Members from our community have voiced concerns over the results of the November 3, 2022, Area 5 Trustee School Board Member provisional appointment. At the December 15, 2022, Governing Board meeting, the petitioners formally voiced dissatisfaction with the appointment process. In response, the Governing Board would like to provide insight regarding the appointment and appeal process and reiterate the esteem in which we hold the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of California.
The Solano County Registrar of Voters notified the Benicia Unified School District that no candidate (i.e., failure to elect) had applied to serve Area 5 (map linked) for the November 8, 2022, general election. In response, the Benicia Unified School District Governing Board held interviews at the November 3, 2022, Regular Governing Board meeting to provisionally appoint someone to the Area 5 vacancy. Following those interviews, the Board, by a majority vote, chose to provisionally appoint Ms. Ariana Martinez, a licensed, active social worker, as well as a member of our community. Our Governing Board did not take this appointment lightly as we compared the complexity and similarities of her social work responsibilities to the needs of our District. Our Board believes Ms. Martinez could empathize with families seeking equitable outcomes within the educational system, as well as a clear understanding of the laws that govern special education.
After Ms. Martinez was selected, petitioners, composed of the remaining three candidates from the appointment process, expressed concern with the Board’s selection and shared the following as a basis for their argument: conflict of interest, intentionally keeping active parents from serving on the Governing Board, nepotism, collusion, and failure to disclose. The petitioners also questioned Ms. Martinez’s qualifications to serve as a Governing Board member even though she meets the requirements and holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work. The requirements to serve as a Governing Board member are included in Education Code section 35107, subdivision (a):
(a) Any person, regardless of sex, who is 18 years of age or older, a citizen of the state, a resident of the school district, a registered voter, and who is not disqualified by the Constitution or laws of the state from holding a civil office, is eligible to be elected or appointed a member of a governing board of a school district without further qualifications.
Ms. Ariana Martinez, the provisional appointee, is the daughter of the Executive Assistant to the Superintendent. Before the appointment process, the Governing Board did not discuss any candidate with the intent of facilitating a fair and objective process.
On Tuesday, November 15, 2022, Ms. Sheri Zada, Board President, and Dr. Damon Wright, Superintendent, met with the three petitioners, Mr. Nicholson, Ms. Macedo, and Ms. Hirsh, regarding their concerns. During that meeting, the petitioners requested that Board President Zada overturn the Trustee Area 5 appointment, citing failure to disclose a family relationship, or facilitate a special election under Education Code 5092. The petitioners also submitted a California Public Records Request to review documents and correspondence related to the Area 5 Trustee appointment in an attempt to support the alleged misconduct of the Board.
Upon review of the BUSD Board Policy 9270 and after consulting legal counsel, the Governing Board determined that Ms. Martinez could be appointed without creating a conflict of interest. As the Governing Board did not violate policy, there was no reason to reverse the appointment decision made on November 3, 2022. Instead, the Governing Board prepared itself for three possible scenarios: (1) Ms. Martinez would assume the Area 5 Trustee seat on December 15, (2) Ms. Martinez could decline the appointment offer, thus facilitating the opportunity for a new provisional appointment, or (3) the petitioners could take the necessary steps to trigger a special election under Education Code 5092.
Ultimately, the petitioners chose to take the necessary steps to trigger a special election. It’s important to note that “a petition shall be deemed to bear a sufficient number of signatures if signed by at least the number of registered voters of area 5 equal to 1 1 /2 percent of the number of registered voters of area 5 at the time of the last regular election for governing board members, or 25 registered voters, whichever is greater.” The petitioners were tasked with collecting sixty-two signatures. The registrar of Voters validated the sixty-two signatures, and the County Superintendent of Schools terminated the appointment on December 12, 2022, before Ms. Martinez was sworn into office. The County Superintendent has called for a special election on April 11, 2023.
The petitioners shared that the existing Governing Board members were resistant to including parents. As a Governing Board, we prioritize the needs of our students and have served and continue to serve children in various capacities throughout our careers. While our Board members currently do not have children in the District, four out of the five Governing Board members at the time of the appointment had children who attended schools within the Benicia Unified School District.
The BUSD’s Governing Board shares the community’s concern with the financial impact of a special election, as this process may cost between sixty and eighty thousand dollars. The Governing Board attempted to legally appoint a community member to fill the vacancy in Trustee Area 5 to avoid election costs; however, the appointment was petitioned and made clear that the petitioners sought an election to fill the vacancy. The community has spoken, and we will honor and fully support the democratic process. The Governing Board understands that the Benicia community places great value in its public schools, and this level of interest in and support for BUSD and District leadership maintains a system of accountability and reinforces our focus on keeping structures to support students and their growth.
If you are interested in serving as Trustee for Area 5 on the Benicia Unified School District Governing Board, the special election will take place on April 11, 2023. The filing period opened on Monday, December 19, 2022, and closes on January 13, 2023 (the voting will take place by Area 5 residents only). Please contact the Solano County Registrar of Voters for application materials and additional information. Here is the link to their website: Solano County Registrar of Voters.
Benicia Unified School District