Tag Archives: school board

Petition overturns school board appointment: special election coming

FROM THE WEST SACRAMENTO NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 10, 2012 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

  EDITOR’S UPDATE: The article below discusses a petition to nullify the appointment of Elizabeth Bagdazian to the local school board and force a special election to fill the vacant seat. Late this week, the Yolo County Elections Department verified that the petition contained sufficient signatures. On Oct. 12,, the Washington Unified School District released a statement thanking Bagdazian for her service and announcing that there would be a special election to fill the seat. Details of the election have not been announced, but Bagdazian is no longer a school board member.

A coalition of locals has submitted a petition that may cut short the school board term of Elizabeth Bagdazian and force a special election within the next few months to fill her seat. The petition was spearheaded by a group unhappy with how the Washington Unified School District handled the process surrounding their appointment of Bagdazian to fill a vacancy.

Matthew Hargrove, who spearheaded the petition, drive, said the petition is not about Bagdazian:

“It has nothing to do with the individual, it has to do with the procedure,” he told the News-Ledger. “I don’t really know who Liz Bagdazian is, and that’s probably the point. . . There are two years left on this term, and (the school board) could have chosen a more open procedure. They could have put this on the ballot.”

The chain of events so far:
Former board member Sandra Vargas on August 1 filed her resignation to the board effective at the end of August. Although she gave no reason – and hasn’t returned calls from the News-Ledger – it’s believed she moved out of the school district sometime in the past few months. A board member can no longer serve once he or she moves out of the district.

There is already a school board election scheduled on the November 6 ballot, with three seats up for grabs. But the effective date of Vargas’s resignation – August 31 – would have made it tough for the board to place the remainder of her school board term on the same ballot unless they started the process earlier.

The board accepted applications to fill the two-years-plus remaining on Vargas’s term and then, on Sept 5, appointed Bagdazian to fill the post. The decision occurred at a public meeting, although the names of the candidates weren’t released to the public in advance, and the district declined to provide the names to the News-Ledger before the meeting.

In the past few weeks, those angry with this “process” started a petition drive to overturn the appointment and put the board seat in front of the voters. On Friday, they turned in the petitions. If at least 345 of the over-600 signatures are confirmed as valid, Bagdazian’s term will be clipped and a special election will be called.

  A spokeswoman for the Yolo County Elections Department said that the school board could choose between a mail-only ballot that would cost WUSD about $100,000 and a normal process with polling places, which would cost $175-200,000. The election would have to be held within 130 days of the signature verification, which should be done in the next few weeks.

Is this worth the cost to the school district?

“Implicit in that question is the implication that I am costing the school district money,” he answered. “I resent the notion. That is wholly on the board. . . By not calling them on this, I would be enabling them to do this again in the future,” answered Hargrove. “Choices were made and folks were inactive in order to avoid putting this up for a vote. . . The vacancy was long in the making, and people really knew it was coming.”

Hargrove believes the district could have let the public fill the empty seat on the board in the November election, if they had wanted to.

Hargrove said he has two kids in the local public schools, so he has a stake in this issue. But he said he was part of a similar process several years ago when the West Sacramento City Council accepted applications to fill a vacated council seat – and the city handled the appointment much differently.

“That was an extra transparent procedure,” he said. “It was noticed (to the public), the names of the candidates were out there. I think there were nine of us. The appointment process was open to the public. It was televised. People that didn’t like me could come and ask questions of the candidates. I came in second to Wes Beers, and he was absolutely the best choice West Sacramento could make for the vacancy. Had we not gone through such an open procedure, there may not have been the same outcome.”

In contrast, said Hargrove, the district’s appointment process seemed “a bit contrived.”

School board president Teresa Blackmer did not return a request for comment. She is stepping down from her board at the end of her term this year, and has not returned other calls from the News-Ledger during this appointment process.

As for Bagdazian?

“I’m disappointed,” the new board member said. “I took the position for a reason. I knew I could step in. I was qualified. We all know there is a possibility of three seats being overturned in November, which could cause quite a bit of instability in the beginning. I knew I could be a stabilizing influence.”

“I’m very disappointed that, at a minimum, a hundred grand is going to come out of the (school district’s) general fund. Just prior to me getting on the board, they cut K-8 busing. That was devastating.”

