COSTA MESA, Calif.—The Orange County Board of Education appointed Jorge Valdes, an attorney and judge pro-tem from Tustin, to fill the vacant seat for Area 1—which covers Garden Grove, Tustin, Santa Ana, and Fountain Valley—during a board meeting Aug. 17.
Valdes was one of the three candidates interviewed by the board to replace former Trustee Beckie Gomez, who stepped down after she was sued in March for simultaneously sitting on the board and the Tustin City Council.
The two other candidates are Marlene Barba, a church ministry leader and public speaker from Tustin, and Ceci Iglesias, a California Policy Center director who previously served on the Santa Ana Unified School Board and Santa Ana City Council.
During interviews, all candidates expressed support for the board’s positions on parental rights and school choice.
Trustees expressed their appreciation for each candidate, with Board President Lisa Sparks saying “the candidate pool was small but mighty.”
Trustee Tim Shaw nominated Valdes for the position, while Trustee Ken Williams nominated Iglesias.
Ahead of the interviews, both Shaw and Trustee Mari Barke noted, “out of a desire for transparency,” that they had worked with Iglesias in the past but without conflict of interest—though Barke still abstained from voting for Iglesias.
After six split votes, Valdes was ultimately elected in a 3–1 vote—with Shaw, Barke, and Sparks voting in favor and Williams abstaining—and sworn in the same night.
With a law degree from Rutgers University, the newly appointed trustee described himself as a “product of New Jersey public schools.”
He moved to California in 1997 and practiced law with a focus on workers’ compensation defense. He ran for the Tustin City Council in 2020.
During the interview, Valdes said he decided to run because he believes ensuring quality education is the best way to serve the community.
His legal background, he said, could be his greatest contribution to the board when it comes to vetting inter-district appeals and budget reviews, and as a Cuban American, his fluency in Spanish would allow him to connect to the predominantly Spanish-speaking Area 1.
He said he believes the board’s most significant work is their advocacy for parental rights.
“The board is often accused of pushing a conservative agenda,” he said. “It’s not a conservative agenda, it’s a parents’ rights agenda ... There’s nothing more important than having a parent make a decision for their child.”
Though he supported the board’s pro-charter school stance, he also said he wanted to ensure public schools were a quality option for families.
“Public schools are an important part of education model,” he said. “There should be no monopoly on the education structure.”
For his first actions as a trustee, Valdes said he plans to visit each school in Area 1.
“I need to walk the schools first. I need to put my ear to the ground, listen to the concerns of the community, and come back to share with the board,” he told The Epoch Times. “I plan to work very hard to connect with the community. I’m not going to be just one of those board members who only show up to meetings.”
Valdes will take over the remaining two years of Gomez’s term until June 2024. He said he plans to run for re-election.