Editorials

District stumbled by shutting out public

The Twin Rivers Unified School District Board of Education on Monday appointed charter school executive  Sonja Cameron from a pool of 13 candidates to fill a vacant District 5 seat on the board, bypassing public comment.
The Twin Rivers Unified School District Board of Education on Monday appointed charter school executive Sonja Cameron from a pool of 13 candidates to fill a vacant District 5 seat on the board, bypassing public comment. Sonja Cameron

Nothing tells the story of progress in the short, contentious history of Twin Rivers Unified School District better than the fact that 13 impressive people asked to be considered as a replacement for disgraced trustee Cortez Quinn.

Among them are prominent educators, business people, teachers, community leaders. It’s a diverse list that includes women and men, African Americans, Latinos and a Muslim community leader.

Inevitably, the road to progress has a few potholes. The Twin Rivers Board of Education’s process for appointing the provisional trustee this week was one of them.

Board members had been planning for this appointment since Quinn pleaded no contest to a felony in October. They set up a process to assess, interview and whittle down candidates, culminating in the selection of one at a meeting scheduled for Thursday.

The whittling down never happened. Thursday’s vote won’t happen, either. That’s because the board unanimously, unexpectedly voted Monday night to appoint one of the 13 candidates, charter school executive Sonja Cameron, to fill the two years left on Quinn’s term after it became clear she was the top choice of a majority of trustees.

In so doing, the board shut out the people of District 5 from the process of deciding who would represent them. There was no public comment Monday and no reaching out to community leaders once they had applicants. And by not choosing three finalists to decide from Thursday, the board robbed the public of the opportunity to weigh in on the one they would prefer.

We have no doubt that Cameron will be a thoughtful voice on the board, what with 33 years in public schools, the last 15 of which were spent in public charter schools. She is chief operations officers and co-founder of the Pacific Charter Institute based in Rio Linda. But the process in which she was appointed undermines her legitimacy as a trustee.

There’s also the uncomfortable fact that Cameron, who is white, replaces the board’s only black trustee to represent a mostly black district. Were any of the African American candidates on the list of 13 even close in the ranking that led to Cameron’s appointment? We would know if there had been a slate of finalists.

Race shouldn’t be the only factor, but it should carry some weight when it comes to populations systematically shut out of the political process.

Reversing that trend was the point of Measure G, which voters in the Twin Rivers district passed in 2012, replacing the at-large trustee seats to district seats. The board knows that.

This board also knows the history of racial tensions and distrust of the community since the 2008 merger of Grant Joint Union High School with the North Sacramento, Del Paso and Rio Linda elementary school districts.

Trustees should have bent over backward to get public buy-in for the new District 5 trustee, even if that meant one more meeting to attend. They didn’t, and may well have stumbled on its road to progress.

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