Community members spoke out in favor of San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) Trustee Joyce Dalessandro at the May 10 SDUHSD board meeting in light of the recently announced effort to recall her.
The recall of Dalessandro, who has been a board member for 22 years, is based on claims that she has failed as a board member, including neglect in making student safety and well-being the district’s top priority; failure to advocate against illegal pupil fees; failure to advocate for the needs of special education students, including providing basic curriculum and adequate facilities; and failure to advocate for reduced class size.
During public comment, teacher and parent Tim Stacer praised Dalessandro for her decades of dedication, stewardship of the district and engagement in the schools.
“She has repeatedly championed small class sizes by calling out four consecutive superintendents,” said Stacer, who is also president of the San Diego Faculty Association. “The premier environment that our children have the opportunity to grow in does not come together without school board members that have the courage and the strength to withstand the onslaught of ill-informed naysayers who want the public to believe the sky is falling.”
The notice of intention for the recall petition was filed with the San Diego County Registrar of Voters on May 4 by Torrey Pines High School parent Wendy Gumb. For the last 18 months, Gumb has been an active presence at board meetings and has been critical of the board for its perceived lack of advocating for students and has questioned the district on donations and unlawful pupil fees and the role of the high school foundations, including allegations of pay for play for sports teams. Gumb said that it is time for a board “shake up” after years of frustration with “the lack of fiscal accountability and transparency eclipsed by a callous disregard of the most vulnerable student populations.” She also plans to start a change.org petition for those who live outside of Dalessandro’s district four to sign.
“Professional leadership is important in our school district and given the recent slew of questionable board decisions which Dalessandro oversaw, a group of concerned parents have determined that now is time to take action,” Gumb said.
As soon as the Registrar of Voters approves the recall petition, proponents will have 120 days to gather valid signatures from 20 percent of the registered voters in trustee area four, which includes Del Mar and portions of Carmel Valley, Pacific Highlands Ranch, Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe. The Registrar of Voters is still preparing the number of the voters in the new area but it included 20,999 registered voters in the 2014 election, with 4,200 signatures required for the recall.
While the district was divided into five trustee districts in December 2017, Dalessandro was elected by the entire district in the November 2016 election. She was the second top vote-getter of five candidates, with 31.22 percent of the vote or 39,116 votes.
Stacer pointed to those election results as evidence of “overwhelming” support for Dalessandro.
Jill MacDonald, past president of the Solana Beach School District, said the recall effort has misrepresented Dalessandro’s record, calling her “the epitome of a dedicated public servant,” working to deliver the highest caliber education with limited resources and balancing and respecting the needs of all stakeholders in the district when she makes her decisions, putting students first.
“Facts matter. Honesty matters and integrity matters, those are things I associate with you,” said Matthew Weil, parent at Canyon Crest Academy and member of the foundation, to Dalessandro. “I have concerns about the abuse of the public information process, concerns about the abuse of the recall process and I have deep concerns about someone who would put the district through the kind of expense that would take money out of the pocket of the district for reasons that are extremely unclear.”
If the recall petition receives the verified signatures required, the district must call for an election in no more than 125 days. Gumb said if her timeline works out right, the recall could be placed on the November ballot so it doesn’t bring the added cost of a special election to the district.
“My intent is not to have a special election. My intent is to have four board seats up for re-election so we can have a new house and we can move forward in the right way,” Gumb said, making it clear that she does not plan to run for the board.
At the board meeting, Canyon Crest Academy Humanities Conservatory students Jasmine Werry and Ashley Jabro provided the results of a 37-page report they completed on their own after becoming aware of the recall in the news. The students went into the issue looking into the recall process but became intrigued by the charges against the trustee. They conducted independent research on the topic, looking at recall election law and Dalessandro’s voting record, in addition to reviewing minutes of board meetings going back to 2009.
“Not only are the claims against Dalessandro questionable in accuracy but this recall will not lead to positive change,” Ashley and Jasmine said.
Some parents questioned the appropriateness of the students’ work and if they were being used for political purposes by the school or foundation. Timothy Stiven, the students’ teacher in Conservatory said the issue fell into the girls’ laps and they took their own initiative to research in the advanced after-school program—he said the report was never graded and was not assigned. Every project in Conservatory is pass/fail but this wasn’t an official project. He said a website detailing their findings was also the students’ idea, as was a podcast they plan to do on various topics of civics and political science.
“We have determined that it’s the public’s choice: do we engage in productive conversation about the needs of our community or do we assign blame and resign ourselves to taking out our discontents on scapegoats?” Jasmine and Ashley stated. “We are all here because we have a common goal: better the community and our schools. This recall will not work to benefit our schools or the community. We should channel our energy and passion into advocating for productive and helpful policy.”
“We can be united or we can be self-destructive.”
After recall petitioners file a notice of intention, the official being sought to be recalled is given an opportunity to submit a response with the secretary of state.
“There is no merit to the accusations contained in this petition,” Dalessandro wrote in her response, detailing her accomplishments with the district over 22 years, which has included the opening of new schools and modernization projects and supporting flexible start times, schools of choice and innovative programs.
“My length of service has given me perspective and depth in understanding public education. Despite this attack I am no less committed to this community than when first elected—the only difference is that time has afforded me the experience to navigate the many twists and turns of budgets, programs, regulations, funding formulas and limitations that public education presents,” Dalessandro wrote. “Please recognize this recall attempt for what it is: wasting taxpayer dollars and distracting from the education of students we serve.”