From graduation requirements and charter school policy to board member behavior, local education issues are overshadowing budget cuts for the first time in several years as the foremost issues in South Bay school board races.

Nearly three dozen school and community college districts in Santa Clara County will choose board members on Nov. 4.

And, with a revived economy and a state sales tax flowing more money into schools, districts are refocusing on education programs and less on layoffs and finances.

"This is a pivotal moment in public education: there's new funding, a new curriculum model, a new level of competition with charter schools," said Susan Ellenberg, a candidate for a seat on the San Jose Unified School Board. She is challenging six-term incumbent Rich Garcia, who is facing serious opposition for the first time in two decades. Ellenberg decided to run after the district decided earlier this year to lower graduation requirements. She criticized what she called a lack of public outreach, information and clarity about the proposal.

Likewise, Veronica Grijalva Lewis, a 20-year veteran of the San Jose Unified board, also faces challengers. Paymon Zarghami, 31, has knocked on 1,000 doors and is campaigning for a more well-rounded education that addresses individual student needs. Challenger Sam Ho, a diversity educator, also is running against Grijalva Lewis.


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Trustees of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, which has been a lightening rod in a contentious charter school debate, each have drawn a challenger. Michael Chang, who represents the West Valley, will face parent John Mumy. Darcie Green, who represents East San Jose, will face Alum Rock trustee Dolores Marquez. Julia Hover-Smoot, who represents the South County, will face Morgan Hill schools trustee Claudia Rossi.

Competitive races also are brewing for school boards that have experienced political turmoil. In Santa Clara Unified, where teachers have issued a no-confidence vote in the board, incumbents Ina Bendis and Christine Ellen Koltermann face four challengers: engineer-technologist Ashish Mangla, nonprofit director Noelani Sallings, teacher Jodi Muirhead and business owner Steve Kelly. Representing another trustee area of the district, incumbent Andrew Ratermann faces professor-engineer Michael Helms.

The Luther Burbank School District, which last spring ushered out its superintendent and called sheriff's deputies to a board meeting, also faces a competitive election. Incumbents Adriana Rodriguez Rios, Ramiro Sandoval and Christopher Tringali face challenges from teacher Meghan Francis and consultant Darlene Wallach.

The race for two board seats in the Palo Alto Unified School District, which has been investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights over the handling of bullying complaints, has drawn five newcomers. They are software engineer Ken Dauber, consultant Catherine Crystal Foster, community volunteer Jay Blas Jacob Cabrera, education officer Gina Dalma and finance director Terry Godfrey.

In Milpitas Unified, eight candidates are seeking three seats on the school board. Incumbents Danny Lau and William Foulk face challenges from interpreter Vance Vuong, hardware engineer David Freeman, community liaison Demetress Morris, education director Chris Norwood, operations director Russ Bargstadt and former East Side Union High School District Superintendent Robert Nuñez.

For several school boards, incumbents drew no opposition and will be automatically re-elected.

For a complete list of school board candidates, go to www.mercurynews.com/elections.

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/noguchionk12.