NVUSD recall drive falls short

A group of people looking to recall the Napa Valley Unified School District's board of trustees set up a booth during the Napa Town and Country Fair in August. Recall supporters were unable to deliver the required 10,000 petition signatures to Napa County election officials by the Wednesday, Nov. 29 deadline, killing their attempt to put a recall before voters in November 2018.

J.L. Sousa, Register file photo

Opponents of the Napa Valley Unified School District board announced Nov. 29 the failure of their drive to put a possible recall of all seven trustees before voters.

The Committee to Recall the Board of Trustees of the Napa Valley Unified School District failed to gather the required 10,000 signatures on its petition, chairwoman Connie Brennan said in a news release last Wednesday.

Wednesday was the end of the 160-day period petitioners had to gain signatures for the recall measure, which Napa County’s Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said would have appeared on the November 2018 ballot.

“Although the committee and volunteers worked tirelessly until late in the day on Tuesday, we just didn’t make our number,” Brennan wrote in her statement, without saying how many people signed on to the recall drive.

The recall committee will shred and destroy all signatures to protect the privacy of those opposing the school board, she added.

Board president Jose Hurtado, one of the seven targeted by the recall, called the announcement “good news. I’m glad it failed to get enough signatures and we can move on.”

“I lost a few nights of sleep, but really, if you’re in an elected position, it’s part of the job,” Hurtado said of his initial reaction to recall effort.

“In a rather perverse way, it generated more interest in the board and the school district,” Hurtado said. “We’ve had more people attending meetings and showing interest in the governance of the school district than ever before.”

Robb Felder, the school board trustee, issued a statement, saying he had “remained confident that our community values the work the School Board does and would see through the recall committee’s efforts to divide the community.

“With this distraction behind us, we will continue the good work that we do for all of the kids throughout our community. It is unfortunate so much time was spent trying to collect signatures to recall elected officials when that time could have been spent volunteering in a child’s classroom.”

With the defeat of the attempt to replace the school board wholesale, three of the trustees will be up for re-election next fall: Stacy Bratlien, Thomas Kensok and Felder.

The petition drive targeted school board members whose critics accused them of botching the district’s response to alleged hazing by Napa High School football players, mismanaging the district’s budget and seeking to retire Napa High’s Indians mascot.

Foes of the current Napa Valley Unified board contended the district rushed to judgment when it expelled student-athletes after allegations of hazing football teammates in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Three of the players, including junior varsity quarterback Johnny Torres, later had their dismissals overturned by the Napa County Board of Education – the first such reversals in several years.

(The Napa County District Attorney’s Office announced in May criminal charges against six teenagers in connection with those incidents, and added 11 other teens were under investigation.)

Petitioners against the school board also pointed to Napa Valley Unified’s fiscal troubles, with its budget facing a deficit of more than $12 million this school year before the approval of spending costs. District leaders have said the shortfall stems from falling enrollment and swelling pension expenses, as well as state funding decisions made in Sacramento.

In addition, recall supporters took up the cause of Napans fighting the replacement of Napa High’s Indians sporting nickname, which others have attacked as disparaging to those of Native American descent. After a school district committee voted in February to recommend dropping the Indian mascot, two community meetings on the topic were marked by audience strife, including a near-confrontation in April between Native American activists and a man holding a “Napa Indians Forever” sign.

The mascot issue remains tabled, with no timetable for trustees to discuss it again, according to district spokeswoman Elizabeth Emmett.

After the county approved the petition drive in June, recall supporters spent the following months calling on voters to sign on, setting up booths at local supermarkets and the Napa Town & Country Fair to promote their effort.

City Editor Kevin Courtney contributed to this story.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.