Candidates vie to replace retiring VUSD School Board member


Some of the local political figures backing each candidate. Infographic by: Sam Coats

Sam Coats

As the November elections draw closer, Jerry Dannenberg, Deborah Meyer-Morris, and Madhu Bajaj are locked in a heated race to replace retiring trustee, John Walker on the Ventura Unified School District School Board.

Some of the local political figures backing each candidate. Infographic by: Sam Coats

This will be the first Board election ever to utilize the district system, which was implemented earlier this year. While in past years voters from the entire district would be able to vote for all trustees, this was changed to a system in which each of five districts elects a trustee. The new system was implemented under threat of lawsuit, in order to ensure that lower-income voters and Latinos on the East and West sides of town are not drowned out by the white majority and higher-income neighborhoods in between. District (or “Area”) 4–Walker’s seat– covers a wide swath of the East End, taking in most of Saticoy and the areas around Juanamaria and Poinsettia schools.

The School Board is a body of five elected trustees that works in coordination with the superintendent to set direction and policy for all the public K-12 schools in Ventura. It is charged with overseeing the District’s budget, handling some disciplinary matters and setting curriculum for schools to teach.

A map of the School Board districts adopted by VUSD earlier this year. Map from: Ventura County Office of Education

The campaign has focused on issues of communication between all parties in the education system — parents, teachers and district officials alike. After the retirement of longtime Superintendent Trudy Arriaga, her successor Michael Babb was forced out over concerns about the district’s responsiveness to parent complaints. Other issues in the campaign include the district’s response to racist bullying incidents at VUSD schools, and the contentious fight with the Ventura Unified Education Association teachers union over scheduled increases in take-home pay for educators.

Dannenberg, endorsed by trustee Walker, is focusing on his extensive experience in the education system as he vies for the seat.

“In the way of background, I’ve got 41 years’ experience in public education, as a teacher and a school administrator,” said Dannenberg. “When I came to Ventura, I came as Principal of Juanamaria School. I worked in the District Office for a number of years as Superintendent of Curriculum Instruction… That gives me a knowledge of the history of the District, and where the district’s been… I think I can be of help to the new Administration, in the sense that I have some history that I can share with them, and make them understand how the District got to where it’s at now.”

Meyer-Morris, a local attorney, notes that her longtime advocacy against school bullying has produced concrete results.

“I’ve been working on this issue of bullying and reporting it for about four years,” stated Meyer-Morris. “I’ve actually been able to work with the school district to have them revise the Uniform Complaint Process Notice of Parent’s Rights, so this new… big yellow packet [has] been revised and has information in there telling parents how to report these things properly. Also, when you go to the landing page of the website, you see information about that, information about reporting Title IX things.”

Bajaj, meanwhile, emphasizes the necessity of building grassroots advocacy for teacher pay increases, in order to leverage the State Government into boosting funding.

“While there’s a lot of rewards to working in education, it is very hard work… I think that, as a community, we all know that our educators and staff are underpaid,” Majaj said of the salary disputes. “I think we need to build support for education and for salaries, because without people on campuses teaching our kids, keeping our campuses clean… we don’t have school. It’s really important that, locally, we have advocacy work around the need for an increase in budget for our programs for our state.”

The election will be held on Tuesday, November 6, concurrently with the other 2018 general elections for state and federal office. If you will be 18 by then, voter registration and pre-registration forms can be found in the Career Center, or you can register to vote online at

The Cougar Press published an earlier version of an article omitting that Deborah Meyer-Morris had been endorsed by the Ventura County Democratic Committee and the Ventura Democratic Club. TCP apologizes for the unintentional omission of this important information.