A committee of registered voters in the St. Helena Unified School District has hired a consultant to start the process of recalling four school board members.
Also, 40 district voters have begun the legal process required by the state Elections Code by signing petitions announcing the recall attempt.
On Tuesday, the four petitions were sent by certified mail to board president Ines DeLuna, vice president Cindy Warren and trustees Carolyn Martini and Cynthia Lane.
The notices state the signers “intend to seek your recall and removal from office.” Further, the notices “demand election of a successor in that office.”
Neither Warren nor Martini had received the notices as of Tuesday evening. Warren said she had “heard there was a group out there” seeking a recall, but added, “there is nothing I can do about it, unfortunately.”
Martini said she’s not surprised about the recall effort, but couldn’t comment on the specifics because she had not yet seen the notice. She said she knows there are “unhappy parents following the last two school board meetings,” but, she added, she thought the recall was an overreaction.
DeLuna issued a statement Wednesday morning:
“I have not received any type of notice of recall. I am puzzled because our school district has not enjoyed this type of success in our schools in any recent past. Our scores and achievement are higher than ever before. We have formed community collaborations that did not exist before. We have raised $9 million to update and build new facilities. We have established a strong and successful Student Assistance Program, International Baccalaureate Program, Spanish Language Instruction K-12, Spanish Parent Group, expanded our Ag Program, Biodiesel Project, Boys and Girls Club expansion, Community Liaison for Spanish Speakers, WEB Program for the RLS, collaboration by teachers K-12 and the list continues.”
Lane could not be reached before this week’s deadline.
The terms of DeLuna and Martini are up in November 2010; the terms for Warren and Lane are up in November 2012. With the recent resignation of trustee Jim Haslip, one vacancy remains on the board.
The four St. Helena parents representing “Citizens for Quality Education in Support of the Recall. . .” are Jeanne DeVincenzi, Kevin Alfaro, Pavi Lawson and Sharon Harris. Each has children attending St. Helena schools and all have been district residents for between three and 15 years.
They said the recall effort began two weeks ago, after the board hired Dr. Robert Haley as superintendent without conducting an search.
The four also said the board does not act as an independent body, but instead is run by the administration.
In her statement, DeLuna offered a different perspective.
“Like much of our community, our board members were born and raised in St. Helena, we have a true stake in the success of our district for all of our children. This vision and achievement are due to our strong and positive board members and thanks to our wonderful parents, classified staff, teachers, principals and administrators. I look forward to continuing to serve my community despite any negativity some may try to point out.”
The recall committee has hired a consultant, Ashlee Titus, to guide them through the recall effort. Titus is a member of a Sacramento law firm — Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP, that coordinated the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis.
According to information compiled by Titus and confirmed by Napa County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur, the four school board members have seven calendar days to answer the “Notice of Intention to Circulate a Recall Petition” by filing a statement with the Registrar of Voters and the committee.
The committee then plans to file two blank petitions for recall with the Registrar of Voters by June 12. Tuteur would have 10 days to approve the blank petitions — which will include the committee’s reasons for the recall attempt and the trustees’ responses.
If the petitions are approved, the group will have 90 days, or until Sept. 18, to gather approximately 1,515 signatures, or 25 percent of the estimated 6,058 registered voters in the district.
If the signatures are approved as valid by the Registrar of Voters, the school board would be notified at its Nov. 12 meeting. Within 14 days, the board would be required to order a special election.
The election would be held between Feb. 10 and March 30, 2010. Candidates would be required to file papers no less than 75 days before the election.
The election would have two parts: Voters will be asked to recall the four school board members and then to vote for their replacements.
Tuteur said he doesn’t know yet who would pay for the cost of a special election. He said the cost of an all-mail special election to name a replacement for retired St. Helena school trustee Jim Haslip would be $30,000 to $33,000. A polling-place election would cost $40,000 to $43,000, Tutuer estimated.
The “Notice of Intention to Circulate a Recall Petition” lists the reasons DeLuna, Warren, Martini and Lane are being targeted. The grounds are:
“You demonstrated a complete lack of fiscal responsibility, as evidenced by your approval of exorbitant salaries to administrative personnel and the perpetuation of unnecessary administrative positions while funds for instructional materials to be used in our schools are being cut due to the current economic crisis;
“You failed to act with transparency and failed to provide the public with clear and accurate information, and you in some instances misled the public, with respect to financial, academic and administrative matters;
“You failed to work with the public as your board policies require and you completely disregarded all of the input that the public has provided to you;
“You failed to adequately and properly supervise administrative staff, including, but not limited to the Superintendent;
“You allowed the administration to grossly mismanage fundamental school programs, such as the special education and vocational programs, resulting in the loss of key services to those who need them the most;
“Your failures have created an environment of distrust and disrespect and have weakened our schools’ leadership.”
Recall organizers conceded that they have not regularly attended school board meetings over the past few years, and have just recently gotten involved in school board issues.
“Once we started realizing they were doing the things we allege, we started attending meetings, a few weeks ago,” said Pavi Lawson.
“After 110 people showed up at the May 14 board meeting, a lot of people didn’t go back because we didn’t get a lot of response. The board already made their decision and they were not going to listen to us. The only thing we can do is what we’re permitted to do by democracy, and that’s why we are having a recall.”
Another recall supporter, Gene Armstead, admitted he had not been to a school board meeting until very recently.
“But after going to a meeting, I saw that the board didn’t seem to pay attention to a lot of people who were concerned” about the process of selecting a new superintendent. “Instead of doing a search for a superintendent, the board gave Rob Haley a perpetual, two-year contract,” Armstead said.
The 40 signatures, spread among the four notices, were: Kevin Alfaro, Sallie Alfaro, Denise Armstead, Eugene Armstead, Dan Beltrami, Diane Beltrami, Kathleen R. Boak, Ron Boak, Deborah Boeschen, Carolyn Duryea, Leslie Ellis, Grant Ellis, Susan Greene, Brad Grimes, John Harris, Sharon Harris, Michael Hinton, Sandra Lider, David E. Lider, Cherie Melka, Tom Merzon, Beth N. Milliken, Molly Morales, Lisa Pelosi, Susan Pillsbury, Anthony Rabin, Cecilia Raffo, Alberto Rios, Kelly Rios, Bennett G. Smith, Jeff Smith, Maria Cuiscione Stel, Celeste Williamson, Julie Winn, Andrea Wolf, Tobe Wolf, Tyson Wolf, Brian Yates, Donald A. Yates and Joanne Yates.
For more information about the citizens group and the recall process, send an e-mail to email@example.com. Their offices are at 1241 Adams St., Suite 1010 in St. Helena.