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Union-backed candidates lost all school board races in Citrus Heights. What happened?

From left to right, Tanya Kravchuk, Ben Avey, and Steve Miller, all beat teachers union-backed candidates in their races for seats on the San Juan Unified School District’s governing board in 2022. // Images source:

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By Sara Beth Williams–
Three of the four school board candidates backed by the San Juan Teachers Association lost in their bids to win or keep their seats on the San Juan Unified School District’s governing board in 2022 — a sharp contrast from the 2020 elections when all three teachers union-endorsed candidates won.

The San Juan school board is responsible for approving an annual budget and setting policies and goals that affect approximately 40,000 students throughout the entire district, which includes Citrus Heights, as well as Carmichael, Arden-Arcade, Fair Oaks and Orangevale.

Four seats were up for grabs on the seven-member board during the November 2022 elections, with three of those seats covering areas in Citrus Heights. Although school board positions are listed as non-partisan, the 10 candidates running ranged in political affiliation from far-right to independent, as well as Republican and Democrat.

According to the teachers association’s website, the SJTA endorsed Zima Creason of Area 3, Mike McKibbin of Area 5, Ray Ward of Area 6, and Murad “Moe” Sarama of Area 7.

Final election results were released Dec. 7 and Creason was the only SJTA-backed candidate to be re-elected, with her seat representing Carmichael and part of Arden-Arcade. Former Citrus Heights City Councilman Steve Miller won in Area 7, representing most of Citrus Heights.

Parent activist Ben Avey won in Area 6, and Tanya Kravchuk, a mom of four and a small business owner, unseated school board President Mike McKibbin in Area 5. Avey and Kravchuk were elected in areas that cover a portion of Citrus Heights.

What made 2022 different?
Frustration from parents over COVID-19 policies in the school district, as well as changes in how school board members were elected may have played a role in the outcome of November’s election.

San Juan Unified School District’s new 7-member trustee area map, for 2022. // SJUSD

In 2022, the district transitioned to electing school board members by trustee areas, rather than electing them district-wide. School board member candidates were required to live in their local trustee area and were also elected only by those in that same area, rather than district-wide.

That meant political endorsements from the major parties could have played a larger role in the outcomes this year, depending on the political leanings of each area. Of the winning candidates, Miller and Kravchuk were both endorsed by the Republican Party, while Creason was supported by the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, and Avey ran as an independent.

The district also expanded its ranks from five members to seven members, creating two open seats with no incumbents.

Avey, who won his Area 6 seat and also was founder of the San Juan Parents Association, said in an email to The Sentinel that the 2022 election results confirmed what he’d heard throughout the community both before and during his campaign.

“People wanted a change and we offered them a viable alternative to the status quo.”

The San Juan Parents Association endorsed three candidates in total, Avey said, including Kravchuk. Kravchuk has been vocal throughout many interviews regarding the need for more parental rights, and more district transparency.

“San Juan Unified must build trust with parents, teachers, and community partners by making each stakeholder a part of the decision-making process,” Kravchuk wrote on her website. She and Avey were also both critical of the district’s response during the pandemic.

According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, several parents in school districts across Sacramento County ran for school board positions with strong “parental rights” agendas. The paper reported that in the neighboring Sacramento City Unified, Natomas Unified, and Folsom-Cordova school districts, a “parent revolt” didn’t materialize in the election, but results indicate a different outcome in San Juan Unified.

Information from showed that six out of 10 candidates in the San Juan district listed being a parent of school-aged children as one of their motivating factors in choosing to run for the school board. Three other candidates indicated that all of their children had grown up attending San Juan schools.

The Democratic Party of Sacramento County could not be reached for comment before publication deadline, but attorney and GOP political consultant Matt Rexroad told The Sentinel last month that parents of school-aged children have been “frustrated” for several years by the district’s policies and overspending. He said teachers unions are known to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect “puppets” on schools boards in the region.

In the race for Area 5, incumbent McKibbin spent more than twice what Kravchuk spent to unseat him, with the local teachers union contributing more than $26,000 to the race. After all votes were counted, however, Kravchuk held an 8-point lead over McKibbin.

From December: Meet the MVHS grad who unseated San Juan’s school board president

Avey expanded on the frustrations that many parents held during the Fall of 2020, in his CapRadio interview. When asked about why he was running for school board, Avey outlined the difficulty he and other parents had in both accessing COVID-19 information from the district, and in having a dedicated space during board meetings where their concerns over COVID-19 distance learning and other related policies could be heard.

“In each case our argument was simple: parents see firsthand the impact of district policies on our kids,” Avey wrote in an online Q&A.

In an email to The Sentinel following his election, Avey said voters recognized the importance of having parents on the school board.

“In fact, voters were confused when we explained that four out of five board members didn’t have school age kids,” Avey said.

According to, Creason was the only board member, before the election, with a student still attending school in the San Juan district.

Miller, who won his race for the Area 7 seat, agreed that families’ concerns should be heard, and said in a phone call to The Sentinel that he hopes to further open communication with parents and families within Citrus Heights so they can come and voice their concerns.

Asked for comment on the outcome of the recent election, SJTA President Barry Roth did not address questions regarding why union-backed candidates may have lost in November. In a brief email reply, he said members of his association “have and will continue to build strong working relationships with school board members, because in the end, we have a shared goal of having a high-quality education system for all students.”

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