In central Contra Costa County, the Martinez and Mt. Diablo school districts saw incumbents vying with challengers to keep their seats.
All three incumbents in Martinez sought re-election and were leading in early results. Incumbent Kathi McLaughlin ran on a slate with challengers Ron Skrehot and Dena Betti against incumbents Denise Elsken and John Fuller, showing a rift that has developed on the board over how to spend construction bond money. But the slate didn't seem to matter in early results, when McLaughlin took the lead with 26 percent of votes, followed by Fuller with about 22 percent and Elsken with roughly 19 percent. Betti and Skrehot trailed with about 18 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
In the Mt. Diablo district, which has also seen divisiveness among trustees, board President Sherry Whitmarsh was the only incumbent to seek re-election in a race for two seats. She faced challengers Brian Lawrence, Debra Mason and Barbara Oaks.
In early returns, Lawrence took the lead with almost 30 percent, followed by Oaks with nearly 25 percent. Both candidates were endorsed by the teachers' union.
They were trailed by Whitmarsh with about 18.5 percent and Mason with about 18 percent.
Ernie DeTrinidad, whose name appeared on the ballot, dropped out of the race. Still, he garnered 8.7 percent of votes in early returns.
Incumbent Gary Eberhart is stepping down from the board after serving 17 years.
"I'm excited and looking forward to diving in," he said.
The Martinez district is much smaller than Mt. Diablo, serving slightly more than 4,100 students. Mt. Diablo educates nearly 34,000 students in Bay Point, Clayton, Concord, Pleasant Hill and parts of Walnut Creek, Martinez and Pittsburg.
In Martinez, the board has disagreed about which construction projects to fund with $45 million in bond money approved by voters two years ago. Elsken and Fuller took heat from McLaughlin and Skrehot recently when they voted against spending $5 million to construct new buildings for the Vicente Martinez Continuation High School and Briones Independent Study School.
Skrehot previously served eight years on the board but stepped down in 2010, saying he needed a break. Recent split decisions on bond expenditures compelled him to run again, along with the desire to make the board more cohesive and transparent, he said.
Fuller, a five-year incumbent, said he'd be willing to spend up to $3 million to upgrade the alternative education campuses but was not comfortable designating more than that, since rebuilding the schools was not on the voter-approved project list. Elsken, who has served on the board 13 years, agreed, saying projects presented to voters when they approved the bond should take priority over newly identified needs.
Betti, a real estate appraiser and campus PTA president with three daughters in Martinez schools, believes bond expenditures should be prioritized according to the ballot language and the needs of all students in the district, according to the Smart Voter website.
No candidates are running together on a slate in Mt. Diablo, although the three challengers tended to disagree with many of Whitmarsh's ideas, which they saw as fostering a lack of transparency in district leadership. Whitmarsh, who was elected four years ago, said her top priorities if re-elected are preparing students for college, careers or the military; improving district and board communications; and attracting and retaining highly qualified staff.
Lawrence, who is a technology executive and part-time vocational school instructor, said his top priorities are fiscal accountability, student achievement and openness and transparency in the district. He ran unsuccessfully two years ago.
Mason has run twice unsuccessfully. A former instructional assistant and after-school program coordinator, she said her top goals if elected would be to ensure that every child gets the education he or she needs to succeed in life, to foster open and honest communications and to encourage schools to reflect their communities, with flexibility to adopt programs and practices that best serve their diverse students.
Oaks, a former teacher and retired College Park High School principal, is the only newcomer in the race. The first things she would tackle if elected, she said, are providing a high quality, equitable education for all students; developing stronger partnerships with parents and the community; and offering more support to teachers and staff at school sites.
Theresa Harrington covers education. Contact her at 925-945-4764. Follow her at twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.