Citing expenses in excess of more than $400,000 that a special election would cost the district, the La Mesa-Spring Valley School board Tuesday night voted unanimously that the board seat left vacant by Penny Halgren’s resignation last month would be filled by an appointment.
Superintendent Brian Marshall said that state law mandates that the seat is filled or a special election is called by no later than 60 days of the day of resignation, which in the district’s case, gives them until March 31.
In voting for appointment, it sets forth a process that requires the district to advertise the vacancy in search of candidates.
“We would advertise in the libraries, in the schools, in the local media and the Union-Tribune,” said Marshall. “We would then solicit applications from interested community members that live within the district and meet our eligibility requirements.”
At the board meeting on March 5, each board member will be able to nominate up to two candidates to come for an interview, which will be held in a special meeting on March 14. The meeting would be open to the public, and the questions and answers would be public domain as well, said Marshall.
After further deliberation and debate, a motion, second, and vote of three would be needed to choose the next board member.
Trying to get further clarification on the process, board member Bill Baber played the role of devil’s advocate to paint a worst case scenario.
Said Baber: “On March 14, let’s say there aren’t three votes for anybody or it’s locked up. We still have time to call a special election, correct?”
“Well, you could,” said Marshall. “But you could also just sit and debate until you reach some sort of consensus.”
The March 5 agenda will include all of the names of all the applicants for public review, as well as the applications themselves, which will be part of the board packet. If each board member nominates up to two candidates to move forward to the special interview, the maximum amount of candidates that could continue would be eight.
Further explaining the process to Baber for clarification, Marshall said of the March 14 interview process, “the candidates would be seated before us. After they made their opening remarks, they would be interviewed by the board in public. Question 1 would be asked to each candidate, starting with candidate 1, candidate 2 and so on. Then Question 2 would be asked to candidate 2, and so on down the line.
“Following the questions, the candidates would have another two minutes to make closing remarks,” he continued. “Then the fun starts. The board would deliberate in public, in front of the candidates and any other observers, and move toward making a motion, a second, and three votes, move to appoint a member.”
Marshall added that member’s name would then be published, and that the member would be sworn in at the next scheduled board meeting on April 2.
Board member Rick Winet then jokingly chided his colleague, Baber.
“Bill, don’t act like you don’t know all this – we appointed you!” said Winet, drawing laughs from those in attendance.
The board members then had a discussion on if the deliberation could be tabled and rolled into the next scheduled meeting on March 19, if there is no consensus on who to appoint on March 14.
“I would say that in theory, it could be tabled, but I think in practice it would have to be decided that night,” Marshall said. “You just have to stay here till you get it done, someone is going to have to compromise. That’s just the way it is. As elected members of the community, I believe have an obligation to sweat it out and make a decision that night.”
Marshall said there are some administrative and printing/copying costs associated with the appointment, but it’s a pittance compared to the cost of a special election.
“There are some costs. Advertising in the press will have some expense. Incidental expenses, printing, copying all of the fliers, and as applications are distributed, but that’s a pretty nominal cost,” he said.
In board agenda items, the board unanimously approved tentative agreements from the La Mesa-Spring Valley Teachers Association, and the California School Employees Association Chapter 419, to approve a 1.5 percent salary increase for teachers retroactive to July 1, 2012.
The raises will be reflective of all hours worked, including extra time and overtime. Additionally, those teachers with retirement eligibility will be able to work five additional days on a per diem basis before June 21, 2013.
The tentative agreement from the teachers association also adds three workdays to the calendar for the 2013-14 school year.
Marshall said that despite the raises, it still doesn’t take salaries back to where they were pre-cuts.
“They were four-and-a-half percent cuts, so this is just a little bit of a movement toward that,” Marshall said.
As the board approved the option to appoint a new member, Tuesday’s meeting was also a celebration of Halgren, and her 18 years serving students and families in the district.
Halgren was showered with praise and adoration from several different attendees, all of whom came to the meeting to wish her well.
From teachers association members to district principals (Peter Dean) and other staff, to PTA members (Jay Stieger) and thankful parents (Steve Babbitt), all said what an impact Halgren had had on them during her tenure.
She was given presents of all kinds as well: flowers, gift cards, a glass plaque, a notice of Special Recognition from Sen. Joel Anderson’s office, cards, a gift basket, and a customized apple-shaped jewelry box with her name in the center, surrounded by the initials of the 21 schools in the district.
However, the best gift of the night, for Halgren and others, was the surprise performance from the Ensemble Choir from La Mesa Middle School, who marched into the board chambers and serenaded Halgren with the song “For Good,” from the musical Wicked.
Tears welled up in Halgren’s eyes as the girls sang, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but, because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
It was emotional for others as well, as after the performance each board member, along with Claudia Bender, Karen Walker and Barbara Martinez were all wiping away tears.
“I’m truly speechless,” said Halgren. “This is what it’s all about.”
Board members then personally told Halgren how she would be missed, and thanked her for her contributions as a colleague and a friend.
“Everything we are, the core beliefs we share, the idea that cooperation is better than isolation – that’s everything you believe,” said Marshall. “Your legacy will live on here, and you’ll never be forgotten.”