Kern County is still waiting for as many as 100,000 ballots to be counted, and we may reportedly not get updates until next week. This causes some uncertainty in down-ballot races where there may be razor-thin differences between candidates and the vote counts themselves might be low. The top candidates in some very small Kern districts in previous years have earned their place with as few as 28 votes total.
The Californian didn't interview the leaders of all of the many districts, but instead focused on a few of the races in larger school districts that are likely to see new faces. It's far too soon to declare any winners but not too soon to check in with a few cautiously excited candidates.
Kern High School District
Early returns in the race for Area 3 — which includes Shafter, Independence, Golden Valley and Arvin — look like it had the potential for an upset. David F. Manriquez, a campus supervisor for the Bakersfield City School District, was leading with 757 votes and 6 points against Joey O'Connell, current board vice president.
"I’m still trying to take it all in," said Manriquez.
He attributes his lead to his decades of work in the community as a supervisor in the Bakersfield City Schools and also as a high school football and wrestling coach at Arvin and Ridgeview. He said he's worked with students who have grown up and had their own kids in the district. They've called him up and said they're voting for him.
Manriquez said he's excited to join the board, but he's telling people who have called him up to congratulate him to wait a little bit longer until the results look firmer.
"I don’t want to jinx myself," he said.
Manriquez is a 55-year resident of Lamont, and he said he was running to better represent his constituents.
This has been the first election since the Kern High School District redrew Area 3 under pressure from the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which claimed that the board was diluting the political influence of South Kern communities.
Incumbent Jeff Flores is leading Area 2 with 67 percent of the vote to challenger M. Dayle Record's 33 percent.
The Kern High School District serves nearly 42,000 students in Kern County.
Bakersfield City School District
Four of five seats were up this year, including one seat left open by trustee Fred Haynes stepping down. That meant 11 people were vying for four seats.
The most hotly-contested race was Area 5, which had five names on the ballot. Shannon Zimmerman, a distance learning teacher, is leading that race with 38 percent of the vote. She holds a 500-vote lead over Brooke Malley Ault, which makes her feel confident about her chances. She said that she's already had a conversation with the superintendent.
"I am feeling so fantastic," she said. "I feel very humbled, very honored to serve the community."
She attributes her lead to the hard work of the people who helped her on her campaign, and also a community that she says resonated with her message of fiscal conservatism. She said that when BCSD passed a resolution supporting Proposition 15, she went on the radio and gave an interview about why she was against the proposition.
"I think that showed the community that I am not afraid to stand up for what I believe in and that made a difference as well," she said.
She said she believes her experience in education, strong support of STEAM and advocating for returning students into classrooms quickly resonated with the community.
"I’m so grateful for them hearing my message and supporting me," she said.
Malley Ault has 26 percent, Ian Journey has 15 percent and Bethany Bachman has 11 percent. Johnitta Clemons dropped out of the race but has 9 percent of the vote.
Area 3 challenger Chris Cruz-Boone appears poised to unseat current board president Ralph Anthony. She leads him with 55 percent of the vote and 415 votes.
In Area 4, Laura Guerrero-Salgado, who was appointed to her seat, looks like she has approval from voters with 54 percent of the vote. Miguel Juarez Sr. has 29 percent of the votes and Ben Valdez Jr. has 18 percent.
Lillian Tafoya holds a strong lead on the seat she's held since 1996 in Area 1 with 55 percent of the vote to challenger Michael Eggert's 45 percent.
BCSD is the largest K-8 district in the state with more than 30,000 students, and its board had the most potential for turnover this election.
Panama-Buena Vista Union School District
There were eight candidates running for three open seats and only one incumbent — J.P. Lake — was on the ballot. He currently is in second place with 17 percent of the vote.
Bryan Easter, assistant principal of instruction at Frontier High School, leads the race with 19 percent of votes. Because of the early numbers and the fact that it's a top-three race, he feels confident that he will be seated on the board. He calls it a "huge blessing" that voters have entrusted him with serving the district.
Easter has a kindergartner in the district, and he said he's eager to see him return to in-person learning quickly the same way that school districts like Norris and Rosedale Union have.
"I’m hoping that’s the first thing we tackle," he said.
There were eight candidates on the ballot. One of them, Paula Van Auken earlier had told The Californian that she had dropped out too late to be taken off the ballot, but she is currently in third place in a race where third place counts for a seat on the board.
"Although I dropped out of actively campaigning, it would disappoint the folks that voted for me if I did not take the position," she wrote in an email. "So, I have decided to take the position as Trustee for Panama-Buena Vista School District. You can call me the accidental candidate."
Van Auken was identified on the ballot as a "retired teacher" but declined to discuss more about her background.
"I am not comfortable being the center of attention, nor would it be appropriate as a new board member," she wrote.
Those top three are trailed by Kelly Youngstrom (15 percent), Zack Bashirtash (14 percent), Tom Webster (9 percent), Mike Tann (5 percent) and Muosadak Abbas (3 percent).
Panama-Buena Vista Union School District serves more than 18,500 students in southwest Bakersfield.
Rosedale Union School District
There was one open spot on the board, and Laurel Sheffield leads six contenders, all newcomers, with 30 percent of the vote. She sounded hopeful about her odds.
"I'm optimistic to see the preliminary results are in my favor," she wrote, in an email. "I'm hoping my lead continues through to the final count."
Sheffield is a unique school board candidate in that she had endorsements from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, State Sen. Shannon Grove and Assemblyman Vince Fong.
"I'm anxious to get to work on serving the needs of the parents, students and staff in the Rosedale Union School District," she added.
Sheffield leads Kern High School Human Resources administrator Joshua Porter by more than 600 votes. He has 25 percent of the vote followed by Gary Kraucyk with 16 percent, David Eggers with 13 percent, Gabe Garcia had 9 percent and Rosa Lara Rios with 7 percent.
Two incumbents, Michael Spickler and Gary Moore, did not appear on the ballot and will retain their seats. The board oversees a district that serves 5,783 students.