Pro vs. con: should CUSD hold a special election for vacated board seat?
Pro: CUSD special election is necessary
by Ludd A. Trozpek | special to the Courier
The voters of Claremont Unified School District Trustee Area 4 have the opportunity and responsibility to petition for an election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation in December of disgraced school board member Steven Llanusa. The school board took action a scant week after the resignation to avoid an election and to fill the vacancy itself, and followed on that a month later by provisionally appointing Hilary LaConte, a close friend of at least two of the board members.
The entire process was a charade. Put simply: the fix was in. Though at least eight other community members applied, they were given short shrift. Ms. LaConte had been going around town for weeks beforehand saying she was probably going to be appointed, and after scarcely 10 minutes of “deliberation” where the names or qualifications of most of the applicants were neither mentioned nor weighed, her appointment was railroaded through.
Fortunately, state law gives the voters of Trustee Area 4 an opportunity to contest this decision by petitioning for an election. This effort is already underway. Let the replacement trustee be elected by the voters rather than crowned by her privy council.
Much high dudgeon is being expressed by the usual suspects at the estimated cost of a special election but, you know, in a democracy elections are just the cost of doing business. Why, in this time of voter empowerment, should the board members from other trustee areas usurp the prerogatives of the voters of Trustee Area 4?
In a nearby opinion piece, a former school board member makes a breathtaking suggestion that is intended to guilt potential signers and suppress the right to freely petition our government. She urges that petitioners pay nearly $3,000 each to a local school support group to “make up” for the costs the district might incur to conduct an election. I wonder, did then-school board members Llanusa, Tresor Osgood, Nemer, Fass, and Archer contribute $60,000 each to “make up” the unnecessary $300,000 cost to the district for buying off former Superintendent Jeff Wilson not even a year ago after his summary and inexplicable firing?
I didn’t think so.
It was clear to anyone watching this process that it was a well-orchestrated sham, involving (at least) a couple of board members, a couple of former board members, and very probably senior district staff. The other applicants, their applications, their “interviews” were merely eyewash. The board leadership had made its decision more than a month before and had not been honest enough to say so.
Make no mistake. If an election is called it will be because of the duplicitous actions of the board, not because the voters are exercising their rights. We all have to follow the law. When the board and its cronies do it, it’s a sacrament; when the voters do it, it’s a sin.
Ludd Trozpek is a resident of and voter in CUSD Trustee Area 4
Con: CUSD special election is misguided, too costly
by Nancy Treser Osgood | special to the Courier
There is a movement afoot to collect the 99 required signatures of residents of Claremont Unified School District’s Trustee Area 4 to force a special election to fill the vacant school board seat. That special election will cost CUSD $273,000. That’s right, the school district foots the bill for that special election.
The recent decision by the board to appoint Ms. Hilary LaConte (an experienced and well-respected former school board member who was elected twice in at-large elections — which included voters from Trustee Area 4 — and is due to be sworn in at this week’s board meeting) has led to hyperbolic rhetoric on social media about threats to democracy and disenfranchised voters. Accusations are flying that the school board is a club that only “members” can join, or that you have to be “friends” with board members to be appointed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Unfortunately, CUSD now finds itself on the precipice of having to spend $273,000 of taxpayer money to hold a special election. Since there exists no legal option to submit a petition opposing this special election, only 99 residents of Trustee Area 4 will get to decide for all the rest of us district taxpayers whether $273,000 will be spent on this election. That doesn’t sound very democratic to me.
Let’s do the math on the cost of this special election: despite being the “city of trees and Ph.Ds.,” Claremont is not a wealthy school district. The neighboring districts of Pomona and Ontario/Montclair both receive more per-pupil funding than Claremont. Claremont is in the bottom 25% of state funding. That is a fact. And until the state funding formula changes, Claremont will remain in the bottom quartile of state funding. Couple that fact with the reality of declining enrollment in our Claremont schools (a trend occurring throughout the state), and CUSD’s future financial health will be challenging to maintain.
If we spend $273,000 of our taxpayer money on this special election, that will have a direct impact on our 6,700 students. If we divide that $273,000 by 6,700 students, it equates to $40.75 for each student in our district. Let’s consider some of the options $40.75 could buy for one of our students:
- 15 Breakfasts
- Eight Lunches
- Two Field trips
- Five Library books or
- Four Sets of PE clothes
As a member of the CUSD Board of Education for nine years, I was faced with many difficult financial decisions. I trusted that my board colleagues and I were always making decisions that were best for our CUSD students, faculty, staff, and taxpayers. And although school board meetings are open to the public, our closed session discussions (on legally mandated topics such as student discipline, personnel matters, and real estate sales) are private and confidential. That is the law, and each board member takes an oath of office to uphold that law.
The current board of education consists of talented and committed members who are willing to take on the often thankless job of leading our district. The current four board members collectively have a little over four years total of CUSD Board experience. Some community members are calling for “new voices” to be added to the board. I would argue that Claremont residents have already elected new voices to the board, and that any of the 10 people who applied for the appointed position can (and should) run in the regularly scheduled school board election in 2024 (which will not cost the district $273,000).
So, if you are one of the 99 people who chooses to sign the petition that forces this special election, I invite each of you signers to pledge $2,758 to the Claremont Educational Foundation. I arrived at that figure by dividing $273,000 by 99. This nonprofit supports art, music, technology, and teacher innovation grants at every school in our district. By making that pledge to CEF, you will protect the integrity of district funding and make certain the taxpayer money you have chosen to spend on this unnecessary election will get back to our CUSD students, where it rightly belongs.
Nancy Treser Osgood was a member of CUSD’s Board of Education from 2013 to 2022 and served as its president in 2016 and 2021.
If there is a special election, the person elected would fill the seat until November 2024. Spending over a quarter of a million dollars on an election for an interim position makes no sense.