The San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education appears poised to have two new members serving in its ranks come next month.
Local business owner Shelley Clark holds a commanding lead in her bid to unseat Board President Greg Marvel to represent Trustee Area 2 while community volunteer Laura Bratt holds a narrow but steady advantage in Trustee Area 3, according to most recent election results update by the Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder's Office released on Friday.
The results to date include the vast majority of ballots cast in the SRVUSD election, but there are still votes left to count -- approximately 10,000 ballots remaining to process countywide, though it's unclear how many are in the school district's Areas 2 and 3.
This marks the district's first election using by-trustee-area voting for board members, instead of at-large, meaning that San Ramon Valley residents were only able to vote on a candidate if they lived within Area 2 or Area 3.
Area 2 primarily encompasses central and eastern Danville, while Area 3 covers the Dougherty Valley area in San Ramon.
The power of the teachers union may have shown through in this race, as both leading candidates were endorsed and financially backed by the San Ramon Valley Education Association.
After taking the lead in early returns on Election Night and never letting go, Clark is poised to unseat Marvel, a fixture of the district for more than two decades who was seeking to achieve a sixth term on the board.
As of Friday, Clark maintained her lead with 7,517 votes (44.51%), followed by SRVUSD parent Priscilla Graft with 5,563 votes (32.94%) and incumbent Marvel with 3,807 votes (22.54%).
"I truly feel honored and humbled to have been chosen by the voters in Area 2 to represent them on the SRVUSD Board of Education. I love this community and have worked hard the past 12 years for the students of this district. I look forward to continuing that service as a board member," Clark told DanvilleSanRamon.com.
Campaigning on a platform to change the direction of the district, Clark said she decided to run due to concern in the “way the current school board was making financial and educational decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
"First order of business is to begin to unite and heal our community so we can come together to meet the challenges we face providing a high-quality education to our students during a pandemic," she said.
A 30-year resident of Danville, Clark may have campaigned as a candidate for change but does not lack experience working within the district system. In addition to serving as chairperson on the SRVUSD Parcel Tax Oversight Committee, she has also served as vice chair on the Facilities Oversight Committee -- both positions that she says gave her great insight into the inner workings of district finances.
Clark has served as a parent teacher association and booster group president at the elementary, middle and high school levels, and has chaired a variety of committees in her children's schools -- she had two children go through SRVUSD schools -- including school registration and grad night at San Ramon Valley High School.
Over in Area 3, Bratt likewise jumped to an early lead on Election Night, but unlike Area 2, her race still remains too close to officially call with 333 votes separating her from her nearest competitor.
As of Friday, Bratt has earned 5,805 votes (39.39%) for first place, followed closely by San Ramon Valley Education Foundation board member Scott Roberts in second with 5,472 votes (37.13%). Project manager Kumar Nallusamy trailed in third with 3,461 votes (23.48%).
"The ballot count for Area 3 is very tight, with all three of us garnering a substantial amount of votes. It is very clear to me that not only were we fortunate to have 3 great candidates, but that each of us had a platform that resonated with our community," Bratt told DanvilleSanRamon.com.
"I hope that, once all the ballots are counted, I will have an opportunity to work with both Scott and Kumar, to learn more about and help support their initiatives as we work to bring our diverse community together and deliver the empowering educational experience all of our students deserve," she added.
During the campaign, Bratt broke her main priorities down into three key areas, those include the safe transition from remote back to in-person learning, tackling the current budget shortfall and ensuring that diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging are key tenets of the district.
"I am very excited about the prospect of working with Trustees Hurd, Ordway, Mintz, and Clark as we tackle the challenges around education in the time of COVID and the projected budget shortfalls as well as supporting all of our students and SRVUSD's educational environment with sustainable and effective initiatives around inclusion, safety, social and emotional wellness, academic fulfillment and cultural literacy," she added.
