OAKLAND -- Jumoke Hinton Hodge faces two challengers in her bid for re-election to the Oakland school board: Richard Fuentes, a City Council aide, and Benjamin Lang, a retired school administrator.
Hinton Hodge, who represents District 3 (West Oakland/Adams Point), was first elected four years ago. In 2009, she and her colleagues hired Tony Smith to be the district's first permanent superintendent since Oakland Unified's 2003 state takeover. She began serving on the board just as the district began to emerge from state receivership and during a period of severe cutbacks in state education spending. She voted last fall to approve a school district downsizing plan that included school closures.
Now, Hinton Hodge faces a tough challenge by Fuentes, who had raised more than $28,000 as of June 30 -- about four times the amount reported by Hinton Hodge's campaign. That's more than any other Oakland school board candidate has raised in the last decade, Fuentes said.
Fuentes's donors include prominent developers and lobbyists such as Phil Tagami and Lily Hu. But he notes that he has also won the support of labor organizations such as the Oakland teachers union and of Oakland residents who believe in his ability to improve West Oakland's schools. Fewer children live in West Oakland than they did a decade ago, and many of those who remain attend public or private schools in other parts of the city with better reputations.
"The incumbent has had four years to get something done, and we've had very little results," he said.
But Hinton Hodge says she doesn't think Fuentes has "anything to offer at all." And both she and Lang take issue with Fuentes's ballot designation, in which he describes himself as an "Educator/Legislative Director." Fuentes said he is an educator because he gives a guest lecture about local government to students at California College of the Arts for one day each term.
"I just think it's straight deception," Hinton Hodge said.
Fuentes, an aide to City Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, is president of Hoover Elementary's School Site Council, a body which makes decisions about school spending and improvement plans. He said the time he has spent at his neighborhood school has given him a strong understanding of what schools need and how they operate. He began raising money for his campaign in 2011 and has mounted an aggressive door-knocking campaign, blanketing the district with campaign materials with photos of him reading to children.
Lang, whose career in public education began as a substitute teacher in Oakland, is taking a more passive approach to the race. The Adams Point resident said he is not raising money or doing much campaigning. He is hoping his experience as director of educational technology for Orinda's public schools will convince voters he has the right set of skills to serve on the board.
"I have faith in the Oakland voters that they'll do their homework and they'll see that I'm the most qualified person for the job," Lang said.
Hinton Hodge says she is proud of the work the school district has done since 2009, including the establishment of a science, technology, engineering and math initiative in West Oakland schools. But midway through her term, she said, she grew frustrated by the "stagnation" in the district and the city and wondered whether she was politically savvy enough to be effective. At one point, she thought she might not run for re-election.
"I had to re-evaluate why I was in the job," she said.
Ultimately, she said, decided she was in the best position to help the school system implement the superintendent's initiatives, including the STEM project in West Oakland.
Lang says he has the right fiscal experience for the job, as he was responsible for managing his department's budget in Orinda. Now, he said, he helps to manage the technology budget for the Novato school district, where he works as a consultant. He said Oakland took him in 38 years ago when he was an undergraduate working his way through college at San Francisco State, and that he owes the city.
"I'm not looking at a political career," Lang said. "I'd like a chance to pay back the community."
Jumoke Hinton Hodge
Occupation: School board director, program director at People's Grocery
Elected history: Elected in 2008 to the Oakland school board.
Personal: Raised four children in West Oakland and was a parent organizer before her election.
Occupation: Legislative director for City Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente
Elected history: California Democratic Party Delegate for Assembly District 18
Personal: Growing up near South Central in Los Angeles, he experienced poverty, violence and failing schools firsthand. He could not read or write in English until the fifth grade. Despite this challenging start, he went on to become the first person in his family to graduate from college.
Education: Bachelor's in political science, CSU Los Angeles
Occupation: Retired public schoolteacher and administrator
Elected history: None
Personal: A resident of District 3 for 38 years. A background in curriculum and school finance.
Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees in political science; MS in educational technology; teaching credential; administrative credential