Bagdazian said she hit the ground running after being appointed a month ago.

“In my short time as a board member, I’ve been to three-quarters of the schools, I’ve read all the contracts and read the budget,” she said.

She said that she witnessed paid signature-gatherers “harassing” voters in front of Nugget, and that “a person who applied (for the vacancy) and didn’t get the post was out with a petition,” going door to door and misrepresenting the facts.

Hargrove said most of the signatures were gathered in a “grassroots” fashion, but he engaged professionals as he approached the filing deadline, not knowing how many signatures had been inked on the various copies of the petition floating around the community. The paid gatherers were funded by an organization called “Move West Sacramento Forward.” (The News-Ledger wasn’t able to get further information on the group at press time.)

The petition drive gained steam from Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and his popular Facebook page, where he opined about the “improper action by the school board to evade a public election and appoint a school board member under a shroud of secrecy that is an embarrassment to what West Sacramento stands for” and called for people to sign the petition.

Hargrove said he is not in the “camp” of anyone else who wants that board seat, and he himself “has no plans” to run in a special election for it.

“I am not pro-any-other-candidate,” he said. “I am focusing on the process here.”

Bagdazian said she will keep doing her job until the petition is verified and she is removed from her post – and then she will decide whether to run for the seat in the possible election. But she wishes there would be no election, with its $100,000-plus price tag.

“This is a negative thing for our children because they’re the ones who are going to be impacted,” said Bagdazian.

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Petition succeeds, election to be called

NEWS-LEDGER ONLINE — OCT 14, 2012 —

The Yolo County Elections Department  has verified that there are enough valid signatures on that petition challenging the appointment of Elizabeth Bagdazian to a vacant school board seat. Her school board term has been terminated, and the WUSD school board will be required to call for a special election to fill the seat.

The Washington Unified School District has issued a statement thanking Bagdazian for her service.

The petition was the subject of an article in the current edition (Oct. 10) of the News-Ledger newspaper.

Copyright News-Ledger 2012

EDITORIAL: WUSD should know better

FROM THE WEST SACRAMENTO NEWS-LEDGER — SEPT 26, 2012 —

We were disappointed to find that the superintendent of Washington Unified School District, and apparently the district’s lawyers, when offered a chance to walk away from an untenable position, chose instead to dig in and play defense.

The issue – as you may have seen in our separate news article – was a simple request by the News-Ledger for some documents. We wanted to publish the names of the people who were applying to be appointed as the newest school board member.

  The district said “no,” initially saying that the list of names wasn’t “public information” because the board hadn’t seen it yet. Later, they said added the reason that there wasn’t, technically, a printed list.

Let’s take the second reason first: yes, WUSD is correct that they don’t have to provide documents to the public if the documents don’t exist. The problem – carefully explained to Dr. Gilleland – is that WUSD send us an email that seemed to acknowledge that there was a list. The email from the district was misleading. Had WUSD told us that the names of the applicants hadn’t been put onto one document, we could have and would have instantly rephrased our request, and asked the district to fax us copies of the applications themselves.

And, you know what? The California Public Records act actually requires government agencies to help members of the public identify the records they need – not to hinder them.

Now, our request for this information was informal and on a short time frame. What happened, happened. What interests us more is the district’s policy: does it truly believe that it can withhold a document from the public for the simple reason that “the board hasn’t seen it?”

In a word, yes. And that’s wrong.

Most documents in the hands of your local government agencies are public, period. There are only narrow exceptions. Anyone running a school district or providing its legal advice simply ought to know this.

Imagine WUSD is right, and imagine they have on file some kind of document they don’t want to go public. Let’s say it’s a contractor’s report saying the roof is about to fall in on one of the campuses, or that somebody embezzled a bunch of money. Under the district’s theory, all they have to do to legally justify keeping such information secret is not give a copy to the school board. They could still brief the board, but as long as they don’t provide the board with a copy, “it’s not public information.”

Please.

Public information is public information. The board is just five guys and gals who do the public’s work. It’s that simple.

  If you comment on this editorial, we may publish your comment in the News-Ledger.

