A Superior Court judge rejected a request to remove a Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools candidate from the June election ballot during a Wednesday hearing, one day before the Elections Office ballot printing deadline.

County Superintendent of Schools Susan Salcido has filed to seek re-election, and Santa Barbara teacher Christy Lozano also filed paperwork to run for the office.

Local political strategist Mollie Culver filed a petition in Superior Court to have Lozano removed from the ballot, alleging she does not meet the requirements to run for this office – specifically, that Lozano does not have an administrative services credential from the state.

Lozano and her attorney, John Thyne, argued that her certificate of eligibility for an administrative services credential qualifies her to run and, if elected, serve as county superintendent of schools.

Richard Rios, an attorney who filed the petition for Culver, argued that the eligibility is not the same as the credential, and that she needs to be employed in an administrative position to get the credential.

Christy Lozano

Christy Lozano

The state Commission on Teacher Credentialing shows Lozano has a “certificate of eligibility,” which means the holder “is authorized to seek employment in an administrative position.”

According to the state site, the preliminary credential can be issued if the person maintains the eligibility and submits verification of employment in an administrative position, an application form and fee to the commission.

Thyne said Lozano has everything she needs to get a credential except an offer of employment in an administrative position, and argued that running for office is seeking employment. He also argued that her role as “principal of her child’s home school for the last year” is an administrative position.

In paperwork and oral arguments, attorneys on both sides made their case to Judge Colleen Sterne before she made her decision Wednesday morning.

“I’m going to deny the writ and allow her name to appear on the ballot,” Sterne said.

“I have to disagree that the statutes are a model of clarity” on qualification requirements, she said.  

If Lozano runs for the office, gets elected and does not receive an administrative services credential from the state, “then she’s sunk,” Sterne said, adding, “so I don’t really see the harm in letting voters weigh in on that.”

There are also other legal avenues to challenge Lozano’s candidacy, Sterne said.

Susan Salcido

Susan Salcido

Sterne said she was anticipating political arguments related to this case but was only taking legal arguments into consideration.

“I don’t think it was frivolous to make this request or oppose it,” she said of the petition to remove Lozano from the ballot.

The civil case was filed March 21 and reassigned from Judge Thomas Anderle to Sterne this week after Lozano filed disqualification paperwork alleging Anderle is prejudiced against her, her attorney, or their interests.  

Sterne referenced the quick timeline for this case in court, saying she was “assigned this case at the 11th hour.”

The push for the hearing on Wednesday was to beat the March 31 deadline the county has for finalizing its ballot for printing.

County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor-Registrar of Voters Joe Holland, who accepted Lozano’s nomination paperwork, said Thursday is the “hard date” to get election materials printed, since all the other California counties are in line to get ballots and sample ballots ready for the June primary election.

Lozano has worked as a teacher and coach in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

Salcido has been county superintendent of schools since 2017, and previously served as deputy superintendent for the County Education Office, a district principal and administrator, a teacher and a coach.

The county superintendent of schools is an elected position that heads the Santa Barbara County Education Office, which supports the local public K-12 districts.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the office was also responsible for helping to liaison between districts and the Public Health Department to keep up with policy and safety protocols. 

County, state and federal offices are on the June 7 primary election ballot in Santa Barbara County. Ballots will be mailed to voters in early May.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.