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Group Hints at Possible Drama Over Fresno School Board Vacancy



Local group Save Our Fresno Schools is anticipating a political tug-of-war over filling FUSD's vacant board seat. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)
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The untimely passing of Trustee Carol Mills has left a vacancy on the Fresno Unified School Board that could result in a struggle over filling the seat.

Mills won her fifth term representing the Fresno High area in November 2020. She died Wednesday after a battle with ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — a progressive neurodegenerative disease.

60 Day Timeline to Decide

The School Board now has 60 days to choose between two options to fill the vacant trustee seat: make a provisional appointment or call for an election. That decision must come by Sept. 19.

If the board chooses an election, it would occur in early 2022. The next regular election for the seat will not come around again until November 2024.

“My preference is what we can do legally and expediently,” Fresno Unified Board President Valerie Davis said.

The next scheduled school board meeting is August 11, but a special meeting to discuss the matter could be called before then.

Provisional Appointment Option

If the board decides to appoint a replacement, eligible candidates can apply or be nominated. Eligibility includes being a registered voter (thus a U.S. citizen) and living within the FUSD Area 5 boundaries.

A subcommittee of up to three trustees would vet potential nominees to make sure they are eligible. Interviews with the candidates would take place at a public meeting, with the nominee being selected by majority vote of the full board.

A similar process was followed by the Clovis Unified School District in 2019 when the board selected Hugh Awtrey to replace retiring trustee Brian Heryford. Awtrey was elected by the public a year later.

If a provisional appointment is made, the new trustee would have full rights and privileges. The appointee would face election in November 2022 to fulfil the remainder of the term and could then run for a full term in November 2024.

Appointee Could Be Challenged with Petition

If an appointment is made, residents can challenge the decision with a petition calling for a special election.

Jim Tuck, president of a grassroots group called Save Our Fresno Schools, expects the board to make an appointment. And he expects the board’s choice will not be to his group’s liking. If so, they plan to initiate a petition.

The group formed in response to a decision by the School Board to replace Fresno High School’s Warrior mascot, which depicted a Native American man wearing face paint and feathers.

California Education Code calls for 1.5% of registered voters (based on the November 2020 election date) of the district to sign a petition to submit to the county superintendent of schools.

The total number of signatures needed to force an election is a point of contention. Discussions by GV Wire with multiple education and election law experts did not produce a consensus interpretation of the Education Code’s provisions.

If signatures are required to be collected district-wide, 2,761 are needed (based on 184,043 registered voters in Fresno Unified at the time of last November’s election). If signatures from the trustee area alone are sufficient, just 402 will need to be submitted (based on 26,791 registered Trustee Area 5 voters).

Either way, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino would have 30 days to certify signatures.

If successful, the provisional appointment would be nullified. A special election would take place no later than 130 days.

If every step of the process goes to the maximum deadline, a special election could take place between March 22 and April 12, 2022.

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email