SLV School District Perspectives
Why the Recall is Such a Bad Idea
by Laura Dolson
In the future, I will write a piece on why I think recall elections, especially with the procedures set up by the State of California, are, to say the least, suboptimal mechanisms for accomplishing the goals of democracy. In this article, however, I will focus on why a recall election is such a bad idea for the San Lorenzo Valley school district at this particular time and with these particular targets.
New Board - The current school board is primarily a new one. Three of the five were first elected last November (Susan Weber was appointed the previous year but still had to be elected). Anyone who has worked in this capacity will tell you that it takes at least a year to "get up to speed" on the ins and outs of the job and learn to function effectively with the rest of your team. Is it really fair to call for a removal after only six months? The recall proponents, in my opinion, are expecting a lot for the first six months of any board, especially one thrown into the pressure cooker of the past year's events.
Do we really want to replace new people with even newer ones? Who are the proposed new candidates who can learn extremely quickly, take over effectively AND deal with the huge deficit, hundreds of emails from upset voters, the ongoing California State budget problems, and the watchful eyes of the electorate (who seem to be scrutinizing and questioning actions at progressively finer levels of detail)? Remember that they would be expected to accomplish all this with no experienced board members to guide them.
Do we really want to remove the two most experienced board members altogether? Do the proponents even know how those board members voted on the previous issues that are affecting us now? From some of their statements, it appears that they do not. It's easy to jump to erroneous conclusions when you have only a small piece of the picture.
Actually, considering how new the present board is, it has done as well as anyone could expect in a VERY complex and trying situation. It's very easy to "Monday-morning Quarterback" and say that this or that could have been done differently. When you look at each decision as it happened, though, there were many good reasons why each board member voted the way he or she did, and these reasons were publically stated. The recall proponents didn't like some of the decisions, but most of the trustees heard from many people with opposite opinions, carefully considered all sides of the issue, and then voted their consciences. In watching the process over the last year, one thing that has impressed me is that even on votes where I disagreed with the outcome, in most cases I felt that each Trustee's vote was carefully considered and justified. I can really ask no more than that.
Financial Impact - Estimates are that a recall election would cost our children somewhere between $62,000 and $92,000. Anyone who has been following the district's intensifying budget issues knows that the "fat" has already been cut from the budget. The current administration and board have done what they can to keep the cuts from affecting the education of our students, and indeed, this is why schools were closed. (As many teachers said during the school closure meetings, "I can do what I do anywhere".)
This means that a recall election would be funded directly directly at the expense of our children't education. Which teacher should be fired? Maybe we should get rid of a few more of those "superfluous" AP courses at the high school. Perhaps a class size of 45 students high school PE is too low. I have heard no proposal from those backing this recall action as to where this money should come from. Somehow, it's just supposed to come from "the district", some distant bureaucracy. Well, guess what? "The District", in this instance is the exact same thing as "our children".
Having to spend money on this election is especially ludicrous in that if it happens, it isn't likely to take place before March of 2004 - and two of the four recall targets will be up for reelection that fall! What a waste of resources! The recall proponents could more profitably work on replacing those two trustees through a regular election, thus ensuring a majority of trustees that they would be happy with.
Poor Grounds - To put it bluntly, some of the stated grounds for the recall simply don't make sense (e.g., citing lack of a strategic plan when this is the first board in a long time that has called for a new one), others are misrepresented (see my recall notice response), and most are decisions upon which reasonable people can and do disagree. None are citations of the kind of gross incompetence that would be necessary for most people to want to put the district through the time, money, and energy expense of a recall election. Rather, they are issues on which the proponents merely disagree with the administration.
Division in District and Diversion of Energy - Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with the issues this district faces realizes that we are in a critical period. The support of everyone is needed. At times, this support means voicing our opinions in disagreement of district actions, and it certainly means making our voices heard while those decisions are being debated. Have the proponents of this recall been participating at this level? No, by and large they have not, but they are apparently willing to put a tremendous amount of energy and time into fighting the district after the fact!
This is the time to pull together, and think together carefully about what our next steps should be. Middle school, or junior high? Who should be writing the strategic plan, and what are the most important elements? How do we make over a million MORE dollars in budget cuts? How should the bond money best be used? How can we attract more children back into the district? How can we make our schools the best they can be with limited resources? THESE are among the issues that require the time and careful attention of everyone available. Not a destructive recall election.
Reversal of Direction? - We have a lot of new people in the administration (including the superintendent) as well as a new board. Yet, in the past eight months, these people have truly pulled together to work as a team. They have introduced a new openness and a level of community involvement not seen in this district in recent memory. Despite a year of dealing with some of the most difficult issues a school district ever has to face, staff is being retained, and morale is generally good. Do we really want to mess with this? Do we really want to throw four new, untried people into the mix? This is a situation that not only "not broke" but is actually working better than many could have imagined 14 or 15 months ago. We, as a community, need to nurture this new team, not threaten it. This does not mean blind acceptance, but it does mean working constructively to accomplish the changes we'd like to see.
This recall attempt has been described as "working on a decayed tooth with a ball-peen hammer". Let's not do damage to what so many of us are working hard to build.