The race for seats on Stockton Unified’s Board of Trustees just veered into ugly territory when a last-minute mailer sent by a group calling itself “Stockton Kids First” hit some local households Saturday.
That’s perhaps not entirely unexpected, given the hotly contested race for a voice on a board that has the potential of overseeing selection of the next superintendent and a contentious contract dispute between the teachers union and the district.
What is unusual is who is – or isn’t – behind the mailer, as well as a succession of emails sent out the night of Oct. 14 from the group claiming four candidates – Patricia Hague, Angela Phillips, Andrea Burrise and Marc Zamarippa – support a 19.5 percent raise for teachers.
The flier and email list an address of 1502 St. Marks Plaza in Stockton, but with no suite number. A call to San Joaquin County’s Registrar of Voters revealed the group is registered to CPA Ted Bestolarides, a trustee on the Lincoln Unified School District. The California Secretary of State lists Bestolarides’ phone number with the group’s state registration under the name “STOCKTON KIDS FIRST SUPPORTING FLORES, MENDEZ, MIDURA AND SMITH AND OPPOSING BURRISE, ZAMARIPPA, PHILLIPS AND HAGUE FOR SCHOOL BOARD 2014.”
Contacted shortly after the initial emails went out, Bestolarides declined to speak with me, but he directed his receptionist to tell me that he is not formally associated with the group and had only done it a favor by completing registration paperwork and allowing the group to use his mailing address. He referred me to SUSD parent and activist Cecilia Mendez, whom both he and Republican Dean Andal identified as the official spokeswoman for the group. (Andal, also a former Lincoln trustee, and Bestolarides worked to fight Stockton’s ¾-cent sales tax and Bestolarides’ wife, Kelley, was campaign coordinator for Andal’s state Assembly race in 1992.) Surprising, Burrise said, since Mendez had been campaigning on her behalf.
Mendez has not returned repeated phone calls and text messages for comment over the past 10 days, but she has repeatedly denied to Burrise that she is associated with the group and told Burrise on Oct. 16 that she “demands an interview with the newspaper.” On Monday, she claimed to Burrise that she did in fact speak with me (she did not) and, crying, “insisted she was not behind this.”
So far, no one is stepping forward to claim responsibility for the group – or answer what candidates are saying are patently false claims on teachers’ raises, evaluations, and candidates’ stances on class size. The mailer cites two Sept. 21 Record articles as a source; nowhere in either are there any mention that any candidate supports what the flier claims they do.
“This experience has revealed just how deep Stockton political corruption runs, much deeper than I could have imagined,” Burrise said in an email Saturday. “It’s makes me both angry and sad for our community. We can do better.”
Something indeed is “rotten to the core” – it just may not be who you’d expect.