Partial returns from Tuesday’s election appeared to show voters turning against at least two incumbents of the Los Banos Unified School District board, which was shaken in recent months by allegations of corruption.
Challenger Megan Goin-Soares appeared poised to unseat former Mayor Tommy Jones, an incumbent trustee who was arrested in August as part of an investigation into alleged bribery connected to a school construction project.
With results from all precincts reported, Goin-Soares led Jones 658 votes to 243, or 72 percent to 27 percent. The partial results did not include an undetermined number of mail-in and provisional ballots, according to Merced County Registrar of Voters Barbara Levey on Wednesday. She said it was unclear when the full results would be known.
Incumbent Carole Duffy also appeared headed for defeat, trailing Margaret Benton, 65 percent to 34 percent.
Jones and Duffy are part of an alliance on the school board that has sided with the Community Advocacy Coalition, a local civil rights group that has gained considerable influence in the school district.
A third incumbent, Dominic Falasco, held a narrow lead over challenger Gary Munoz, 51 percent to 48 percent, or a difference of just 31 votes, according to the partial results.
Falasco is credited with secretly recording numerous conversations in the criminal case against Jones and Greg Opinski, a Merced-based contractor who is alleged to have paid bribes to win a controversial project to expand a Los Banos elementary school. Jones and Opinski have denied wrongdoing and are scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 21.
Falasco, Benton and Goin-Soares won the endorsement of the Los Banos Teachers Association.
Goin-Soares said that, if the results hold, “I’ll step up and get things headed in the right direction.”
Benton said she thinks her effort of walking the district and talking to voters paid off.
“I showed up to the (Oct. 27 candidate) forum, and I think they heard what I have to say,” Benton said. “I think they’re ready for a change.”
Falasco said he was cautiously optimistic his lead would hold.
“It’s still pretty close to call until they see what absentee votes are out there,” Falasco said, noting that his first election four years ago came down to even fewer votes.
The three races split into two camps: Jones, Munoz and Duffy with connections to the CAC and the teachers association endorsing Goin-Soares, Falasco and Benton.
If preliminary results hold, the CAC-aligned trustees could lose their four-vote majority, leaving just two: Ray Martinez and Marlene Smith.
CAC member Baldo Salcido said there was obvious disappointment in the early results, but the mission of the CAC of advocating for underrepresented students and improving test scores remain important.
“Our main thing is our message; that hasn’t changed,” Salcido told the Enterprise on Wednesday. “Our schools are at the bottom of the pile in California; not near the bottom, at the bottom.”
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562