Rodriguez leaves role, citing marginalization by fellow trustees
Comischell Rodriguez has stepped down from her post as president of the Del Mar Union School District Board of Trustees, citing her fellow board members' lack of support, violations of protocol and "petty power struggles."
"I'm basically board president in title only because the other board members do the job as they see fit," Rodriguez said. "I needed to step aside and let someone else be president. ... I just think it's probably better to let another board member take it from here."
Rodriguez made the announcement via e-mail sent Monday morning to interim Superintendent James Peabody and the media — she said she did it that way to avoid being disruptive at the April 28 board meeting.
"I just wanted (the meeting) to be as smooth as possible," Rodriguez said.
At Wednesday's meeting, held after press time, board clerk Steven McDowell was expected to run the meeting, per board protocol. The board must elect the new board president at a later meeting when the item has been put on the agenda and the public is properly notified.
Although no longer president, Rodriguez will continue to serve on the board.
"I am still going to be there with the same amount of energy and enthusiasm for the district as before," Rodriguez said.
Trustee Katherine White was caught off-guard Monday morning about Rodriguez's decision and had not seen the e-mail Rodriguez had sent when contacted by this newspaper.
"She is surely entitled to her own opinion. I have a lot of respect for someone who understands when to say 'no,' " White said. "I respect it if Comischell feels (serving as board president) is not the right thing to do. I don't see anything the board did (wrong), but that doesn't mean she doesn't feel that way."
In her letter, Rodriguez said that when she was nominated for the presidency in December 2009, she "politely rejected" the post, asking to gain another year in experience — she had been elected to a two-year term in late 2008. But the majority of board members promised their support, so she accepted the position.
Rodriguez said things had been going well up until the point of her "no" vote in the recent dismissal of Superintendent Sharon McClain. She said the board previously had been able to work together even though it didn't always agree, but she said she feels her vote in the McClain decision was the trigger for a change in the way the board dealt with her.
In her letter, Rodriguez wrote that she felt isolated and that board members have attempted to exclude her from closed session conversations and have signed official documents without authorization. She said board members meet with legal counsel without authorization and communicate with the "whole board at will," violating protocol.
"It appears that there is no way to agree to disagree, and that because of a difference of opinion, I have been marginalized," Rodriguez wrote in her e-mail. "Ensuring that the children of our district continue to receive the finest education possible is my number one priority. I believe the distractions of petty power struggles and nit-
picking divert us from the real issues at hand of serving our students and families, listening to community input, and supporting our teachers, principals, and administrative staff. I do not wish the focus of my presidency to be consumed by behind-the-scenes e-mail conversations and demands from my colleagues."
White said she could relate to Rodriguez's feelings of being isolated due to the Brown Act, which limits board discussion and business to meetings where items have been placed on the agenda.
"There are periods you really sort of feel in the dark," White said, citing specifically Monday morning when the media heard before she did about Rodriguez stepping down.
Trustee Annette Easton, too, had not been aware of the change until contacted by the media. Trustee Doug Perkins did not respond to calls for comment, and Trustee Steven McDowell was not contacted.
"I was perplexed and disappointed to learn from a member of the press about Comischell's resignation," Easton wrote in an e-mail when asked to respond to Rodriguez's resignation. "From my perspective, while not always agreeing on decisions, the entire board was working well together. The allegations that she makes in her press release are without substance and do nothing to ensure that the focus of our district is to provide an excellent education to our students.
"Ultimately, I am deeply disappointed that her resignation only serves to further polarize and politicize a community in need of reconciliation," Easton wrote. "I remain committed to working with the entire board, and district staff, to carry out the mission of the DMUSD."
White also disagreed with Rodriguez's claim that the board members tried to exclude her, saying that was not the case. She said there have been meetings where Rodriguez was not available, due to spring break vacation and a personal matter. She said meetings had been held with legal counsel to work on Peabody's contract.
While White said she
didn't know the reasons why Rodriguez felt isolated, she thought maybe it was hard for Rodriguez to be the sole dissenting vote in firing McClain. She said she felt the same way in 2008 when she wanted the Spanish language program at Del Mar Heights Academy and the rest of the board voted to delay it.
"Sometimes the decisions a board makes, if different from yours, are hard," White said.