Down to the Wire


TRUCKEE – With the Nov. 8 election day right around the corner, the fight for a seat on the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District’s (TTUSD) school board has reached a breaking point. On the ballot are six candidates; Diana “DeeDee” Driller, Patrick Mooney, Denyelle Nishimori, Shannon Hansen, Richard Ludke, and Heather Whitney, are all vying for three open seats on the board. 

Driller, the only candidate running for reelection, explains that this local race is an example of national trends seen in entry level politics.  Driller explains that candidates only need to live in their representative area. Prior experience in politics – or education – aren’t a necessity in the race, leaving citizens who may be grossly unqualified with the opportunity to make decisions with real consequences not affecting the school board members, but for the over four thousand students in the district. 

“That is my fear”,  Driller says. 

After the past few years school boards in many areas of the nation, including TTUSD’s very own, have seen an onslaught of frustrated parents, community members, and even some teachers attending meetings who have used the space to express their outrage, specifically during the heights of the pandemic, leaving each discussion turning into more of a debate each time. What once was an under-attended meeting for concerned parents, has quickly become a battleground.  

In a letter to California Governor, Gavin Newsom, CEO & Executive Director of the California School Boards Association, Vernon M. Billy, expressed his own displeasure with the newfound environment. “Yet, nothing in recent memory could have prepared trustees for the onslaught they face today” Billy shares the physically and verbally disturbing events board members have endured, explaining that board members have faced physical and verbal attacks. “We are increasingly witnessing active attempts to undermine the democratic process through intimidation, threats, and violence.” claims Billy. 

Despite the hostile environment school board meetings have become, Driller feel’s that they still were able to make improvements within the district with their decisions, bettering the lives of teachers and students. 

“With the passage of both bonds: Measures E and U, and the recent completion of nearly all the facility updates, our school sites have been upgraded, modified, and improved to meet safety needs as well as population fluctuation and curriculum additions. This was all completed during the height of the pandemic, which was an amazing accomplishment.” shares Driller. 

However, Driller’s opponent Shannon Hansen, feels that the current pace of instruction the school board follows is outdated, and that there is a lack of parent perspective on the current board. 

“The incumbent that I’m running against has been on the school board for 12 years, she has generationally aged out.” Hansen says. 

Hansen went on to explain that without children of Driller’s own currently attending school in the district, the decisions and policies passed have no direct effects on members of the board, such as her opponent. 

Hansen states, “But I am in the generation where the children of our school, they’re my friends.” Hansen finds this lack of perspective to be a bigger problem. “Because our board isn’t made of parents, so they look at children completely differently than a parent looks at a child. And that just has to be the bottom line.”

Despite Hasens comment, Candidate Patrick Mooney shares in his statement of candidate, “I have three children who have attended TTUSD schools since kindergarten – two who have graduated and one who is still enrolled. I am deeply vested in this district’s success”. 

Even though Hansen stresses the importance in a board made up of parents, she claims Ludke’s non-parent perspective is a major reason for running alongside him.

“So that’s where Richard comes in for me, is to be the voice of the childless tax payer” Hansen states, explaining that Ludke plays an important role of representing those in the community without children in the district but who pay property taxes. 

“Yeah, and Heather’s just another parent, we are not politicians, we did not know what we were getting ourselves into.” Hansen remarked. 

One reason Hansen finds herself siding with candidates, Whitney and Ludke, is because of a mutually shared prioritization of input from all walks of the community, even from those with no affiliation to the schools in the district at all, in major school board decisions.

“The teacher’s union said they invited me. I did not receive their invitation. I guess they got lost in the mail.” Hansen states followed by a dissatisfied pause, recalling herself not being invited to interview for an endorsement from TTEA

The Tahoe Truckee Education Association (TTEA) restates they invited all candidates to interview for endorsement. “Our local teachers’ association (TTEA) held an open endorsement process for all candidates. We contacted all candidates that submitted public contact information with their election filings through Placer County by email to invite them to participate.” 

A TTEA statement went on to explain that endorsement meetings were held with all candidates who responded to their endorsement questionnaire which contained identical information for all candidates. 

Despite previous claims that her campaign had been separate from Whitney and Ludke’s, Hansen explains that with five seats on the school board representation of each kind of community is vital. Hansen explains that she sides with Ludke because his voice is different, unlike that of the candidates endorsed by the Teacher’s Union, Mooney, Driller, and Nishimori, who she describes as a board of five like minded people elected which may as well be just one person making the decisions for everyone. 

