MBUSD – Board of Education will appoint a new trustee

Former MBUSD trustee Jason Boxer. File photo

by Mark McDermott 

The Manhattan Beach Board of Education will appoint a trustee to replace Jason Boxer, who resigned from the board on January 12 after serving two years of a four-year term. 

The board received a report at last Wednesday’s meeting from its legal counsel, attorney Jay Fernow, regarding its options for filling the vacant trustee position. According to California Education Code, the board must either appoint a new trustee or call for a special election within 60 days. 

The cost of that election, Fernow said, would range from $300,000 to $1.5 million. He told the board that another school district he advises, Las Virgenes, also had to fill a vacancy and went into the process thinking the election costs would be “a few hundred thousand dollars” but upon investigation realized the cost would be much more. 

“They announced last night that it would be $1.5 million to hold a special election,” he said. “Now, that was because, in Las Virgenes, if they held the special election in November, they would be the only issue on the ballot. So they’re having to pay for it all…Where it was so expensive was the cost of printing 40,000 booklets that are about 25 pages long, then having to man a place for the vote for 11 days for [residents] to come in and vote.”  

MBUSD would likewise be required to hold the election in November and likely face steep costs since there is no other local election currently scheduled for that ballot. 

All four remaining trustees were in agreement that the cost of an election was prohibitive. 

“I’m focused on the cost,” said trustee Jen Fenton. “That’s the looming issue. I know it’s uncertain because we’re seeing $300,000 as our as our floor, but we’re seeing costs upwards of $1.5 million — that’s a lot of staff positions, that’s a lot of teacher salaries, and as we are trying to figure out what the budget is going to look like, I’m concerned about swallowing that pill.” 

“Even $300,000, which is our floor, is almost three teachers,” said trustee Wysh Weinstein. “That’s not insignificant.” 

“Also the length of time,” Weinstein added. “I mean, November —  it takes usually three to four weeks to even certify an election, so you’re really talking about that person not start starting until this time next year, in reality. That’s a whole year without that spot.” 

“Typically, this decision is made by the electorate, and that is an important voice, obviously, in a board election,” said Cathey Graves, board president, while acknowledging her colleague’s concerns. “But I think we have to weigh the time that we’d be without a board member, potentially, and…the significant cost, and how that money could better serve the district.” 

“That’s not money that was budgeted or planned,” said trustee Tina Shivpuri. “So it’s not set aside anywhere…So it absolutely makes sense to be fiscal fiscally responsible and take the opportunity, because we have these two options —  I would like to move towards the appointment process.” 

The board has until March 13 to either make an appointment or schedule an election. After discussion, Superintendent John Bowes said staff would come back with a prospective appointment process by February 1. The appointment process will occur at a board meeting, possibly as soon as February 15, at which candidates will answer a set of prepared questions from the board. A selection would be made that night by a board vote, and the new trustee appointed immediately. 

Mike Welsh, who was a candidate in the November 8 election, urged the board to select one of the “Trifecta” slate of candidates of which he was a part to fill the vacancy, or someone with a similar mindset. 

“Now, you guys won the election fair and square, and congratulations on that,” Welsh said, addressing Shivpuri, Weinstein, and Fenton. “But there’s a large segment of our population, 40 percent approximately, who have a different point of view, and those are the ones who voted for me, Christy [Barnes] and Johnny [Uriostegui]. I would encourage you, with the vacancy that’s available now, to consider putting somebody who doesn’t think exactly like you. It’s not like our opinions are completely different than yours, but I think it would be a nice olive branch to the 40 percent of the community that thinks about things a little bit differently. It doesn’t have to be me —  Christy, Johnny or me, or if there’s another qualified, conservative voice, I think it would be really nice to be able to say ‘Listen, we’ve got somebody who’s contributing to the discussions who doesn’t see things exactly like we do.’”

It’s also possible that both an appointment and a special election could occur. Fernow told the board that a petition that gathered signatures representing 1.5 percent of registered voters in Manhattan Beach could force a special election, which the district would have no choice to fund. This equates to only about 400 signatures of Manhattan Beach’s roughly 27,000 registered voters, a far lower threshold than the 10 percent required for a ballot measure. This means that anyone disgruntled with the board’s choice of trustee could likely force an election.  Additionally, the trustee appointed by the board would have to step down as soon as such a petition was certified. 

 “When the 1.5 percent threshold is met, the appointed trustee is appointed no more,” Fernow said.  “And that seat remains vacant until the November ‘23 election.” 

The school board will revisit the matter on February 1. ER 


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