At a special meeting on Sept. 15, the Rancho Santa Fe School District board agreed to a five-week process to appoint a new member to fill a board vacancy. After Marti Ritto resigned, the board had the option to appoint a new member or call for a special election, estimated to cost $50,000 to $100,000.
Per the board’s decision, the deadline for applications will be Monday, Oct. 9 at 10 a.m. and a public interview session will be held on Monday, Oct. 16 at 9 a.m. with a week for the board to receive feedback and make a decision. The board will deliberate in an open session meeting and make a decision on Monday, Oct. 23 at 9 a.m.
At the Sept. 15 meeting, several community members spoke against an appointment process and requested the district hold a special election.
“The selection of the new board member should be made by the community,” resident Heather Slosar said. “The community deserves a vote.”
Resident Annie Golden said that the district has a pattern of appointments with two board members having been appointed – Tyler Seltzer in 2011 and Scott Kahn in May 2016. Both board members went on to be elected— Seltzer was been re-elected twice, in 2012 and in 2016, and Kahn was elected in 2016.
As incumbents rarely lose, resident Lorraine Kent said appointments give an “unfair advantage” in the next election cycle. She said appointments also allow the board to “stack the deck” or push forward any personal agenda issues.
“It is key to understand clearly and definitively where candidates stand on the issues,” Kent said. “The best option is to hold an election based on the issues and allow voters to elect the next school board member that truly reflects the majority of the people they represent.”
Former parent Diana Knickrehm noted that appointed members lack the beneficial experience of the election itself, which requires reaching out to the entire constituency, explain priorities and respond to feedback. Knickrehm also said she worried that being appointed affects the board members’ loyalty, as they owe their position to fellow board members.
“Bypassing elections has become a bad habit in Rancho Santa Fe and it’s time we stop it,” Knickrehm said.
In response to the public comments, Kahn said he does not feel beholden to Todd Frank and Seltzer, who voted to appoint him to the board. He said there has been no resulting voting block and he feels his opinions have sometimes differed and he is able to express them through his vote.
“I feel like you can do an appointment and still act as an independent individual,” Kahn said.
Kahn said he did feel that, in 2016, the timeline was too rushed — he was appointed just four days after the resignation of Richard Burdge.
At the time, the tight timeline was pushed as the board was in the process of interviewing new superintendent candidates. Last year, Frank abstained from the vote to appoint Kahn as he was in favor of a longer appointment process.
Last week, Frank again advocated for a longer appointment process and said that, in all, he thinks the appointment process has worked effectively.
“I’m more than comfortable with the appointment process, I think it’s worked successfully here,” Seltzer said. “It hasn’t just worked here, it’s worked at our Association, it’s worked at elected positions across the United States all the way up to the United States Senate. It’s not some strange anomaly that happens in the Rancho Santa Fe School District.”
Seltzer said that the district has a strong track record of a good number of quality candidates, noting last year, even in the shortened period, they had five candidates step forward.
“I think it’s worked well, I’m fully confident that we will have a tremendous number of great applicants as we always have,” Seltzer said. “We have an amazing community and an amazing parent population.”
The board will collaborate on interview questions for the candidate and they welcome input from the community.
In her public comment, Kent said she would like to know how candidates feel about topics such as the approved school master plan and whether they support moving forward with another school bond measure for a new school gym.
Learn more about the application process at rsfschool.net