Schools - December 19, 2007

Portola Valley school trustees deadlock, call special election

by Marjorie Mader

Trustees of the Portola Valley School District unanimously agreed last week to call a special election May 6 to fill a vacancy on the five-member board after deadlocking 2-2 on appointing one of two applicants for the job.

The election will cost the district an estimated $10,000. The seat is vacant because of the Oct. 18 resignation of trustee Donna Carano, who had two years remaining on her term.

The deadlock over the appointment came down to two votes for Karen Jordan, whose four-year term on the board expired this month; and two votes for Brad Turner, who came in third in an election for two board seats in November.

Neither side would budge after three meetings and lengthy discussions.

Mr. Turner said Monday he plans to file as a candidate in the election. Ms. Jordan said: "I have no idea if I'm running or not. It's a little early. I don't even know the dates for filing. I'm going to enjoy my holidays and come back after the new year and think about it."

No budging

New board President Ray Villareal and recently elected trustee Judith Mendelsohn steadfastly supported appointing Ms. Jordan, who has a long history of involvement with the district as a parent volunteer, PTA president, and liaison with other school districts.

Trustee Don Collat and recently elected trustee Steve Humphreys also did not budge on their choice: Mr. Turner, an entrepreneur who would be the only board member to have children at the district's K-3 school, Ormondale, after June 2008. He has been a classroom volunteer and served on the board of the Portola Valley Schools Foundation.

All four trustees agreed that both candidates are well-qualified to sit on the board, but none of the four was willing to switch her or his vote.

At one point, Ms. Mendelsohn proposed flipping a coin, but she didn't receive support for that idea. Mr. Collat suggested having each candidate serve a portion of the two-year term, but the board couldn't enforce this.

Unable to muster the required three votes for an appointment, the board decided on Dec. 13 to call the special election and let the voters decide. Time was running out: The election had to be called by Dec. 17.

The state Education Code requires the governing board either to make a "provisional" appointment or order an election to fill the vacancy within 60 days after the vacancy occurs. (The appointment is called "provisional" because voters could petition to overturn the appointment and call a special election.) The code also requires that the election be held on the next election date and not less than 130 days after the election is ordered.

Superintendent Anne Campbell said the first election date after the 130-day period — Tuesday, April 22 — was not possible due to a technical conflict between the Election Code and the Education Code. There was not sufficient time to iron out the differences.

Therefore, trustees decided the next appropriate date for the election is Tuesday, May 6. It will be an all-mail ballot election, conducted by the San Mateo County Elections Office. The county will mail ballots to all registered voters in the district.


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