Filling Doug Perkins’ shoes

“Former Del Mar Union School District trustee Doug Perkins has resigned his position on the San Diego County Board of Education, after suffering a massive hemorrhagic stroke in February.”

That opening sentence in reporter Karen Billing’s story in this newspaper last week is heartbreaking.

According to his wife, Perkins is making progress in his recovery. Nevertheless, she wrote in her online journal that she made the difficult decision to resign him from his District 5 seat on the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) board, effective June 8.

Perkins, who served for seven years on the Del Mar Union School District board, won his SDCOE seat in 2014 after a hard-fought campaign against an opponent endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers and supported by AFT money.

Perkins’ improbable win was a resounding defeat for the union-backed candidate, and represented a victory for those voters who rejected questionable campaign tactics and instead chose to support a candidate whose track record was one of strong fiscal oversight, fairness and nonpartisan decision-making in the best interests of students.

The resignation means the District 5 seat is open, and applications are now being accepted. Applicants must reside within District 5 (which stretches from Del Mar, east to part of Poway, and north to Fallbrook) and must submit applications by noon July 1.

County board members will interview candidates and appoint a new trustee at their July 8 meeting. If trustees do not appoint someone 45 days from the day Perkins resigned, which would be July 23, the county Board of Supervisors will make the appointment.

Here’s where this gets interesting.

Lyn Neylon, SDCOE board member from District 2, also resigned, effective June 30. So the five-member board will be down to three members who will appoint Perkins’ replacement. The appointment to replace Neylon will come a few weeks later.

We already know who one applicant will be for Perkins’ seat: Neylon herself.

“It’s my intention to throw my hat in for District 5 because I’m moving back to North County,” Neylon announced at the June 10 SDCOE board meeting.

Her resignation letter is effective June 30, and the deadline to submit an application for Perkins’ seat is noon July 1. Tricky timing.

The issue of residency

Peg Marks, SDCOE legal services analyst, spoke to board members at the June 10 meeting, advising them on the proper procedure for the appointments. She noted the following details:

•Vacancies on the SDCOE board must be filled by appointment. There is no option for an election, unlike for school districts.

•Rules regarding the filling of vacancies for the county board of education are governed by the San Diego County Charter and not by California Education Code.

•The applicant interviews, board discussion and appointment are subject to the Brown Act and must be public.

The applicable government code (section 240-245) states the following rules for establishing residency:

•It is the place where one remains when not called elsewhere for labor or other special or temporary purpose, and to which he or she returns in seasons of repose.

•There can only be one residence.

•A residence cannot be lost until another is gained.

Music Watson, SDCOE’s chief communications officer, said it’s not a requirement to have lived in the district for a prescribed period of time, although board members may choose to take that factor into consideration when appointing Perkins’ replacement.

A candidate must, however, live in the district at the time the application is submitted.

As of press time, Neylon had not responded to my requests for an interview, to clarify the timeline for her move. But as of the June 10 board meeting, she still resided in District 2 and was the District 2 representative on the county board.

Also as of press time, no candidate has applied to fill Perkins’ seat — only Neylon has publicly stated intentions to do so.

Increased monthly stipend

The San Diego County Office of Education provides services for the county’s 42 school districts, 119 charter schools and five community college districts. This includes 774 schools and about 504,000 students, including more than 11,000 children educated each year through SDCOE’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools.

County Schools Superintendent Randolph Ward was hired in 2006, replacing former Superintendent Rudy Castruita who served from 1994 to 2006.

To see a map of the five SDCOE districts and read trustee bios, see: http://www.sdcoe.net/Board/pages/board-members.aspx.

The application to fill the vacancy in District 5 can be found here: http://www.sdcoe.net/Board/Pages/board-vacancies.aspx.

The appointee will not serve the full four years of Perkins’ term, which expires in January 2019. Rather, he or she will serve until the next general election in 2016. At that time, voters will elect someone to fill the two years remaining in the term. Then another election will be held in 2018 to select someone to serve a full four-year term.

As an aside, board members recently voted to increase their monthly stipend 5 percent, and gave themselves a raise effective July 1, 2015, to $536.03 per month. The last raise they approved — again, 5 percent — was last July 1, 2014.

An annual 5 percent increase seems to be the trend. Board members also receive a generous benefits package.

Basic Aid districts

Neylon appears to be an intelligent, dedicated, energized trustee who might very well be an excellent District 5 board member. Still, it’s reasonable to question her qualifications to fulfill the needs of District 5.

According to Neylon’s bio on the SDCOE website, she grew up and lives in the South Bay area. Her school districts in District 2 include Sweetwater, South Bay, Chula Vista, National City and San Ysidro — the communities at the southernmost edge of San Diego County.

Can a new resident of District 5 have the necessary depth of understanding of the unique needs of the North County coastal school communities in District 5, many of which are classified as Basic Aid?

Because they are financed mainly through local property taxes rather than the state, Basic Aid districts — Del Mar, Solana Beach, Cardiff, Rancho Santa Fe, San Dieguito, among others — are funded entirely differently than any of the school districts in District 2. And this matters a great deal.

The concerns are different, the needs are different, the demographics are different. Not better and not worse — just fundamentally different than the non-Basic Aid school districts.

Board members with two years’ experience may understand how SDCOE operates, but without the in-depth knowledge of the local school communities they will be representing, is that board experience enough?

The second concern is that Neylon, according to reports in the San Diego Union-Tribune, won her seat in 2012 with heavy backing from the American Federation of Teachers.

By choosing Perkins in 2014, voters in District 5 rejected Perkins’ opponent, who was also supported by the AFT.

The San Diego Union- Tribune noted that the other three SDCOE trustees, the three who will choose Perkins’ replacement, are all backed by the same teachers union.

Perkins was alone among the five SDCOE board members, the only one not AFT-endorsed.

In picking a successor to Perkins, will board members consider that voters in District 5 chose a non-AFT candidate in 2014 to represent them? Or will the board feel an unspoken obligation to support Neylon, as a fellow AFT-backed trustee, for District 5, and simply shuffle the seating arrangement in the boardroom?

Tragic loss

There are so many reasons why Perkins’ stroke is tragic; the loss of his presence on the county board of education is one of them. He would have been a wonderful addition to the board, and the public has been denied the benefit of his intelligence, passion, wisdom and charm.

Hopefully, the remaining three county board members will have a number of highly qualified candidates applying to fill the seat, and one hopes they choose someone aligned with the positions and issues that were important to Perkins — issues apparently important to voters as well.

Perkins cannot really be replaced on the board; the most that can happen is that board members fill the vacancy. Let’s hope they do this in a way that best honors Doug and all he gave to his community as a devoted public servant.

Update, 6/25/15:

Lyn Neylon finally replied to my request for an interview, but too late to include her response in my story. Although gracious in her reply, she declined to discuss her intention to run for the open seat in District 5 or the timeline for her move.

"At this time, I'd prefer not to comment," Neylon said in an email. "Almost everything the SDCOE board does is out in public, and I have no wish to supersede the board as it goes through this process by speaking to the media about my personal choices."

Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com

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