not happy with the transportation decision made by the board.

"At the time it wasn't viable financially," Kollmann said. "We were coming $800,000 to $1 million short, and you have got to make cuts. There will be a financial burden on the district no matter what."

Gloria Coulombe, president of the California State Employees Association Chapter 252, said the 420-member union endorsed Crane and Snyder.

"CSEA is elated," Coulombe said. "It's a big win. It shows the board the public has spoken and wants to see some change. It's time to move forward and do what's right for the people of Merced. The community is uptight about transportation issues. Busing had a part in it."

Trustee Ida Johnson abstained when busing was reduced. She said she didn't have enough information on how to handle transportation and said things still aren't clear.

There are still glitches in the district's revised busing policy, she said, and she is awaiting a further report. With winter weather coming and sidewalks lacking in rural areas, the board needs to do a better job listening to the community on how to fix the problem, Johnson said.

Trustee Dave Honey said he is surprised with the vote to replace Carpenter and Kollmann. If all the $1.5 million in cuts were put back, he said, the district would still need to make painful reductions.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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