Schools post may go to vote

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012 - 1:19 pm

A recently appointed school board member in West Sacramento could be ousted from her seat, an upshot of the growing tensions and mistrust between school trustees and city leaders.

On Friday, critics of the appointment submitted a petition to the Yolo County Office of Education seeking a special election in the Washington Unified School District.

The petition backers complained that the board members named Elizabeth Bagdazian as trustee last month from a list of applicants rather than acting in time to place the vacated seat on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Trustee Sandra Vargas submitted her resignation Aug. 1, effective Aug. 31. Bagdazian was appointed on Sept. 5.

The petition must have 345 valid signatures to force an election, at a cost of about $100,000.

"This is a two-year appointment," said Bagdazian, who was chosen from a slate of applicants. "Our schools, our kids can't afford this."

After the appointment, Mayor Christopher Cabaldon alleged that the school district broke the law to keep the seat vacated by Vargas off the November ballot. Cabaldon said it was well known Vargas had moved out of the district and that her resignation was pending for many months.

He said her resignation arrived right after the deadline to put her seat on the November ballot.

"That magically gave the board the ability to appoint the seat," Cabaldon said recently. "The board is required by law to vacate the seat and take appropriate action. That would have been to put it on the November ballot."

Earlier this week, Cabaldon urged his Facebook followers to sign the petition to cancel the appointment and return the choice to voters. On Facebook, Cabaldon said Bagdazian was appointed "under a shroud of secrecy that is an embarrassment to what West Sacramento stands for."

Washington Unified Superintendent Dayton Gilleland said the West Sacramento school district followed procedures and education code in making the appointment.

A spokeswoman for Yolo County said the seat could have been placed on the ballot in August, but not without difficulty.

The last day to place a race on the ballot would have been Aug. 10, county spokeswoman Beth Gabor said in an email. But to make that happen, the school district would have to hold a special meeting and ask Yolo County to consolidate its election with the general election.

Then the county supervisors would have had to act before the deadline.

"This would have been very difficult for all parties concerned," Gabor said, adding that filling vacancies through appointment is "fairly standard."

Bagdazian said she believes the issue has nothing to do with her but, rather, had to do with the person who didn't get the two-year post.

"I think it's really tragic that because their candidate didn't get the appointment, they are willing to make us pay $100,000 for a special election," she said.

Bagdazian said she filed a complaint with the Yolo County Office of Education after she saw a representative from Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan's office gathering signatures for the petition at a candidate forum hosted by two nonprofits.

"That is an abuse of power," Bagdazian said. "As a taxpayer, I find that morally repugnant. Am I paying this person to be out at a candidate forum gathering signatures?"

The Yolo County elections office has 30 days to verify signatures and notify the county's Office of Education if a special election needs to be held. An election could occur as early as March.

Tom Stanionis, Yolo County elections chief of staff, said Washington Unified would have to pay the entire cost of a special election.

His office does not provide estimates of special election costs, he said. But he said a recent all-mail special election for Davis Joint Unified cost about $124,000.

Bagdazian expressed disappointment how the issue has unfolded.

"Getting a petition is well within their right," she said. "That's not my issue.

"I am sickened that the residents of this community are not being told the truth. … There is too much work to be done to be bogged down by this nonsense."

Editor's note: This story was changed Oct. 9 to reflect that Beth Gabor is a spokeswoman for Yolo County.

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