CUSD board appoints former member LaConte to vacant seat
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
Claremont Unified School District’s Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to appoint former board member Hilary LaConte to fill the Trustee Area 4 seat vacated by Steven Llanusa, who resigned December 10.
There were 10 applicants for the vacant seat, including Aaron Peterson, whom Llanusa narrowly defeated in the November 8 election.
Board President Kathy Archer, reached by phone Thursday, read a prepared statement: “The Board of Trustees and I were so pleased to see so much interest in the open seat for Trustee Area 4. The applicant pool was rich with talent, and all were eager to serve the students, staff, and families of CUSD. After deliberation the board unanimously appointed former board member Hilary LaConte, who previously served on the board for 13 years. Ms. LaConte’s wealth of experience will be invaluable to the district over the next two years, and we’re excited to welcome her back.”
LaConte previously served on the CUSD board from 2007 to 2020.
Llanusa, a 17-year board member, stepped down December 10 after mounting pressure from the public and a de facto vote of no confidence from his colleagues stemming from perceived impropriety at his December 3 holiday party at which shirtless adult male entertainers were present alongside underage members of the Claremont High School Choir.
Peterson had been suggested as a logical replacement for Llanusa by public commenters at previous board meetings due to his strong showing in the November 8 election. Asked why the board did not select Peterson, Archer said: “I believe we answered that at the board meeting last night, that we felt that Ms. LaConte’s wealth of experience was invaluable to the district.”
LaConte will likely be sworn in at the board’s Thursday, February 2 meeting.
“I welcome Hilary and I’m super excited. It’s going to be amazing,” said board member Kathryn Dunn.
There was just one vote taken on the matter Wednesday, for consideration of the appointment of LaConte.
“My fellow board members really felt more comfortable with Hilary, and I’m not uncomfortable with Hilary, so it just seemed better for me to go with my fellow board members,” Dunn said. “I’m totally confident [in LaConte], and I’m thrilled that she’s back, so I was happy to vote her in.”
Dunn said among the four current board members — Archer, Bob Fass, Richard O’Neill, and herself — she felt she was the most open to considering applicants besides LaConte.
“It seemed that way,” Dunn said. “Also, for me it’s very important in Claremont as a community that we’re creating pathways for new people to become part of politics.
“It’s a little bit of an insider’s game. I don’t think that’s a secret.
“And I feel like it’s really important that people who are already in elected positions that we’re really open to creating lots of different pathways for people to come in.”
To that end, Peterson was among the applicants Dunn considered.
“I can only speak for myself, but yeah, he was definitely at the top of the pile.”
Others promising applicants included Alex McDonald, a medical doctor at Kaiser Permanente, and Jessica Lascano, a school psychologist for San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools.
“I liked the idea of having a medical professional to deal with our mental health crisis, or someone who really has a focus on mental health, which is why Alex McDonald and Jessica Lascano really came to the front for me as two possibilities,” Dunn said. “This isn’t to say that Hilary isn’t fantastic, because she’s amazing, and we know she’s going to do great. But I do think that our mental health crisis was really exacerbated by Covid, which is new. This is a brand-new problem, and I would love to have someone on the board looking through that mental health lens. I think that would be helpful for the students, and I’m always thinking about the students first.”
Some public commenters, and Archer, suggested at Wednesday’s meeting that being new to the board was a challenge to overcome. Dunn doesn’t see it that way.
“My fellow board members are smart, capable, and bring a breadth of experience and talent,” Dunn said. “For me personally, and I acknowledge there is a learning curve, I am not overwhelmed. I am confident in my decision-making ability. I have an institutional knowledge of the district as a parent and journalist who has covered district affairs for over 20 years. I want the community to have full confidence in me and our board. New is not bad. New brings fresh ideas and opens the possibility for new approaches to challenges.”
District Superintendent Jim Elsasser was in jury duty Thursday and could not be reached for comment.