Election Preview: What's on the Ballot in Orange County in 2024?

Three seats on the Orange County Board of Education and a recall election in Orange Unified will be decided in the March 5, 2024 primary.

Election Preview: What's on the Ballot in Orange County in 2024?
Photo by Jonathan Simcoe / Unsplash

We haven’t officially said goodbye to 2023 yet but the campaign season has already begun for 2024. 

Voters across Orange County can vote in at least two elections next year. The first election of 2024 is the Presidential Primary Election and will take place on March 5. We’ll head back to the polls on November 5, 2024 for the General Election. 

What offices related to education are on the March ballot?

Three seats on the five-member Orange County Board of Education will be on the March ballot. The board has oversight over the budget for the Orange County Department of Education and acts as an appeals board for students seeking to transfer schools as well as for charter schools trying to establish campuses in Orange County school districts. 

December 8 was the deadline for candidates to declare their candidacy for the OCBE races which are nonpartisan. All three incumbents are running for re-election and each one is facing just one opponent. Here's a brief look at who is running:

OCBE Trustee Area 1 covers parts of Anaheim, Garden Grove, Orange, Santa Ana, Stanton, and Tustin.

Incumbent Jorge Valdes will run to continue as the representative for Trustee Area 1 on the OCBE. Valdes, an attorney and father of two, was appointed to the seat in 2022 after trustee Beckie Gomez resigned following a lawsuit challenging her ability to serve both as an OCBE trustee and a city council member in Tustin. In a video on the OCBE website, Valdes pointed to a lack of information for parents as a top concern. “It concerns me that, particularly in some of the areas that I represent, that parents don't know that they have the option of picking another school inside the district or picking a school that's outside the district where that may not be granted, in which case it would come up for an appeal to us (OCBE), or sending their child to a charter school.”

Beatriz “Bea” Mendoza is challenging Valdes on the March ballot. Mendoza is a mother of three and describes herself as a “non-profit executive, longtime community volunteer, education policy expert” on her campaign website, which also shows an endorsement from Gomez. Mendoza writes on the website that if she’s elected she will reduce class sizes, cut wasteful spending, and focus on student mental health “so no children get left behind.” 

OCBE Trustee Area 3 covers Yorba Linda, Brea, Villa Park and portions of Irvine, Anaheim, Fullerton, Orange, La Habra, and Tustin. 

Having served on the OCBE since 1996, Ken Williams, Jr., is running again to represent Trustee Area 3. Williams is a father of three, a primary care physician, and “promotes parental rights, charter schools and educational choice, greater personal responsibility, limited government, public safety and safe schools, high academic standards, educational accountability, and a ‘back to basics’ and traditional approach to education,” according to his profile on the OCBE website

Nancy Watkins, Ed.D., a longtime teacher and head of the Educational Doctoral Program at California State University Fullerton, is running against Williams. According to her website, Watkins has 30 years of experience in K-12 schools, is a mother of three and is “fighting for fiscal responsibility, rigorous academic programs, and quality education for all students.”

OCBE Trustee Area 4 covers parts of La Habra, Westminster, Buena Park, Fullerton, La Palma, and Stanton. 

Tim Shaw is running for re-election to represent Trustee Area 4 on the OCBE. He first was elected in 2020 but resigned in 2021 amid a lawsuit challenging his ability to simultaneously serve as a trustee and a member of the La Habra city council. He was reappointed to his OCBE seat in 2021 after resigning from the La Habra city council and won re-election in 2022. According to his profile on the OCBE website, the father of six and political science professor said he sees the biggest challenge in education as the learning loss students experienced during the pandemic. His suggestion is to focus on “reading, writing and arithmetic and this … ‘back to basics’ approach” in the curriculum.

David Johnson, a member of the Westminster School District Board of Trustees, is challenging Shaw in 2024. Johnson is a father of two, a management consultant, and serves on the Orange County Committee for School Board Organization, according to his campaign website. Johnson writes that he’s running to bring “a parents’ voice” to the OCBE. He adds: “We need to reverse its reckless partisan agenda that harms our students and schools.”

And a reminder, students can now petition to serve on the OCBE due to a new law that took effect this year. Read more about that on SpotlightSchools.com.

Orange Unified recall election on the March ballot 

Voters in the Orange Unified School District will consider whether to recall two members of their board of education in the March primary.

Trustees Rick Ledesma and Madison Miner could be removed from office if the recall passes. If they are ousted by voters, one of three things can happen, reports The Orange County Register

Based on the district’s bylaws, a special election could be scheduled following the release of the official results of the recall election; the district could wait until the November 5 election to fill the seats; or the board can immediately appoint new trustees to fill out Miner and Ledesma’s terms which end in 2026.

The recall election was triggered by a group of parents, teachers, and others opposed to actions by the conservative board majority that was elected in November 2022. Talk of the recall first started in January after a split board fired Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen during a special meeting held during the district’s winter recess.

A group supporting the board majority has been trying to counter the pro-recall campaign’s message. Both sides are frequent speakers at recent OUSD board meetings

About 26,000 students attend OUSD schools and its boundaries encompass the cities of Orange, Villa Park, Anaheim, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and unincorporated county areas, according to the district’s website.

Don’t forget: The last day to register to vote in the March 5 primary is February 20, 2024. You can register to vote here

District school board elections are on the November ballot

School boards governing the individual 28 public school districts in Orange County will have elections on the November 5, 2024 ballot.

In the Los Alamitos Unified School District, two of the current incumbents on the board told Spotlight Schools they are still deciding whether to seek re-election in 2024.

Board President Megan Cutuli has been a trustee since 2000. In a phone interview last month, Cutuli said she has not made any “final decisions” regarding 2024. “I think it’s too early to make one,” she shared.

Scott Fayette first earned his seat on the Los Alamitos USD board in 2020 when he was the only candidate to file qualifying paperwork to run for the seat. His first term was marked by governing during the Covid-19 pandemic and being targeted in two failed recall efforts. "My plans for next year, I still haven’t decided," Fayette said in a phone interview last month.

Meanwhile, board member Chris Forehan said he will seek re-election to the Los Alamitos USD board next November.

Fayette and Cutuli still have plenty of time to determine their plans for 2024. Candidates wishing to run must file the necessary paperwork between July 15, 2024 through August 9, 2024. To qualify for the ballot you need to be at least 18 years old and a registered voter living in the area you want to represent. For more information on how to become a candidate for your local school board, visit ocvote.gov

We’ll have much more coverage of the races for the Orange County Board of Education, the OUSD recall and all of the school board races in O.C. happening in 2024. Let us know what you want our election stories to cover by emailing hello@spotlightschools.com

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