By Raymond R. Beltran
In a unanimous decision Tuesday night, the Chula Vista Elementary School District school board decided to appoint a replacement for exiting trustee and future Chula Vista mayor Cheryl Cox by January 30. The alternative would have been to call for a special election.
Cox was halfway through her second term when she decided to campaign for Chula Vista Mayor and replace Stephen Padilla. In a landslide victory this month, residents voted her in, and she submitted her school board resignation, effective November 30.
To appoint a replacement, bylaws require one of two options for a process. The board sided with Option One, to post public notices through local media outlets and accept applications throughout December. Option Two would have been to accept nominations from the public at the next regular board meeting.
“This way is going to be shorter and less convoluted,” says Superintendent Lowell Billings.
The board avoided a special election citing a $600,000 estimated cost for one. “The school district [works] on a budget, and that money is just not there,” said the superintendent.
The board will begin posting ads in local papers towards the end of this month and will begin accepting applications November 30. To qualify, candidates must live in the Chula Vista elementary school district and, according to the superintendent, exhibit a history of community involvement and an expertise in education. They also have to submit a 200 word written summary of their “philosophy of public education.”
Residents have already voiced their dissatisfaction with the decision to appoint, saying it doesn’t offer enough public input. Others say the seat should be offered to a defeated candidate who received the most votes in this month’s elections, like Russell Coronado.
Coronado, a Special Education Coordinator at the County Office of Education, earned 33 percent of votes while vying to replace Pamela Smith, seat three, and says he will apply for Cox’s position.
“I agree that spending $615,000 [special election] doesn’t serve the children,” he says. “That money could be used in some other direction, towards students … But I was hoping they would do something that allows as much public input as possible.”
Coronado says accepting public nominations at a regular meeting would have been more inclusive.
Superintendent Billings replied that by doing that, the board wouldn’t have the “depth and understanding of who the candidates are,” but some believe that the chosen process, accepting and reviewing applications, hands the decisions solely to board members.
The City of Chula Vista also has a historical track record of ceding city seats to incumbents during elections. Community residents have stated that in the case of this school board, the same thing occurs and there’s a lack of innovative ideas to address the 53.1 percent of students who are not passing the California Standardized Tests.
Coronado says that the board could have respected the climate of Chula Vista voters who voted for Proposition G, requiring a city incumbent to wait a year after their term to run for re-election, and Proposition H, requiring the city council to call for a special election if there’s more than a year left in any available seat. Though, the propositions pertain only to the city, not the schools.
Norberto Salazar, an independent study teacher at an alternative education center in Chula Vista, earned the most votes, 26 percent, among defeated candidates vying to replace Larry Cunningham for board seat number five. He says he will be applying for the position as well.
“I believe in the judgment of the school board and that the process will be open and equitable,” he commented this week about the decision.
School Board Vice President Bertha Lopez and Board Member Patrick Judd will be sifting through applications in early January for qualifying criteria, mainly confirming that candidates live in the district.
The district covers forty three elementary schools like Otay, Rohr, Castle Park, and Los Altos with 26,800 students.
In mid January, the board will narrow the pool to six candidates at their regularly scheduled January meeting. Before the month is over, those six will have a chance to interview and the board will make an appointment by majority vote before the month is over.
“At this junction, there’s really no preliminary agenda,” says the superintendent. “We’re looking for someone that’s positive for a team. There hasn’t been any preliminary meeting to determine that.”