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Reversal: Voters Will Now Pick New Fresno Schools Trustee. It Will be a Long Wait.



Carol Mills was in her fifth term on the Fresno Unified School Board when she died on July 21. (GV Wire/Justine Cha)
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In a somewhat surprising reversal, the Fresno Unified School Board decided Wednesday night to schedule an election so Fresno High voters could choose the next Area 5 trustee.

The 6-0 decision came only a week after the School Board, in a split vote, moved forward with a plan to give trustees the authority to appoint a successor to Carol Mills, who died on July 21. Trustees Veva Islas and Terry Slatic voted no on the appointment proposal.

Trustees who voted in favor of appointing a new trustee had noted that it would fill the seat more quickly than an election.

Under state Education Code, the board would have had 60 days from Mills’ death to make the appointment, which would have seated the new trustee by mid-September. An election can not be held before April 12, 2022, according to state law.

Over the past week, Trustee Claudia Cazares said, Fresno High residents made it clear through email and other contacts that they wanted to choose their representative through an election. “We are listening,” she said.

‘Doing the Wrong Thing’

Trustee Keshia Thomas said she reconsidered the appointment plan after thinking about whether the voters in her Edison High Area 1 would want to elect their trustee or have an appointment made.

“After further evaluating what my people in my area may want, it did feel like I was doing the wrong thing,” she said. “So we are now all aboard. We’re all doing the right thing. And that’s all that really matters. So we will be having an election.”

“So all that name-calling and all that bad talking was unnecessary,” board President Valerie Davis, apparently in response to board critics, said before calling for the vote.

The pressure that Fresno High voters applied to board members after last week’s special board meeting apparently made Wednesday’s reversal a done deal, because only one person from the community was on hand to speak in support of electing an Area 5 trustee.

Andy Fabela, a Fresno High resident, was thanking Islas and Slatic for being the “first ones” to be respectful of Mills in supporting an election when he was interrupted by Thomas, with whom he has skirmished in the past at the podium.

Their brief squabble was squelched by Davis, who asked Fabela to direct his comments to the entire board.

Fabela said his efforts to collect signatures to overturn the appointment of Christopher De La Cerda after the resignation of Trustee Tony Vang in 2012 was “my tribute to the McLane High Area … because I didn’t think it was right then and I wouldn’t think it was right now.”

Finishing the Term

The winner of the April 12 election will fill the remainder of Mills’ four-year term, which expires in 2024. Mills had won election to her fifth term in November 2020. Soon afterward, the symptoms of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, started to become apparent in her speech and later when she appeared in public using a wheelchair and speaking through a computer-generated voice.

At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Davis noted Mills’ long service to the district and then in a choked voice asked for a moment of silence in her honor. Superintendent Bob Nelson said that a public memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 28 at Fresno High’s historic Royce Hall.

He unveiled a tribute video prepared by the district’s communications department depicting Mills with fellow trustees, superintendents, and community members over the years.

WATCH: Fresno Unified Tribute to Trustee Carol Mills

Carol Mills Tribute from Fresno Unified on Vimeo.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email