School board will appoint Spencer replacement

School board will appoint Spencer replacement

Michele Ellson
Alameda Board of Education

Schools leaders will soon be seeking applicants to fill the school board seat being vacated by Mayor-elect Trish Herrera Spencer.

The board voted 3-0 on Tuesday to begin the process of appointing someone to fill the remaining two years of Spencer’s term. Spencer recused herself from the decision while Nielsen Tam, who returned to the board Tuesday after several months of battling leukemia, was absent for the vote, the final one of the evening.

The board has until February 10, 2015 – 60 days – to complete the appointment process, the district’s general counsel, Chad Pimentel, told board members Tuesday night. Newly elected board president Barbara Kahn will work with district staffers to draft an application.

The board’s other option was to call a special election, something board members seemed loath to do. Pimentel said an election would cost between $7 and $15 per voter and would likely be held on county-specified dates in March or June.

Pimentel suggested the board give interested parties until early January to apply for the seat; interviews and the selection of a new board member could happen at a public board meeting at the end of January, he said, with the new member being sworn in at the following meeting. A formal timeline for the application and interview process was not set Tuesday.

The appointment would be provisional for 30 days, during which time voters could submit a petition to the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools seeking a special election to fill the seat instead. The petition would have to contain valid signatures from 1.5 percent of Alameda’s roughly 44,000 voters in order to be deemed valid by the county schools superintendent.

If the appointment holds, the new board member will serve out the remainder of Spencer’s term, which ends in 2016.

Earlier in the evening, Interim Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said there’s been a great deal of speculation over who will fill the remainder of Spencer’s school board term. He urged the public to be patient.

“We’ve gotten many, many questions about this process. As it stands now, we don’t know who will replace board member Spencer – Mayor-elect Spencer – when she becomes mayor on December 16,” McPhetridge said. “I would like to invite us all again to have faith in the process.”

The decision happened hours after a pair of new trustees – Solana Henneberry and Gary Lym – were sworn in for their four-year terms, and after board officers were selected. Kahn was unanimously voted in as president and Henneberry, vice president; Lym will serve as board clerk.

“I think it’s a time in education where the possibilities are just booming, and I relish the opportunity of being a part of it,” said Kahn, who said she looks forward to being on a board where everyone “respects and trusts one another” after years of acrimony between board members, district and union leaders.

Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting expressed optimism about what they said are improved relations between the district’s management and its workers and what they anticipate will be a good working relationship with the new board as it weighs in on Measure I bond projects, employee contract negotiations and Common Core implementation. Three of the board’s four members were elected with the aid of the school district’s labor unions.

“We remain optimistic that we can chart a new course,” Alameda Education Association president Audrey Hyman said of the union’s relations with McPhetridge and other district management.

Meeting attendees also cheered the return of Tam, who ended speculation about his continued role on the board.

“I remain committed to the goals and objectives of the school board and the school system,” Tam wrote in a statement read by McPhetridge as Tam looked on. “I am very pleased to be rejoining the board after a brief hiatus.”

The board honored Spencer for her six years of service, and McPhetridge – who often tangled with Spencer during his time as the district’s assistant superintendent – said he thinks a “vigorous debate” over issues is important.

“I want to thank you for disagreeing with me at times,” he said.

Spencer, who ran the final meeting until Kahn's selection as president, thanked McPhetridge and acknowledged the district’s staff and families, and the new board. She will be sworn in as Alameda’s mayor on Tuesday.

“I am very confident that I leave this board in capable and confident hands,” she said. “As your mayor-elect, I look forward to continuing my service to our school district, our children and our families.”