Like her fellow candidate, Ludke had his own opinions regarding the claims and discussions of endorsements among the race. Both candidates Hansen and Ludke received an endorsement from The American Council as well as the CAGOP Parent Revolt. Both of these organizations support candidates with specific ideologies.

The American Council, an openly religious political activist committee based in Rocklin who have a focus of, “Over 38 million Christians do not vote, and it’s our mission to get every Bible-believing American to the ballot box. More than voting, we recruit, train, and support candidates who align with a Biblical worldview and champion life, liberty, and morality.” according to their website. 

Both Hansen and Ludke explain that neither of them were notified of their endorsements, and that the American council and Parent Revolt had begun endorsing each of their campaigns on their own accord;

According to their website, to be endorsed by the American council candidates must go through an extensive vetting process to give members at the Council an idea of their values, campaign, priorities, etc. Following the endorsement application many candidates are requested to Zoom for any additional processes. 

The American Council did not respond to a request for verification of their stated vetting process for Ludke and Hansen.

Similarly to the Parent Revolt, a program focused on recruiting Republican candidates to run for local education offices to give parents a voice in opposition to what they refer to as, “special interests and teachers unions”, The Parent Revolt prioritizes conservitive voice in their decision making, and ultimately in getting their beliefs across to others. Both the Parent Revolt and The American Council endorse Ludke while Hansen is now only endorsed by the Parent Revolt. 

Ludke hasn’t removed his name from the American Council’s or Parent Revolt’s endorsements despite claiming that it was a priority of his campaign, Ludke’s dissatisfaction seemed less on his own endorsements and more directed at the endorsement made by the teacher’s union, the Tahoe Truckee Education Association (TTEA). 

Ludke explains that while there are many endorsements others may look at in a negative way, he’s unable to control who endorses him, explaining that there is no law requiring a person’s approval for endorsement in California, and that by law anybody is allowed to endorse his campaign without his permission or notification. 

“Again, by law. Anybody can endorse me. Whether I agree with them or not. They can endorse me. Sometimes I feel like this is how the enemy works, by being endorsed, but that’s beyond my call”, Ludke stated. 

But Hansen doesn’t share the same viewpoint as Ludke when it comes to the conservative organization’s support. She explains that she doesn’t feel their views align with her own, and that after a thread of threatening emails and phone calls asking them to remove her name she finally found out from American Council President and Founder, Tanner Dibella, her name was fed to them through a third party. 

Hansen lists her requested endorsements on her campaign website, “The only people that I have asked to endorse me is Willow Beauty Bar, the Tahoe Truckee Lumber Company, um, The Burrito Window in Kings Beach. Those are the endorsements that I sought out because they’re families in our school district and their opinion matters to me.” 

While he may seem less concerned with his own endorsements, Ludke does oppenly have concerns about the teachers union and the role they play in this election. 

“Just like the teachers union, that should be changed some day, that they shouldn’t be able to financially endorse a candidate for school board. That’s a conflict of interest. But that’s legal in California. And perhaps that’s something else that should be changed too.” 

The TTEA is a local teachers union in Tahoe Truckee, CA, and actively represents around 280 educators in the district with a goal of protecting and promoting the well-being of its educators. In the recent election the teachers union has gone on to show its support for the three candidates, Mooney, Nishimori, and Driller endorsing their campaigns throughout the race. 

Due to the easier access to quick communication with teachers, and the reputation held amongst the school’s community members Ludke explains that he finds himself at an unfair disadvantage, and that the teacher’s union’s support of their candidates is a conflict of interest. 

“If I was endorsed by the union, there are so many more privileges, I can’t get to the teachers instead. I am not, I’m excluded from that”, says Ludke. 

Depending on who takes the three seats open on the board on election day, how the school board operates could drastically change, leaving the fate of how the district’s board interacts and makes decisions up in the air. The differing opinions expressed by each candidate running stress the importance of voting in this election.  

The TTUSD Board is made up of six trustee areas, each candidate serving a total of four years representing their specific region within the district. Mooney and their opposing candidate Ludke are running to represent trustee area 1, while Nishimori and Whitney represent trustee area 4 and Driller and Hansen represent trustee area 5. After the past years of trying to navigate the Covid-19 Pandemic the question of “who could do it better” became more apparent. As tensions between frustrated parents and board members increase with each reiteration of hot-button issues, parents and community members are seeking change at the ground level.