The Fresno Unified School Board voted 4-2 Tuesday to move forward with the process of making a provisional appointment to fill the Fresno High Area 5 seat made vacant with the death of Trustee Carol Mills.
Board president Valerie Davis and Trustees Keshia Thomas, Claudia Cazares, and Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas voted to move forward with the appointment process. Trustees Veva Islas and Terry Slatic, who do not often find themselves in agreement on issues, voted against it.
Mills, who was elected to her fifth term in November, died July 21 after battling ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She was 66.
‘Honor Her Community’
The board’s vote came after three community members urged the board to schedule an election instead of appointing Mills’ successor to give the Fresno High community the opportunity to choose their representative.
Former Bullard High Area 7 Trustee Michelle Asadoorian asked the trustees not to make the same choice that the board did in 2012 when it made a provisional appointment for the McLane High Area 4 trustee seat after the resignation of Trustee Tony Vang. Vang was facing a recall because documents showed he was residing and voting outside his trustee area when he resigned.
“Do what’s right by Trustee Mills, the longest sitting board member at this point in time, and honor her community, and honor her by allowing that community to choose their own representation,” Asadoorian said.
Options, Costs, Time Frames
The board’s attorney, Mary Beth de Goede, outlined the two options open to the board, either an appointment or a special election, and the time frames and costs.
The trustees would have 60 days from Mills’ death to make an appointment but must take a number of steps, including publishing notices in a newspaper and at three district sites seeking applicants and verify that the applicants are 18 years old, a resident of the Fresno High area, a registered voter, and not disqualified from holding public office.
The board would need to appoint an ad hoc committee of several trustees who will review the candidates’ eligibility. The vetted candidates then would be interviewed by board meetings at a public meeting, at which the board would take public input, de Goede said.
If the board opted to hold a special election, it would be on April 12 and according to the Fresno County Elections Office would cost $140,000 to $150,000.
Thomas, who made the motion to proceed with the process for a provisional appointment, said she was concerned about having the Fresno High area unrepresented until an election could be held next year.
Keeping Options Open
Jonasson Rosas, who seconded the motion, attempted to amend it by specifying that the board would not be obligated to choose from any of the vetted candidates for the post and could yet schedule an election. Opting for a provisional appointment still leaves room for a possible election, she said.
And if the board does make an appointment that Fresno High area voters are unhappy with, they can collect signatures on a petition seeking to have the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools overturn the provisional appointment and schedule an election, Davis said.
If that happened, the special election could be earlier than April 12 and cost $110,000 to $120,000 because the election would be confined to the School Board seat and the number of ballots would be smaller.
De Goede said residents would need to collect signatures from 1.5% of the area’s 27,254 registered voters, or 409, within 30 days of the appointment. The signatures would then need to be verified by the county schools superintendent.
A candidate who is elected as the result of a special election would serve the remainder of Mills’ term, which expires in 2024. A provisional appointment would end with the November 2022 election, when the seat would be up for election to a two-year term.