A contested race for the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District school board appears likely to end in a landslide victory for the incumbents, with board members Fiona Walter and Debbie Torok taking the lead, and candidate Catherine Vonnegut expected to secure the third seat up for election.
The latest round of election results, which rolled in at 6:37 a.m. Wednesday, show Walter leading with 11,928 votes, or 30.3 percent of the vote, followed by Torok at 10,807 (27.4 percent) and Vonnegut at 9,566 (24.3 percent). Trailing behind was controversial former Mountain View Whisman school board member Steve Nelson with 7,125 votes (18.1 percent).
Walter, who celebrated at a party for Mountain View City Council candidate Ellen Kamei on Tuesday night, said she was grateful for all of the help she received on the campaign trail, and is "very excited" to continue leading the district. She gave a shout-out to the other top two vote-getters, and said she looked forward to another four years working with Torok.
"I can't wait to keep working with Debbie," she said. "The district is lucky to have her."
Assuming the results hold, Vonnegut will replace school board member Joe Mitchner, who announced in August that he would step down after serving on the board for 12 years. Vonnegut told the Voice on election night that she was optimistic about the results, but with only half the precincts reporting she was hesitant to take a victory lap.
The numbers didn't budge much Wednesday morning, but with all the precincts reporting, Vonnegut said she was happy to see she was still in the lead and likely chosen by voters as the new trustee.
"I am very pleased to be the new school board member," she said.
Nelson, who billed himself as a "change agent" who would shake things up at the high school district, said he wasn't surprised by the election results that largely followed the status quo: incumbents retaining their seats across Mountain View school board elections.
The high school district's board of trustees have generally shied away from controversy and exercised quiet oversight of the district, which encompasses Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. The district frequently has uncontested elections or mid-term resignations followed by board appointments.
This year looked to be the same until school board member Joe Mitchner, whose term expires this year, opted not to run for re-election. Nelson also decided, with just days before the filing deadline, to join the race for the school board, vowing to fight for by-district elections that balance representation across geographic boundaries.
Throughout the election, candidates largely hailed Mountain View-Los Altos as well-run with a strong reputation, supporting its teachers with some of the highest salaries in the state and touting high graduation rates and strong performance on Advanced Placement (AP) tests. Incumbents pointed to strong efforts already in place to reduce the achievement gap, while the challengers -- Nelson and Vonnegut -- suggested they would back intervention policies and resources designed to keep students from falling behind.
The winners of the Nov. 6 election will have their hands full when they are sworn in next month, contending with major construction plans, replacing retiring Superintendent Jeff Harding and continuing a hard-fought battle to raise achievement among underserved students.