In an unusually close race, voters this week re-elected two incumbents and voted in one challenger on the five-member Ventura Unified School District board.
Final tallies showed incumbent May Lee Berry garnering 7,970 votes, followed by challenger John Walker, with 7,923 votes, and incumbent Terence Kilbride, with 6,674 votes.
In a race that traditionally favors incumbents, voters opted not to reelect board member Judy Alexandre. Alexandre, who had served one four-year term, finished fifth among seven candidates.
Preliminary figures put voter turnout at 33.5%, up from a little more than 26% during the last election in 1987.
The campaign, which took place amid bitter contract negotiations between the district and its 650 teachers, was marked by controversy.
But Kilbride said that despite the close margin--only about 2,000 votes separated the top candidate from the bottom candidate--Tuesday's election was a vote for the status quo.
"I don't think the public was swayed too much by talk about Vision 2000 or Dr. Caldarelli," said Kilbride, a nine-year board member, referring to two of the issues that dominated the campaign. "I think the public believed that the issues that were talked about did not signal real trouble within the school district. The incumbents basically are back."
Vision 2000, a set of planning recommendations by Supt. Cesare Caldarelli, has been criticized as vague and potentially wasteful. And Caldarelli himself emerged as a campaign issue, with disclosures that he had received votes of no confidence from teachers in the Martinez school district, where he was superintendent for five years before coming to Ventura in 1988. Teachers in the Bay Area community blamed Caldarelli for excessive spending, which they said resulted in unplanned layoffs.
Walker, however, was not so quick to write off the impact of Vision 2000, or criticism of Caldarelli.
"I think the voters looked at that as a big question mark," he said. "I think that what they're looking for now is a board that's going to take a much more pro-active role in what's going on in our district." Walker said he was surprised by his strong showing, but said he thought voters sensed the need for strong business management at the district.
A general manager for GTE, Walker repeatedly stressed the need for fiscal responsibility during his campaign.
Two-term board member Berry said Tuesday's election capped an unpredictable campaign. "The whole thing has surprised me, from the time I filed until Election Day. I didn't know what the feeling was in the community, with all the controversy that had gone on."