Updated at 5:20 p.m. Jan. 16, 2013
Saying she is following her heart, La Mesa-Spring Valley School District board member Penny Halgren announced her resignation Tuesday, effective immediately.
She said she is moving to Arcadia in Los Angeles County to be closer to Jim, her boyfriend of three years.
Halgren, re-elected to a four-year term in 2010 and a board member since 1994,* told Patch: “This is just kind of another chapter in my life. I’ve been dating a guy for about three years now and I went to college with him.
“After his wife died, he contacted me, and so we’ve been hanging around, and he’s been bugging me to move up there, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Halgren, 64, said the two met while students at the Marshall School of Business at USC.
She acknowledges that she will miss being on the board, but also feels that it’s time for a change.
“I’m gonna miss the challenges and working with people who are totally committed to the best education for children,” she said. “I’ve been pretty involved in the California School Boards Association, so I’ve seen other districts and talked to other school board members about what’s going on in their districts.
“And the fighting with the unions and the managers and the revolving door,” she said. “It’s just so nice that it doesn’t happen here, and the reason is just, from top to bottom, employees are totally committed to what’s best for kids, no matter what the issues are. It’s a great school district and I’m going to miss it.”
Halgren, a La Mesa resident, said she will have to do a bit of “unplugging,” in other areas as well, including her involvement with the La Mesa Rotary Club and with East County YMCA.
She said she’s not yet sure if she is going to pick back up with those organizations in Arcadia.
“Right now what I really just need to do is I need to refocus on what’s going on with my [quilting] business and get plugged in up there,” she said.
After having served faithfully on the board for so many years, her colleagues acknowledged how much she will be missed.
“She’s awesome. We’re totally gonna miss her,” said board member Bill Baber. “Good luck to Penny in her future endeavors. She was a strong advocate for our public schools. Her sharp mind and expertise in school finances will be missed.”
It is not yet known how Halgren will be replaced.
Baber said district Superintendent Brian Marshall would review state law regarding school board resignations.
Depending on the timing of the resignation and the duration left on the term (Halgren’s term is up in 2014), she will either be replaced by appointment or through a special election.
In 2010 and 2012, Murdock Elementary PTA leader Jay Steiger was the only other candidate for school board besides the incumbents.
Wednesday afternoon, saying he “was very surprised by the announcement at yesterday evening’s board meeting,” Steiger confirmed that he would seek to fill the two-year vacancy.
“Yes, I remain absolutely interested in serving the educational advancement of the children of this district,” he said via email.
Halgren said she doesn’t envision herself becoming involved in public education in Arcadia—known for being home to the Santa Anita racetrack. She did, however, give some insight into a passion she wants to pursue.
“My next phase in my life is to get involved in horse racing,” she said. “I’m fascinated with thoroughbred racing, and I’ll be very close to Santa Anita. I talked to [state Sen.] Joel Anderson and asked if he knew anyone that’s connected there.”
She said she doesn’t know at what capacity she wants to get involved yet, however.
“I definitely know that I want to own a horse or be a partner in owning a horse, and get really into that end of racing.”
Halgren’s tenure included her controversial vote with a board majority to prevent teachers from showing an education speech by President Obama to students the day it aired.
But she soon apologized for that vote, telling U-T San Diego: “If I could roll back the clock and do it again, my vote would have been to show the speech live in our classrooms.”
The board voted 3-2 in a special Labor Day meeting to not show Obama’s speech the next day and instead record it for later viewing.
“Halgren crafted the motion after several others failed, including one to ban the speech entirely,” the U-T reported. Parents critical of the vote packed a later school board meeting.
Halgren broke down in tears in an interview, the U-T said. It quoted her as saying: “I didn't understand that people thought it was more important for all the kids to see it live. I missed that totally. I thought it was more important to (have a) conversation around the content of the speech.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Halgren had served since 2002.