This story was updated on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m.

Jorge Lerma will represent District 5 on the Oakland Unified school board. On Friday, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters reported Lerma had received 2,024 votes to Ritzie-Hernandez’s 1,514.

Under state law, the registrar had to tally mail-in ballots received up to one week after Election Day, resulting in a race that didn’t have final, certified results until today.

But Lerma had a big lead early on and showed confidence on Nov. 7 after the first results were posted online.

“It’s still early in the vote counting but it looks like the District 5 community is rallying around #teamJorge and our vision for OUSD,” Lerma posted on his campaign’s Facebook page Tuesday evening.

During the campaign, Lerma said he wants to focus on closing achievement gaps for Black and Latino students whose academic outcomes fall far below their peers. Lerma is a champion for ethnic studies and culturally relevant lessons, and he wants to see more innovation in schools

“I want to know why in District 5 we have some of the best schools and we have some of the worst schools,” Lerma told The Oaklandside last month. “That’s a major disparity. How can we change that? I will be a voice for that change.”

Ritzie-Hernandez’s experiences as a newcomer student attending Oakland public schools, being a translator for her parents navigating the school system, and facing bullying, influenced her campaign. Ritzie-Hernandez wants to see stronger family and community engagement from OUSD, and she wants to bring more transparency to the district budget. 

“Once your families are engaged, the entire community benefits, including students. Teachers have better working conditions, students are learning academically and we have a dual generational growth where families are going into higher education or finding a career or a path and their students are also growing academically,” Ritzie-Hernandez said in an interview last month.

Why a special election?

Nearly 17,000 District 5 residents cast a vote in the 2020 race, which elected current School Board President Mike Hutchinson. Because of a redistricting change in 2021, Hutchinson ran for the District 4 seat in November 2022, and won a narrow victory over Nick Resnick through ranked-choice voting. In March this year, Hutchinson vacated his District 5 seat and was sworn into the District 4 position, leaving a vacancy.

The boundary changes for District 5 caused some confusion early in the campaign, with both candidates nearly being disqualified from the ballot because they had insufficient signatures from residents who lived within the old boundaries, which are the ones used for this race since it is to fulfill the remainder of Hutchinson’s term. 

The winner of this race will provide a pivotal vote on a board that has deadlocked on several issues this year. Over the next few months, the board will almost certainly have to make decisions about school closures and consolidations and address declining enrollment. Earlier this year, the board voted to rescind a plan that would have closed five schools and reduced one K-8 school to an elementary.

The board also hopes to make its way out of financial receivership, which will take major budget decisions, including incorporating a new contract for teachers that will cost $110 million over the next three years. The district also has to pay off an outstanding loan and pass a fiscal systems audit, and grapple with flat enrollment and increasing health insurance costs.

Darwin BondGraham contributed to this reporting.

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.