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

District defends withholding of names

FROM THE WEST SACRAMENTO NEWS-LEDGER NEWSPAPER — SEPT 26, 2012 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Several days before the local school board was set to appoint a new board member to fill a vacancy, the News-Ledger asked the district for a copy of the list of the eight people who applied for the position. The goal was to publish the list and give West Sacramento residents a better chance to give their input on the decision.

A district staffer eventually declined to provide the names, emailing that “The Board doesn’t have the list yet, so therefore, it isn’t public information.”

The newspaper didn’t get the applicants’ names before the meeting.

DAYTON GILLELAND, superintendent of the Washington Unified School District (photo from WUSD website)

But the exchange raised a question of policy: does the Washington Unified School District really believe that its information might not be “public information” just because the school board hasn’t seen it yet? California has a fairly powerful Public Records Act that essentially says government documents are “public” unless they fit in certain specified categories of exemption – confidential personnel material or documents involving ongoing negotiations, for example.

The News-Ledger contacted WUSD Superintendent Dayton Gilleland to find out if this “board hasn’t seen it, therefore it isn’t public information” argument accurately reflects public policy. Several telephone calls and email exchanges followed.

The editor asked him:

“I was unable to get an advance copy of the list of candidates for the board appointment. My understanding is that it was withheld because WUSD did not consider this information ‘public’ based on the fact that the board had not seen the information yet. Do you regard that as appropriate and legal?”

After consultation with attorneys, Gilleland responded by email, in part:

“I do feel it was fully appropriate and legal that we would not provide a list, as you requested, when that list did not exist nor had the names of the candidates become ‘public’ prior to receipt by the Board of Education on the day of the interviews. This determination was further affirmed by our legal counsel’s opinion.”

  The News-Ledger pointed out that WUSD had in its first email seemed to acknowledge the existence of a list – possibly misleading us – and, had we known there was no list, we could have instantly re-phrased our request and asked for copies of the applicants’ actual applications. And we mentioned that the California Public Records Act includes a requirement that government agencies actively help members of the public to better target their informational requests. We received no response on these points.

Was there any legal justification “within the context of the California Public Records Act” to withhold a school district document based on whether the board had received the same information?

Gilleland didn’t address the Public Records Act. He did cite a portion of the state’s  Brown Act, which talks about the need to post agendas of public meetings in advance. This state law says when a person asks for items in an agenda packet, the government agency shall “cause the requested materials to be mailed at the time the agenda is posted, or upon distribution to all, or a majority of all, of the members of the body, whichever occurs first.”

And that’s about where the dialog left off.

  If you comment on this article, your comment may also be published in the News-Ledger newspaper.

  You can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Final candidates for West Sac’s ballot:

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — AUG 15, 2012 —

EDITOR’S NOTE: The extended deadline for new people to enter the school board race passed without any new candidates signing up. So the list of candidates for West Sacramento’s city and school board elections we published below on Aug. 15 is now final and complete — with the exception that Nathan Eckler, who filed to run for school board, has withdrawn his candidacy.

The deadline has closed for candidates to file for election to the West Sacramento city council or to the mayor’s seat on the November 6 ballot. And while there will be only one new challenger in those races, he does pack some punch.

Oleg Maskaev, a resident of the Southport area, will challenge city council incumbents Bill Kristoff and Oscar Villegas for one of the two available four-year terms. Maskaev is a former WBC heavyweight boxing champ.

  Mayor Christopher Cabaldon will not see a challenger this year as he seeks election to another two-year term.

Things are more crowded and less final in the race for one of three available seats on the school board.

Incumbents David Westin and Mary Leland have filed for re-election, but current board president Teresa Blackmer did not.

As of yesterday morning (Aug. 14), there were eight challengers on board for the race. Here are their names and their self-described ballot designations:

Coby Pizzotti, a “parent/legislative advocate”; Alicia Cruz, a “parent/community volunteer”; Katie Villegas, “Children’s Alliance Director”; Walt R. Bowman, “retired truck driver”; Nate Eckler (no designation yet given) [application later withdrawn]; Tamera Russel, “educator/parent”; Rene L. Guerrero, “community organizer”; and Roy Sianez, “parent/legislative director.”

Because one of the incumbents did not file for reelection, the deadline for challengers to file was automatically extended to today (Aug. 15). So this list of school board candidates is not necessarily final.

