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New trustee sworn in to Los Banos school board after close recall vote

Ray Martinez was sworn in Thursday as the newest Los Banos Unified School District trustee after winning a close vote to recall John Mueller from the board.

Martinez, a former firefighter, former City Council candidate and co-founder of the civil rights group Community Advocacy Coalition, was the only person running for the seat.

The Aug. 23 election was certified by the Merced County Elections Office on Sept. 1 with the recall passing by a margin of 13 votes.

The election asked voters of the Los Banos school area District 7 if Mueller should be recalled or not.

Out of 352 ballots cast, 182 supported Mueller’s removal while 169 voted against it. The election had about an 18 percent turnout.

Mueller wasn’t present at the meeting to receive a recognition for his six years on the board.

Board members congratulated Martinez and said they look forward to working with him.

“It’s just an honor to be on this board,” Martinez said. “The issues going on (at the school board) – I apologize. They’re unacceptable. But we will work through them all and resolve them.”

Martinez said he sees a lot of potential in the city’s youth.

“It’s all our responsibility to ensure they’re being trained up for the future,” Martinez said.

In previous interviews, Martinez said he wants an increased focus on the younger children in the district, increasing test scores and building their relationships with teachers.

He supports building those connections by hiring more minority teachers and administrators in the district, especially Hispanics. More than 78 percent of students in the district are Hispanic, according to data compiled by Niche.com.

Mueller couldn’t be reached by phone Friday morning. But he told the Merced Sun-Star last week he believes he would have kept his seat had voters previously known about the corruption scandal involving fellow board member Tommy Jones and Merced contractor Greg Opinski.

He said he hoped the Merced County District Attorney’s Office would look into possible wrongdoing during the special election.

Mueller also received support from trustees and members of the public.

“I’ve recognized him as an advocate for students,” said Jason Walsh, president of the Los Banos Teachers Association.

Mueller’s recall started nearly a year ago when one of his constituents, Baldo Salcido, launched a petition.

Salcido, with the support of the CAC, accused Mueller of “disruptive behavior” at board meetings. He also said Mueller wasn’t responsive to constituent concerns, and he blamed Mueller for the district’s low test scores.

Mueller has denied those claims and said the election was a waste of taxpayer money.

Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562

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