Fresno Unified won't have special election

Posted by Hannah Furfaro on February 28, 2014 

Christopher De La Cerda

FRESNO BEE STAFF PHOTO

The fight over whether there will be a special Fresno Unified school board election for the McLane High area trustee seat is over.

The Fresno County Office of Education voted on Feb. 20 to withdraw a waiver it filed with the State Board of Education, which would have given groups pushing for a special election extra time to gather required signatures.

“The Fresno County Board of Education supports the withdrawal of the waiver because a special election this late would cause voter confusion and also result in undue cost to the Fresno Unified School District,” said Lisa Birrell, spokeswoman for the county education office.

At issue was whether trustee Christopher De La Cerda, who has been representing the McLane region since November 2012, should face voters at the ballot box. De La Cerda was appointed by the school board to the job previously held by Tony Vang, who resigned in 2012 amid a dispute over whether he lived in the area he represented.

But not everyone agreed with the appointment.

Opponents worked to collect registered voters names in late 2012 after the county board said they needed at least 300 signatures to call a special election. The situation became complicated when the county office learned it made an error: petitioners would need to collect at least 2,300, they discovered.

The county education board then asked the state Board of Education to give petitioners more time to gather names, but rescinded the request last week after months of delays. That puts the kibosh on any chance of removing De La Cerda from his position.

As a condition of withdrawing the waiver, Birrell said the county office plans to lobby to amend the part of California education code that governs school board special elections.

Right now, code says signatures are required from at least 1.5% of registered voters across the district. Birrell says the county wants that changed to 1.5% of registered voters within the trustee area that’s up for special election.

De La Cerda said he’s made an effort to connect with his constituents since taking office, even going door-to-door in his neighborhood to talk with parents. The former Sunnyside High special education teacher said he’s relieved he can close this chapter and focus his attention on school board duties and his general election in November. De La Cerda is one of four trustees up for reelection this year.

“It was becoming more of a distraction,” he said. “It was frustrating because it’s almost as if you get going, you have the wind in your sails, and it deflates because you have to address the issue.”

Mai Summer Vue, a teacher at John Muir Elementary who led the push for a special election, said she was “quite disappointed” to hear the news. Vue said parents in the McLane High area feel let down by the district and county boards, which she accused of buying time until the November regular election.

“(They) never intended to give the people this special election in the first place,” she said. “Based on what we have seen, it clearly demonstrated that.”

Vue said parents and teachers who supported the special election have formed a group called Justice for Education, which she said is looking for a candidate to oppose De La Cerda in the fall.

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