A fourth seat on the board of trustees for Washington Unified School district is also in play. Because board member Sandra Vargas has submitted her resignation effective Aug. 31, the board is accepting applications from people interested in being appointed by the board to fill her seat for the remaining two years of her four-year term.

The resignation came too late to allow the vacancy to be added to the November ballot as a matter of routine.

  Yes, you can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2012

School board seats are in play

SANDRA VARGAS: Board member submits resignation effective August 31 (News-Ledger file photo)

WEST SACRAMENTO NEWS-LEDGER — AUG. 8, 2012 —

Vargas, elected in 2006, tenders her resignation but gives no official reason

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

West Sacramento’s school board is in flux, with three of the five seats up for election in November and a fourth board member announcing her resignation.

Board member Sandra Vargas last Wednesday submitted a letter of resignation from her board seat effective Aug. 31. Her letter to Yolo Superintendent of Schools Jorge Ayala did not give a reason for leaving her seat just shy of two years into a four-year term, but did stress her pride in “all the amazing success stories and accomplishments that we have achieved in our wonderful school district” thanks to collaboration among the board, staff and community.

Vargas has not responded to recent requests for comment from the News-Ledger. Two weeks ago, the newspaper left her the first of several messages asking for comment on reports that she might need to resign her seat because she had moved.

District bylaws require board members to reside in the district’s West Sacramento boundaries.

The resignation will apparently come too late for Vargas’s seat to be placed on the upcoming November ballot with the other three scheduled seats.

The board will apparently have the option of appointing a successor to fill Vargas’s term.

The school board is scheduled to discuss such options at this Thursday’s (Aug. 9) board meeting.

Board president Teresa Blackmer has also not responded to requests for comment from the News-Ledger.

On the November ballot are the seats belonging to Blackmer, David Westin and Mary Leland.

Westin told the News-Ledger he would run for another four-year term:

“I feel the district’s in excellent shape,” said Westin. “I’ve led a management overhaul of the way the district does business, especially on the academic side. “Under my two years as board president, we are the top performing school district in the state of California.”

Westin was referring to a measurement of the district’s gains in student test scores.

“Since I’m a parent with a child in the school district, my goal is to continue to keep the district on a positive path.”

On Friday, Leland said she was still evaluating whether to run for another four years. She followed up with an emailed statement that said talked about her time on the board so far:

“I ran with the goal in mind towards, first, transforming the academic achievement of all of our students, and second, implementing a district-wide facilities plan for all schools in West Sacramento,” she said in part. “Our students, teachers, staff, administrators and the board governance team have worked hard to achieve both goals and I’m very proud to be a part of it all. I look forward to continuing to serve our students and our community.”

  Blackmer hasn’t publicly announced her own decision on another term.

Two challengers have filed candidacy papers to run for the three regularly-elected seats:

Coby Pizzotti, who identifies himself as a “consultant/legislative advocate,” and Alicia Cruz, who identifies herself as a “parent/community volunteer.”

The deadline for other challengers to complete their paperwork is Friday, although the deadline will be extended if any of the challengers fails to file for re-election.

  EDITOR’S NOTE: Since going to press with this article, we learned that West Sacramento’s Katie Villegas has filed papers to run for school board as well. She is executive director of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance, and wife of city council member Oscar Villegas.

  Yes, you can support local journalism, support this website, and see all the News-Ledger’s articles every week! Subscribe to the News-Ledge newspaper. It’s only $20 per year within West Sacramento – once a week, delivered to your mailbox.

  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Villegas joins WUSD school board race

NEWS-LEDGER ONLINE — AUG 8, 2012 —

In today’s News-Ledger newspaper, we mentioned that Alicia Cruz (“parent/community volunteer”) and Coby Pizzotti (“consultant/legislative advocate”) have filed candidacy papers for the school board election.

Fresh news this morning is that Katie Villegas has just done the same. She is executive director of the Yolo County Children’s Alliance and wife of city councilman Oscar Villegas.

Deadline to file for city council, mayoral or school board races in West Sacramento is this Friday, although the deadline will be extended a few days for challengers if any incumbent on the ballot fails to re-file.

Copyright News-Ledger 2012