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San Dieguito school board will appoint new trustee

The SDUHSD board met on March 29 to discuss filling the board vacancy.
(Karen Billing)

The San Dieguito Union High School District board voted 3-1 on March 29 to use the appointment process to fill the seat left vacant by this month’s resignation of trustee Kristin Gibson. The board will interview candidates for the Area 5 seat in public and select the new board member on April 22.

With Gibson’s resignation made official on March 19, the board had 60 days to decide whether they would appoint a new trustee or call for a special election. According to SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley, the range of election costs provided by the San Diego County Registrar of Voters was $450,000 to $650,000, based on special elections held in Solana Beach and Poway. San Dieguito’s Area 5 has around 26,000 registered voters.

“At this time it’s so pivotal, we really need another voice on the board,” said SDUHSD President Mo Muir. “I could never justify spending a half a million dollars on an election when every dollar counts toward our kids. By having an election, district programs may not be funded. I could never do that to our students.”

SDUHSD Trustee Katrina Young was the only vote in opposition as she would prefer further exploring the costs and timing of a special election.

“Fiscal responsibility, especially after COVID, is a huge concern but we are a very divided community,” Young said. “There seems to be an erosion of goodwill and it’s worth considering to make sure that all members of the community feel like they’re being heard. It would be a good offering to our community to make sure that we are valuing their voices.”

Applicants will soon be able to submit a resume and questionnaire, with a deadline to apply of April 16. The candidate must live in Area 5, which includes the communities of Carmel Valley and Pacific Highlands Ranch. A board vacancy page has been added to the district’s website and all comments or inquiries can be directed to the board secretary at superintendent@sduhsd.net.

During public comment at the March 29 meeting, one parent asked the board not to spend district funds on a special election. Other parents and students expressed concerns about the appointment process due to the length of time remaining on Gibson’s term (21 months until November 2022), and the potential conflicts of interest of an appointment and creating further division in the district. Students and parents said an election is the only fair way to fill the post by giving the public the opportunity to vote on who represents their interests on the board.

“All citizens in our district area have the right to participate in this democratic process,” said Andie Gately, a Canyon Crest Academy student.

SDUHSD Vice President Melisse Mossy’s concern with a special election was the timing. If the board goes four to five months without a trustee, she said they would be missing that trustee’s perspectives, more important than ever due to the current situation with COVID-19. SDUHSD Trustee Michael Allman agreed.

“This is a unique situation where we need all the input we can get,” Allman said. “I want to have a seated trustee as soon as possible. There’s a lot of important decisions we’re going to be making in the days and weeks ahead.”

Neighboring school districts have used the appointment process to fill vacancies. Most recently, the Solana Beach School District filled a seat by appointment last year and the Del Mar Union School District used the process in 2019. In both cases, the seat was up for election later that same year.

Once an appointment is made, the public has 30 days to petition for a special election with the county office of education, gathering signatures representing 1.5% of the district area. In this case, 399 signatures would be required.

In December 2017, a group of Rancho Santa Fe School District parents forced a special election following the third board member appointment in six years. It was the first successful petition of its kind in San Diego County since 1994 and a mail ballot special election was held in April 2018.


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