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School Board trustees go on record in favor of Berryhill
The Ceres School Board voted 7-0 Thursday, Sept. 4 to pass a resolution endorsing former trustee Bill Berryhill for California State Assembly - a move that may stir controversy.

"It's a very nice gesture on their part," said Berryhill, who was on hand to pick up the resolution. "It means a great deal to me. It's a real honor."

While sources say the board was allowed by law to pass the resolution favoring Berryhill, Tom Changnon, superintendent of schools in Stanislaus County, said boards rarely endorse candidates. The endorsement raised eyebrows at the political sciences department at California State University, Stanislaus.

"It's unusual to say the least," said political science professor Larry Giventer at CSUS. "I think it violates the spirit of the California Constitution, if not the letter."

Giventer based his comments on a section of the state Constitution that forbids political parties or central committees from supporting or opposing candidates for non-partisan offices. The intent of the law, he said, goes the other way - in that school boards should not delve into partisan politics.

"It's clear that an individual School Board trustee could express their opinion and a School Board collectively can and does express its opinion with respect to non-partisan propositions. But it seems to me that school boards, as a body ... might want to refrain from endorsing a partisan candidate."

When asked if the School Board would experience any backlash for endorsing a political candidate, Ceres Unified School District Superintendent Walt Hanline said: "I don't see any issue with it. They (trustees) realize he will be a very positive force and voice in public education if he's elected to the Assembly. He will do in Sacramento what he did for our district. Bill brings people together. That's a critical thing."

Trustee Mike Welsh also defended the board's passing the ordinance.

"I'm just thrilled the board chose to do it," said Welsh. "We're not comparing ourselves with other people. We think outside the box. I don't see a problem with it."

Welsh said he would have endorsed Berryhill no matter his party. "He's a mentor and a friend. We need someone like that there. We totally respect what he's done here. He didn't do it single-handedly, but he directed it."

All seven trustees - Welsh, Betty Davis, Teresa Guerrero, Eric Ingwerson, Faye Lane, Jim Kinard and Edgar Romo - voted to support Berryhill in resolution form.

Giventer said it would have been better if individual trustees made an endorsement.

"Collectively they should be paying attention to School Board issues," said Giventer. "There could have been an endorsement ad in which each of them sign up. But as an official act as part of a School Board body ... I don't think that's appropriate."

Berryhill served on the Ceres School Board for 11 years, from 1997 to 2008. He chaired the Measure J Committee, which helped to successfully pass an property assessment that precipitated in the building of six new schools, including Central Valley High School, in two years. Measure J also allowed CUSD to provide more than $166 million of new and modernized facilities for CUSD. He also fought for competitive salaries for all district employees.

Hanline called Berryhill "the most instrumental leader in bringing our district to where it is today. He believes very strongly in public education."

Berryhill stepped down as a board trustee in May to campaign for the 26th state Assembly District seat. Incumbent Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian is being termed out of office but is running for the state Senate.

He's been hard at work organizing fundraisers, speaking to various organizations, walking door-to-door to meet voters and studying up on issues.

"It's very hectic," Berryhill said. "There's almost something every night of the week."

Berryhill's opponent in the Nov. 4, Democrat John Eisenhut of Turlock, declined to comment on the board's resolution.

At the same meeting, the School Board passed a resolution encouraging and supporting all schools within CUSD in recognizing and celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15).