In a 4-2 vote, the Lodi Unified School District Board of Trustees appointed retired Stockton police officer Ralph Womack as an interim trustee for a region in North Stockton.
The appointment of a new trustee to replace Ken Davis’ vacated seat Trustee Area 2 seat on the board came down to a difference of philosophy. Six existing board members were faced with choosing between a retired Lodi high school teacher and athletic director in Gary Knackstedt, and a retired Vietnam veteran and Stockton police captain in Ralph Womack.
It took less than an hour for the board and the public to fire their questions at Knackstedt and Womack. Both candidates wore dark pinstriped suits and alternately answered questions from their seats at a small table before the board.
One empty chair stood at the end of the line of current trustees, reserved for the man chosen to replace Ken Davis as trustee for Area 2. The interim appointment will last until December of 2012, when the position will be open for election.
Davis stepped down from the board in October after he was linked to a grade changing scandal at Liberty High School.
Davis held the seat for more than 19 years, observed board president George Neely as he opened the meeting.
“Don’t be intimidated by that, gentlemen,” Neely said.
Knackstedt’s main selling point was his years of experience working in Lodi Unified. After 37 years as a Lodi High School teacher, coach and athletic director, Knackstedt felt he had built a connection with the education community.
“I’ve worked with teachers, maintenance operators, administrators. I’m ready to hit the ground running,” he said. Serving on the board, he said, is a natural next step in his career.
Womack countered Knackstedt by emphasizing his military and police background.
“I knew about arresting people and what have you, but I also have background on the prevention side,” said Womack. After seeing and apprehending the results of kids who aren’t successful in school, Womack said he wants to take the opportunity to address the dropout rates.
Both candidates took to the Lodi Unified website for research on the board and its duties. Knackstedt also visited a handful of Area 2 schools to meet with the principals, teachers and a few parents, who he said were very welcoming.
“It sounds hokey, but it made me feel really good,” he said. “I want to be a part of that.”
Womack and Knackstedt both stumbled when asked about state and federal education initiatives, such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
A solitary question from the public was submitted by Jeff Johnston, president of the Lodi teacher’s union, who wanted to know how the candidates viewed the role of labor groups in connection with the school board.
Womack said he considers both the teachers’ and the classified employees’ unions to be key stakeholders in board decisions.
Knackstedt noted that the unions are made up of very dedicated people.
“(Lodi Education Association) beats things to death when they have an issue,” he joked.
When there were no more questions to ask, Neely thanked both men for applying to the position.
“We’re in a no-lose situation,” said Neely. But the board is already well-represented by retired teachers, he said, so he nominated Womack for the job. The final vote was 4-2 in favor of appointing Womack, with trustees Ruth Davis and Ron Heberle voting against.
After the meeting adjourned, Knackstedt questioned whether a board of education needed members who were not educators themselves, but chalked it up to a difference of philosophy.
In a previous interview, Womack confirmed his intention to run for a full term once the interim appointment is complete.
Knackstedt hasn’t yet decided whether he will run for election next year.
“A year’s a long ways away,” said Knackstedt. “I will not write it off.”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.