Alongside considerable political drama related to proposed (30 year) property tax measures, S & T, representing $97 million for school repairs and improvements, the local 2014 general election ballot contains a fascinating contest for Woodland Joint Unified School District (WJUSD) trustee in District One, encompassing Woodland’s northern edge (from Beamer Street) and stretching northwesterly into the rural county.

The Candidates

Two-term Woodland Mayor, Art Pimentel, appointed by WJUSD trustees to fill a vacancy created by recent election of former trustee Angel Barajas to City Council, is being challenged by Tania Tafoya, who had sought that same trustee appointment, a former substitute teacher, coordinator of an elementary-level after-school program (2003-07) and speech pathologist, motivated to yet again seek this trustee seat by having parents who were educators and her recent participation on a committee at the middle school attended by her step-daughter, where she “saw the board opening as an opportunity to give back to my community.”

Tafoya seems quite determined to obtain this seat as WJUSD trustee; while, Pimentel has declared that, had he not received this appointment, he wouldn’t seek the seat only a few months later, through election.

Tafoya has since 2007 been employed by Cache Creek Casino, initially as a human resources representative, later promoted to a position of certified training specialist in the gaming / resort industry.  Pimentel directed a wide variety of student support services (academic tutoring, career counseling, etc.) at Woodland Community College for more than six years before becoming Executive Dean at the Clear Lake campus of Yuba College and most recently, Dean of West Sacramento Center of Sacramento City College.

“In all my [educational] experiences I was directly involved in supporting students of diverse backgrounds, supervised faculty and staff, managed a budget, and implemented local, state, and federal regulations governing the community college systems,” expresses Pimentel. “I worked very closely with all the high schools in our service areas to provide information about the programs offered by our institution in basic skills, career technical assistance and general education.  I have worked in higher education for the last nine years and I am the only candidate who currently works in an educational setting.”

Pimentel, thus familiar with access requirements for higher education, “applied for the position because I feel I can make a real difference in increasing the schools district’s partnerships with city, county and other educational agencies.  Public education is one of the most important issues facing our communities and society.  Access to high quality education is absolutely critical for us to build healthy communities.”

Tafoya indicates that “as a board member I want to make sure all students have the opportunity to learn and excel by providing them current instructional materials, safe facilities and highly qualified teachers.  [Our] challenges are to increase communication and information between board, parents, schools and the community, providing students the best learning environments for student success.”  Tafoya also emphasizes transparency as a goal of her candidacy.

Addressing these challenges, Tafoya suggests “informal meetings in my neighborhood schools, rotating board meetings to different trustee areas within the district and finally including board action items and proposals in school newsletters sent home to parents.”

Pimentel believes “there are many challenges to fully prepare ALL of our students to be work or college ready[;] involving parents by reaching out to them and visiting our sites on a regular basis will also be important and is something I am already doing as a trustee.”

Both candidates were asked the question:  If Measures S & T were to fail voter adoption, how (specifically) would you respond?

Tafoya states that:  “We as a board and administration would look for federal and state grants, community partnerships with City and County agencies and would review and prioritize building and maintenance budgets.”  Pimentel states that:  “If the bond measures fail then we are going to have to continue to place band-aids on the multiple facility problems all our schools are facing.  It will also be important for the Board of Trustees to make every effort to communicate the needs and develop a more collaborative relationship with our City, County and local community organizations.”

Both candidates favor intense and comprehensive implementation of the new “Common Core,” curriculum, designed to help create educational progress among K – 12 students.

Candidate Qualifications Controversy

Tafoya’s candidacy emphasizes that she “is not a career politician and her motives are sincere[;] what sets her apart from her competitor is her experience in the schools and classrooms of our community[;] Tania is one of us,” implying that Pimentel is “a career politician,” perhaps with insincere motives, who lacks direct classroom experience.  Attempting to distinguish herself from Pimentel, Tafoya states that her “work and volunteer experiences in our schools has prepared me to make a real difference in our schools and community.”

Pimentel’s resume, however, includes more than six years of directly managing provision of a comprehensive scope of basic educational curriculum, especially related to student retention and graduation.  He has earned a M. A. in Educational Leadership from CSUS.  On the basis of his performance within this continuous educational foundation, he has been twice appointed to a position of Dean, lately for the campus of Sacramento City College in West Sacramento.

