OUSD board will appoint trustee to fill surprise vacancy

By Tina  Richards 

Trustee Diane Singer resigned from the Orange Unified School District Board, July 31, because she and her family moved out of the area she represented.

The surprise announcement came on the heels of her move from Anaheim Hills (trustee area 1) to the City of Orange (area 3).  By law, trustees must resign if they no longer live in the area they were elected to represent.  Singer has served on the board since 2010, and was in her second term, after running uncontested for the seat in 2014.

The board has two options to fill the vacated seat.  It can call a special election, which would cost the district an estimated $441,120 to $499,162, or it can appoint someone to serve until the next scheduled election in 2016.  At that time, the appointee would have to run for the seat and either be elected or rejected by voters.

Cost consciousness

“I would prefer a special election,” Trustee Kathy Moffat said during the Aug. 13 board meeting.  “But the cost is prohibitive; it demands an appointment.”  Mark Wayland agreed, noting there would also be considerable cost to the candidates. “There’s money spent all over the place,” he said, “and it wouldn’t be worth it for an interim position that they’d have to turn around and run for again.” The board subsequently voted 6-0 to accept applications for the position.  The board must select an applicant within 60 days or the county department of education will be required to force a special election.  OUSD would pay for it.

Many OUSD board watchers fear that current majority members Tim Surridge, John Ortega, Mark Wayland and Rick Ledesma will take this opportunity to appoint a “ringer” who will vote with them.  Some important board votes, selling district property for example, require a supermajority of five votes.  Surridge, Wayland, Ortega and Ledesma have been thwarted in their attempts to sell the surplus Peralta property by a consistent 4 to 3 vote.  Singer, along with Moffatt and Alexia Deligianni-Brydges have voted against the sale twice.  OUSD community members, particularly those who live near the site, have long urged the board to hold on to the property, noting that proceeds from the sale would not solve the district’s financial problems, and that once the centrally located parcel is gone, the district would never be able to replace it.

The board’s selection of a candidate to fill Singer’s seat does not need to be unanimous.  A simple majority vote will suffice.  The application/nomination period closed Aug. 28, with candidate information sheets due Sept. 4.  District staff will work with legal counsel to determine which applicants meet eligibility requirements; their names will be announced at the Sept. 10 board meeting.  Trustees will interview candidates beginning the week of Sept. 14, and intend to make a selection by Sept. 29.  Once the provisional appointee is announced, voters have 30 days to override the board’s decision and call for a special election, which the district would also have to pay for.

Public consciousness
Some OUSD constituents have already indicated that if trustees select a “political” appointee who represents the best interests of the board majority, rather than a “neutral” candidate willing to serve on behalf of the district’s students, parents and teachers, a special election will be pursued. To force an election, petitioners must gather about 1,600 signatures from eligible voters.  After the signatures are verified by the county registrar of voters, the department of education must hold an election within 90 days.

Before the board began its discussion of how to fill the empty seat, Kathy Moffatt took a few minutes to praise the person who had sat there.  “Diane Singer was all about quality teaching and learning,” she said.  “Every decision she made was based on that.”  Moffatt also cited Singer’s courage, integrity and ability to get things done.  “She was my mentor. I learned a lot from her.”

“It is a great honor to serve the children and families of OUSD,” Singer wrote in her resignation letter.  “It has been my privilege to serve with the best teaching and classified staff in Orange County.  Our children are lucky to be in such safe, capable hands.”  She also plans to keep at least one hand in the district, pledging her support to the “relentless pursuit of much-needed new funding for all OUSD schools.”