State

Challenger ups ante in school Oakdale board race

OAKDALE — It's been good to be a trustee on the Oakdale Joint Unified School District board these past several years.

Test scores are rising throughout the district. Facilities on all campuses have been improved, and the collection of portable buildings that passed for the junior high is being replaced by permanent classrooms.

And with stable enrollment, Oakdale survived the state budget cuts in better shape than most districts.

"We're still going to hit some bumps," District Superintendent Fred Rich said. "But I believe those bumps will be less dramatic. We have a long-term plan and we've stuck to it. This district, with leadership of this board, has done very well."

Consequently, incumbents Mike House, William Dyer and Rick W. Jones certainly hoped to run unopposed and be spared the cost of financing campaigns.

Instead, they got a challenger who knows how to raise money and whose campaign funding dwarfs anything they expect to spend.

Diane Gilbert, 50, a professional fund-raising consultant and mother of a second-grader, has upped the ante. With 75 donors averaging $150 apiece, she's well on her way to raising the $15,000 she plans to spend on the campaign. She said more contributions are on the way.

"As a challenger, I felt that was an appropriate budget for this race, and hopefully a winning budget," Gilbert said.

House expects to spend $600 as he campaigns for a fifth term on the joint board, and originally budgeted only $200.

"My youngest daughter is getting married (in January)," House said. "My campaign committee is closely tied to the wedding committee. The campaign committee convinced me to get some yard signs."

Dyer, running for his third full term, said he expects to spend less than $2,000. Jones, also a two-termer, declined to give an amount, saying only that he and his wife will finance his campaign.

Goal: More school funding

Gilbert said she isn't targeting any particular incumbent — only a seat on the board — and said her dealings with politicians in Sacramento could benefit the district.

"I want to see if there are ways I can help identify additional funding sources," she said. "That's where my motivation is. I'm good at this."

House said candidates often run for school boards because they're upset with the performance of incumbents.

"That's why we ran (in the 1990s)," he said. "There was something we thought we could do better. But this board has done well. I can go shopping at Save Mart any day or night of the week and not get cornered by somebody who is upset."

Dyer, 76, said he wants one more term.

"There are a couple of unfinished things we've committed to," he said, including a promised aquatics center. He said he'd rather spend time on that than campaigning.

"I want to see those things through. I don't like having to go out and tell people how good I am," Dyer said. "It's what you have to do, though. If people look back at what we've done in academics, athletics, and providing direction and leadership for management, they should be pleased."

Jones, too, feels the district has thrived under the existing board.

"I sort of feel like we've been a Camelot here the past eight to 12 years," said Jones, who attended Fair Oaks Elementary when it opened 45 years ago and helped christen the district's next new elementary school, Sierra View, as a trustee in 2005.

"The things we've achieved are remarkable. The thing (voters) have to ask themselves is, 'Is the district doing better than it was eight years ago?' I think we have one of the best districts in the state."

Bee local columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

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