Incumbents Ricky Lara and Vedamarie Alvarez-Flores were re-elected to the Santa Maria-Bonita School District board of education Tuesday, holding off a challenge from two first-time candidates.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting unofficial results as of 11:25 p.m., Lara took first in the field with 4,698 votes, or 46.35 percent. Fellow incumbent Vedamarie Alvarez-Flores placed second with 4,017 votes, or 39.63 percent, and Abraham Melendrez took third with 3,265 votes, or 32.22 percent.
Gary Michaels was trailing the other candidates with 2,132 votes, or 21.04 percent.
"I'm proud of what we accomplished," said Melendrez, who spent his election night celebrating with other Santa Maria Valley Democrats. Though he lost by a nearly 800-vote margin, Melendrez said he believes his campaign brought some of his platform positions to the forefront of the race.
"I really wanted to run to push some of these issues forward, even if it's wasn't for my sake," he said.
Given the district's high underserved student population — 89.2 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 58.5 percent are classified as English learners — candidates campaigned on platforms that prioritized improving student achievement, enhancing engagement, and increasing services and referrals for parents and families.
Elected in 2016 to fill the remaining two years of a vacant term, Alvarez-Flores, a 39-year former teacher and longtime mentor to rookie educators, sought her first full term as a member of the board. She listed improving parent engagement and increasing public awareness as two of her priorities.
First-term incumbent Lara, an agricultural production supervisor, campaigned on promises to increase the number of enrichment opportunities available at district schools and support students with special needs.
Melendrez, one of two challengers, pledged to prioritize student achievement and increase fiscal oversight of LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) funds used by the district.
The only self-described "conservative" school board candidate, Michaels told voters during an October forum that, if elected, he would work on improving student achievement and engagement.