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Election Results: Elk Grove Unified School District

Election Results: Elk Grove Unified School District
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Attorney and law professor Michael Vargas will make history as the Elk Grove Unified School District’s first openly gay trustee.

Vargas won the Nov. 8 election with 3,855 votes to parent Stephanie Spurlin’s 3,271. Current board members Gina Jamerson and Beth Albiani had no challengers for their seats. Trustees will swear in all the election winners at their regular meeting on December 13.

“I’m ready for the challenge,” said Vargas. He will join 175 elected state officials in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community. Of those officials, 32 serve on California school boards, according to the 2022 “Out for America” report by Victory Institute. The study is an annual analysis of the state of LGBTQ representation in America. Victory Institute is a national organization that wants to elevate openly LGBTQ leaders at all government levels. 

Vargas looks forward to working for all students and parents. And he wants to help the school district (EGUSD) rebuild trust with its parents. Concerns over the EGUSD’s special education program has created a strain to that bond as of late.   

“The board, as a whole, needs to get out of COVID mode. There’s an arms length transaction-feel to everything. Let’s post office hours or show up at a coffee shop every once in a while and give people an opportunity to come talk to us.”

-Michael Vargas, EGUSD Trustee-elect

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The board’s new look

Vargas succeeds Trustee Crystal Martinez-Alire, who opted not to run for another term. He will represent Area 2, which includes seven elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools and Jessie Baker Alternative High School. 

Voters elected Albiani in 2014 for Area 5. It counts seven elementary schools, including Katherine Albiani Middle School and Pleasant Grove High School. In 2021 the school board appointed Jamerson to represent Area 4, which has six elementary schools, including Laguna Creek High School.

The EGUSD’s redrawn boundary map was active for the first time in this election. Residents could only elect candidates in their local trustee areas and not from across the district. All seven trustee areas have populations that lack a racial or ethnic majority. The new boundaries remain through 2032.

Michael Vargas alongside Mayor Bobbie-Singh-Allen on election night
Photo by Marissa Johnson

Addressing the teacher shortage

Numerous challenges await the school board, including finding a way to hire and keep teachers and staff. 

Teachers and certificated staff received a 4 percent increase in their last contract. They topped out at $102,103 for those at the high spot of the salary schedule. The Elk Grove Education Association, which represents about 3,400 teachers and staff, are currently negotiating a new contract. 

Potentially raising pay is always a part of a conversation. But Vargas also wants to invest more into teacher training programs. Additionally, he wants more relationships with national colleges, especially those that are historically black.

“We need to ensure that our work force reflects the diversity of our community and our students,” he said.

Student equity

The Black Minds Matter Coalition in 2021 singled out EGUSD for suspending more Black students than any California district. According to its report – “Suspending Our Future” – the EGUSD had 2,386 suspensions in 2019.    

Vargas said the district needs more counselors and services should address mental health needs. That would go further than just handing out punishments. And the district must apply discipline equally.  

“We need to ensure discipline is, first and foremost, an opportunity to teach. Our students are learning what it means to live within society. So we need to treat student behavioral issues as opportunities to teach about boundaries, personal responsibility and community.”

-Michael Vargas, EGUSD Trustee-elect

Special education

Three months ago, the district transferred more than 30 inclusion specialists from its special education program to other positions. Trustees did the move to help fill staff vacancies. But parents got angry and their ire shows no sign of flaming out.

“That’s going to give people another outlet and opportunity to come and share ideas,” he said. “Now we can start having conversations.”

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