A parent and local volunteer, Bratt has served on the SRVUSD's Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) Stakeholder Committee, the Iron Horse Middle School Site Council and the Cal High Band Boosters.
She has also served on a number of non-profit organizations including Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of the Danville San Ramon Valley, Contra Costa NOW and Destination Imagination to name a few.
When asked if he had yet conceded the Area 3 contest, second-place candidate Roberts told DanvilleSanRamon.com on Saturday, "it looks as though the County is still at 10,000 uncounted ballots. As you know, the Area 3, school board race is one of the closest races in the San Ramon Valley. And out of respect for all voters and fairness to all candidates, I strongly believe it’s important that all votes be counted."
"No matter the outcome of this race, I’d like to thank my campaign volunteers, staff, and residents of the San Ramon Valley for the tremendous outpouring of support for my bid for School Board. I’m immensely proud of our positive campaign and hard work," he continued, adding:
"The overwhelming level of support I received from the community has further fueled my desire to continue serving the residents of San Ramon Valley, the place that shaped who I am today.
I’m sure we all look forward to learning the final and certified results of the SRVUSD Area 3 race, and other close races soon. Thank you to all the candidates for stepping up during these challenging times, and to those who supported me in pursuing the best outcomes for all students."
Bratt, Roberts and Nallusamy were competing to replace Board Member Mark Jewett, who opted not to seek re-election this fall and whose seat was effectively assigned to Area 3 during the districting process.
Should election results hold, two new members will be welcomed onto the Board of Education. Marvel told DanvilleSanRamon.com on Thursday that voters have clearly cast their ballots in favor of change.
"I spent 20 years always putting our students first, even in the face of stiff opposition from special interests. If presented with the choice to protect the adults in the room or the kids, I always picked the kids. Always," Marvel said. "I sincerely hope that our new board members make their future difficult decisions with our kids first and foremost on their minds and not the special interests that funded their elections and that will be clamoring and demanding their attention."
A pillar of the SRVUSD's leadership since 2000, during Marvel's tenure he has overseen the district's addition of 10 new schools, five superintendents and the allocation of approximately $700 million in modernization projects and facilities improvements.
During his time on the board, he also saw the student population grow by about 15,000 new students, as well as wrestling with more state budget cuts than he cares to remember, two financial recessions in addition to the Great Recession and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"On the positive side, we also went from a good school district to a great one, with some of the highest test and proficiency scores in California, extremely high graduation rates, and one of the highest college attendance rates in the country," he added. "From a labor market perspective, we moved from having average teacher and staff salaries to having some of the highest in the state and the Bay Area. You recruit the best by paying a highly competitive salary and benefits package."
Marvel said that he had intended to retire in 2020, but the development of the coronavirus pandemic, combined with the retirement of superintendent Rick Schmitt, the state's "budgetary meltdown" and the district's financial crisis brought about by declining enrollment led him to seek one final term on the board.
"It was an honor to serve the students, parents and taxpayers of this Valley for the last 20 years. My departure is bittersweet (but) … the majority of the voters thought it was time for a change," Marvel said. "I walk away knowing that the district and its mission that I am leaving are better than I found them. That is all any of us who are dedicated to public service can aspire to."
"My final piece of advice to my replacement is to always remember that when the inevitable conflict arises between the interests of students and the adults in the room, the kids should always win. That should be your litmus test. It worked for me for 20 years," he added.
Contra Costa County officials have stated that countywide voter turnout rests at 82.47% and estimate that there are approximately 10,000 ballots left to be processed -- an estimated 5,000 of which are estimated to be from vote-by-mail and polls, while the remaining 5,000 to be provisional and conditional voter ballots. However, there is no available estimate on how many ballots are left to be counted in the San Ramon Valley specifically.
Residents can expect election figures will likely change in the coming days as final vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots and other qualifying ballots are processed, according to the California Secretary of State. Official election results in Contra Costa County are expected to be certified by Nov. 30.
Editor's note: Editor Jeremy Walsh contributed to this story.