Petaluma school board races set

Three candidates are vying for two seats on the board of Petaluma’s largest school district. Another three candidates are seeking seats on a large east side school district in the Nov. 8 election.

In the Petaluma Joint Union High School District, which operates the 7,500-student Petaluma City Schools, incumbent board member Mary Johnson is facing challengers Ellen Webster and Frank Lynch. Three newcomers - Heather Burton, Marilyn Cohoe and Jonathan Lenz - are competing for two vacant seats on the five-school Old Adobe Union School District board.

Elections in all other publicly elected boards in the Petaluma area have been canceled due to a lack of candidates.

Johnson, a mother of three boys with a background in business, has been serving on the district board since March, when she replaced departing board member Mary Schafer. She said her former career as a vice president of sales for a large company has provided her the experience to handle district finances. She also has an MBA from Dominican College.

“I love it. I’ve been super excited to serve the Petaluma school community for the past six months,” Johnson said. “I’m running because I’m qualified and I have the time and energy to do it.”

Webster, 61, an English and drama teacher at Tomales High School for the past 27 years, said she would like to see the district focus more on students and classroom activities and less on administration. The mother of two grown children and a grandmother to two, she has served on a number of hiring and budget committees in her career in education.

“I put students first,” she said. “I can bring a point of view to the board that is more realistic, and I can be a good conduit between teachers, students and the administration.”

Lynch, the former principal at Petaluma High School, has had a long career in public school administration. He was principal at Petaluma High for nine years before leaving in 1995 to become superintendent of King City Joint Union High School District in Monterey County.

He also worked as superintendent of West Sonoma County Union High School District for two years, the interim principal at Berkeley High School, the district and county superintendent of Del Norte County for four years and the superintendent of Lompoc Unified School District for four years. In 2011, he returned to Petaluma High School, becoming co-interim principal for one year.

“With 36 years of service in public education, I want to give something back to the community that I love,” Lynch, 69, said in an email. “Additionally, I have two grandkids who will be going through the school system.”

Key issues the district faces include spending proceeds from a $21 million bond measure in 2014 and technology in the classroom. The district’s $1.4 million initiative to provide each student with an iPad using bond proceeds last year met resistance from some parents, who were concerned about children’s access to the internet and questioned the safety of using Wi-Fi.

Troy Sanderson, the other incumbent on the Petaluma Joint Union High School District board, did not file papers to run in this election.

In the Old Adobe Union School District, incumbents Jennifer Ann Cusimano and Marlene Abel are not seeking reelection, opening up two seats for the three challengers.

Burton, a system analyst for the County of Marin’s finance department, said her experience in public sector budgeting will help her on the board. A mother of two district students, she said she wants to make all of the schools in the district more inclusive.

“I would love to be part of an organization that empowers kids in our district,” said Burton, 45.

Cohoe, 69, who raised a son and retired after a 40-year career mostly in telecommunications, is a volunteer at Old Adobe Elementary School, where her granddaughter attended. She has experience as an elected union officer and as a manager.

“The quality of education is of the utmost importance,” said Cohoe. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time (as a volunteer). I wanted to become more involved.”

Lenz, a public school teacher with 14 years of experience and a father of four, said he is running to improve learning and increase community engagement in the district.

“As a member of the Old Adobe community, I want to take advantage of this opportunity to be engaged with the district at the highest level and then work to create conditions that further support community input, engagement and involvement with the district,” he said in an email.

The other Petaluma-area school districts that did not have enough qualified candidates to hold an election are the Cinnabar School District, where incumbents Jennifer Elu and Catherine Ann Thompson retain seats; Dunham School District, incumbent Lisa Clementino-Poncia retains one seat and one seat will be appointed by the board; Liberty School District, incumbent Eric Brooks retains a seat and candidate Beldon Panter assumes the other seat; Two Rock School District, incumbents Gayleen Maas and John Silvestrini retain seats; Waugh School District, incumbents Todd Virkus and Jennifer Bagwell retain seats; and Wilmar School District, incumbents David Weinstock, Stephen Collins and Rick Warner retain seats.

The Petaluma Health Care District and Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District also did not have enough candidates to hold an election. Incumbents Elece Hempel, Fran Adams and Joe Stern retain seats and candidate Becky Monday assumes a seat on the health care district. Incumbents Harold Griffith, Mark Hemmendinger and Brian Proteau retain seats on the fire protection district while the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will appoint a member to the final seat.

(Contact Matt Brown at

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