Some parents oppose Rancho Santa Fe School board’s ‘fast track’ appointment process
After Rancho Santa Fe School District Board member Richard Burdge resigned on Monday, May 16, his open seat was filled by Friday, May 20 with the board’s appointment of Scott Kahn. Several parents expressed their concerns with the “abbreviated” process both at the public interview session on May 20 and a special meeting on May 17.
Parent Heather Slosar said the “fast track approach” did not allow the community’s voices to be heard nor did it cast a big enough net for quality board members when it was “hastily crammed” into four days.
“In under 24 hours, this appointee will be involved in interviewing and selecting our next superintendent,” Slosar said, referencing the next day’s session interviewing superintendent candidates. “Parents and voters should all be concerned by the precedent set of strategic appointments being set by this school board. By strategic we all know that the person appointed today will run on the November ballot with the all important word ‘incumbent’ next to their name which gives a significant advantage in the election.”
The district went through a similar process in 2011, when current board President Tyler Seltzer was appointed. Jim Cimino resigned on July 29 due to a move and the board met on Aug. 16 to discuss how to proceed. The deadline for candidate filings was Aug. 29 and the Seltzer was appointed Sept. 12 after a public interview session with six candidates.
Burdge’s resignation was announced May 16 and at the special meeting on May 17, Delaney said she already had the paperwork for three candidates. Seltzer said the only reason they would need a longer timeline is if they had trouble finding candidates — by Friday, the number of candidates had grown to five.
“One of the reasons I personally felt comfortable moving forward was I just knew that there were many, many good candidates out there and interested people,” Seltzer said. “It is sincerely and truly gratifying and inspiring to have so many qualified people come through in such a short period of time. It never ceases to amaze me the quality people we have in this community.”
According to Music Watson, chief communications officer of the San Diego County Office of Education, under California Education Code, school boards have 60 days from the date the resignation is filed to make a provisional appointment to fill the vacancy or call for a special election. In the case of the RSF board, the 60th day would be July 15.
“The Education Code does not specify the procedures for making an appointment. While the Rancho Santa Fe timeline was abbreviated, under Education Code, the board had the authority to establish its own timeline and procedures,” Watson said.
If for any reason registered voters in the district oppose the appointment, a petition can call for a special election. According to Watson, a petition calling for a special election must be signed by at least the number of registered voters of the district equal to one and a half percent of the number of registered voters at the time of the last regular election of board members.
Rancho Santa Fe had 4,248 registered voters at the time of the 2014 election so the number of signatures required to trigger a special election would be 64. The petition would need to be filed no later than June 20.
On Friday, several parents said they are pursuing signature gathering on a petition. The cost of a special election is estimated to be $160,000-$190,000. According to parent Matt Golden, it probably would not be a special election due to the timeline, it would probably fall into November’s general election so the cost would be zero.
Parent Diana Knickrehm said she believed Burdge’s resignation was a “travesty” and that the selection of a new board member should really go to a vote.
“It seems as though the board is not open to parent involvement and community participation,” Knickrehm said. “Your community elected you to make responsible choices that represent the best interest of our kids and our community. Your deadline gives only 65 hours after the surprise vacancy was announced for new candidates to declare their candidacy for the school board and submit paperwork. Reasonably speaking, who other than a pre-arranged favorite would be prepared to take this seat? The rushed timing is neither necessary nor in the best interest of our district.”