By contrast, Tafoya’s professional experience in local “schools and classrooms” ended in 2007, when she accepted a position in human resources and eventually as a certified training specialist for Cache Creek Casino.  Her ballot designation describes Tafoya as an “educator / training specialist,” based on her current occupation in the gaming industry, because she teaches what she refers to as “Hotel English” to employees of the Casino.

Tafoya has earned a B. S. in Speech Pathology and Audiology, as well as being a certified trainer in what she describes as “Emotional Intelligence, Hotel English and Franklin Covey courses.”  The Daily Democrat has wrongly reported that she has a M. S. degree in Speech Pathology.

Tafoya intends to portray herself as an “educator,” while portraying Pimentel as a perhaps insincere “career politician,” not “one of us,” seemingly attempting to deny him the (decade-long) credibility he surely deserves as an educator.

“Career politician” is an easy accusation to recklessly fling, in an attempt to entice knee-jerk voter reactions; but factually, no local-level politician could ever base a career on such prospects.  Woodland City Council membership pays only $250/mo. and county supervisors most usually have a career separate from their elected office.

Added Aspects Of Interest

Another strange aspect of this contest is the local, political currency of the name:  Tafoya.  Tafoya’s Market (once near East and Main Streets) was for generations a local Latino landmark and Xavier Tafoya was the first Latino elected to serve on Woodland City Council, during the mid-1980s, when few folk thought such political success was possible.

The Tafoya name evokes a long heritage in Woodland, clearly one of political value.  Xavier is presently the most senior trustee at Yuba / Woodland Community College.  Many persons may have an impression that Tania is perhaps Xavier’s niece, etc.; however, despite her carrying the Tafoya name by recent marriage, Xavier is strongly supporting, walking precincts for, and endorsing Pimentel.

“Art has demonstrated his commitment to our diverse community,” announces Xavier Tafoya, “He deserves to continue to represent our children, parents, and community on the school board.”

Tafoya (Tania) also has very deep community relations, a daughter of teachers / educators, for instance, Evelia Genera, her mother, recently retired as principal of Woodland High School and heavily involved in Tafoya’s campaign, which is headquartered at Genera’s home.  Genera’s name appears regularly within Tafoya’s campaign filings and anecdotal information describes her as vigorously active in this campaign.

Genera has been, though, conspicuously unable to persuade very many of her friends and associates within local educational / political circles, to back / endorse Tafoya.

Even Genera’s neighbor, Carol Souza-Cole, Yolo County Office of Education, Trustee-Elect, is supporting and endorsing Pimentel:  “Art’s leadership and experience on the City Council along with his demonstrated skill in finding effective solutions to community issues will be a benefit for the students, parents, teachers and staff of the Woodland Joint Unified School District.”

By contrast, Pimentel wields endorsements from a very long series of elected / appointed officials, retired educators and both current and former WJUSD trustees.

Apparently, county supervisor Duane Chamberlain is the only elected official to endorse Tafoya, as well as donating to her campaign.

Yet another novelty of Tafoya’s campaign is that her lawn-signs are showing up a lot outside of the district, especially in southern Woodland.

Stark Difference In Anonymous Campaign Contributions

Quite interestingly, Tafoya reports receiving more than 72% of contributions ($4305 of $5955) as being anonymous and under $100 (the contribution amount at which public disclosure is legally required).

No other campaign on the relevant ballot has anywhere near this sky-high proportion of low-level, anonymous donation.  Pimentel reports $1183 of $9508 being in this contribution category; while Yes on S&T, which has raised more than $50,000, shows only $372 in this category, and No on S&T lists only $1075 of about $20,000 raised from such sources.

Tafoya has sparked a truly remarkable and unprecedented outpouring of small donations, or else her campaign contribution filing is fraudulent.

Queried about this rather odd circumstance and asked for some estimate of the number of small donations that amounted to $4305, more than 72% of her campaign contributions, Tafoya responded:  “As this is my first campaign all I can say is that I reached out to my community and they contributed what they were able.  I am very grateful and I continue to be humbled by the level of support I have received from throughout our community, city and rural.”