Staff writers

The unofficial results of some school board elections early Wednesday morning indicate that trustees around far East Contra Costa County might have different priorities for the next few years because some newcomers will be serving alongside incumbents.

With all but one precinct reporting in the Brentwood Union School District, incumbent Carlos Sanabria and newcomer Jim Cushing were still leading the race for two seats. Cushing commanded the biggest lead with 44.35 percent of the vote.

In the Oakley Union Elementary School District, incumbents Larry Polk and Karen Bergenholtz also remained in the lead in their bid for the two open seats after nearly all precincts had reported. Bergenholtz had captured the most votes with a 41.13 percent share.

Over in Byron Union School District, incumbent Ken Silman and newcomer Mark McBride remained ahead with nearly all precincts reporting, although challenger Bobbi Greene was nipping at McBride's heels in third place.

Silman led with 36.51 percent of the vote, followed by McBride, who had 31.94 percent.

Greene had captured 31.31 percent of the vote.

In Knightsen School District, newcomers Thomas Baldocchi Jr. and Janice Smith were leading in the five-way race for three seats along with incumbent Frank Dell.

Baldocchi had 30.98 percent of the vote and Smith, 28.16 percent. Dell garnered 15.75 percent for a third place.


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Brentwood Union's Sanabria, who was seeking a third term, has said that, as a former student of English himself, he is proudest of helping Spanish-speaking parents as well as keeping the district solvent. The Brentwood native and employee of Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District said the district has been able to postpone larger cuts because of the overwhelming support of teachers and parents.

Cushing is a former Brentwood planning commissioner and teacher with a master's degree from Stanford University. During the campaign, the classroom volunteer said that the district should explore alternative funding sources such as venture capital to support the district.

Their opponent, Vincent Kraeber, is a youth coach and classroom volunteer and has maintained a commitment to preserving the current number of school days and maintaining resources despite potential budget cuts. The retired IT expert wants to see additional technology in the classroom.

Polk, whose three children graduated from Oakley Union Elementary and who used to work for it as an accountant, was running for a second term. The 57-year-old said his familiarity with school budgets enables him to recognize excessive spending as well as know when expenses are reasonable.

The years he spent working for school districts also gave him a good understanding of how other facets of education administration operate, he added. Polk, who works on military jets at Travis Air Force Base, wants the board to minimize layoffs and do what it can to ensure that test scores continue improving.

Bergenholtz, a 50-year-old insurance company account manager, was making a bid for a fourth term.

The mother of two children who went through Oakley Union Elementary and a former PTA president, she said she's proudest of the hand she had in converting the district's year-round school schedule to one that runs from August to June with a couple of two-week breaks.

The change was important to her because the previous calendar had included more vacations, which she said is problematic for students who have trouble regaining momentum in their studies following a hiatus. If re-elected, Bergenholtz said her top priority is to reduce class sizes.

Challenger Andrew Coffman is a second-time candidate: He first was elected in November 2010 but never attended any board meetings and resigned in January 2011, citing work schedule conflicts.

Silman, 38, was running for one of the two seats in Byron Union School District because he wants continuity in the district's leadership. The Byron resident has a sixth-grader and second-grader in the district along with some nieces and nephews, which he said put him "still in the middle of it." He also wants to see the district's budget improve so the student-teacher ratio in each classroom once again could be 20 to 1, although he doesn't want the district frustrating teachers by changing those ratios each year.

McBride, 48, would like to give back to a school district that he says has treated his children well, especially his special-needs son. The Discovery Bay man has eighth-grade twins at Excelsior School as well as a sophomore at Liberty High School. Among McBride's concerns is finding out why test scores have been dropping once children enter middle school and what can be done to change that.

Opponent and stay-at-home mother Bobbi Greene, 36, says she was running because there is a vacant seat.

The mother of two -- a seventh-grader at Excelsior and a sophomore at Liberty -- often volunteers in the classrooms and has established relationships with some of the teachers and other employees. .

Money -- or more specifically, the lack of money -- is a primary concern for some of Knightsen School District's five candidates.

Baldocchi, a 39-year-old Knightsen firefighter and hay farmer, knows he might have to make difficult financial decisions if the district continues dipping into its general fund to pay off a construction loan but says he'll be objective, even though he has two sons attending the school.

If, on the other hand, the district's $3 million bond measure passes, Baldocchi expects the new board will encounter the challenge of balancing employees' wish lists for goods and services like janitors and more classroom technology with items that directly further the district's goals.

He also hopes that board members and district employees will participate more often in community functions to generate the support of residents who don't have children at Knightsen School.

Dell, 80, is running for a third term and, like Baldocchi, believes the district should maintain a firm grip on its purse strings.

A recent infusion of developer fees doesn't mean the district is home free, said Dell, who would like the district to postpone buying new textbooks and other items it doesn't absolutely need.

If the bond measure succeeds, he wants to restore music instruction by hiring a full-time music teacher as well as recruit an additional teacher's aide to ease the burden on teachers who have students at two different grade levels in their class.

Dell, a Brentwood resident and former nursery owner, says his experience running a small business has given him the ability to make long-term financial plans as well as the negotiation skills needed to help others appreciate differing points of view.

Smith, who co-owns a Brentwood fruit and vegetable farm, notes that board meetings draw few from the community at large. She, too, would like to restore Knightsen School's music program as well as make sure that after-school sports don't suffer a similar fate.

The 53-year-old said that one of her goals is to get more people involved in the district's decision-making. But what she wants wouldn't prevent her from entertaining others' ideas even if they differ from her own because she considers herself a good listener and able to keep an open mind.

If elected, she intends to find out why the district's online agenda isn't more informative.

Their challenger is Adam McMeans, a Discovery Bay resident with three children at Knightsen School. He believes that his accounting experience could help other board members understand the district budget more easily and possibly make smarter decisions as a result. The 47-year-old finance manager is concerned about the district's ability to remain current on its loan payments if the bond measure fails.

McMeans also wants the district to improve the lines of communication with the public and encourage its involvement in school affairs by posting board members' email addresses on its website.

Another challenger, Michael Matienzo, a 47-year-old father of two children in the district, is another who's uneasy about the burden that its loan payments have created.

The Discovery Bay resident and construction company estimator said he'd need to study the budget before deciding what he'd cut first if the district must make further reductions. But like Dell, Matienzo would love to hire a music teacher so the school can restore band instruction if more money becomes available.

If elected, he wants the board to do what it can to boost enrollment and reopen Old River School, which will include making sure that parents in the district know their children are eligible to enroll.

For updates, check back to www.ContraCostaTimes.com.