Will serve as trustee until the position is up for election in November
The Cloverdale Unified School District Board of Trustees selected Brandon Axell as a provisional board trustee during its May 1 meeting. Axell is being appointed to fill the position left vacant by former Trustee Eric Higginbotham, who resigned from the board on March 12. He’ll serve as trustee until November, when the position is up for election.
Axell is referred to as a provisional trustee during a 30-day window in which members of the public can file a petition to call for a special election for the position. At a board meeting last month, the board of trustees voted to appoint a board member, rather than host a special election, due to the cost associated with hosting a special election.
Five candidates were interviewed by the board of trustees during a special board meeting on Friday, May 1. The interview process was public and led by trustees Cecile Peterson and Preston Addison. Other candidates interviewed by the board included Christina Lepe-Duarte, Gabriela Mendoza-Torres, Manuel Mollinedo and Danielle Streb.
When asked by Addison why he was interested in a position on the board, Axell said that he applied to be a trustee as a way of continuing his involvement in the district.
“Over the years I’ve given in many ways to the community with mostly sports volunteering. As my kids have gotten older and are almost getting aged out of that, I need to transition my time into something else good, and I think this would be a good route to go. Many people think of this board position as a headache, and sometimes it is, I think I’m one that can deal with that quite well. I’ve served as the Little League president, and I’m currently on the booster board, and I think it’s time to do something more,” he said. “I think the district has some significant challenges coming, although they’ve dealt with many over the last few years, but hiring a new superintendent and having to oversee all of the bond construction going on, as well as balancing a budget with student and staff needs is so important. Overall, I’ve just always been a volunteer, and I think I’d like to see the (district) grow.”
In addition to being involved with Little League and the booster club, Axell also served as one of the parents on the Committee to Improve Cloverdale Schools, which was created in 2018 to help support the passage of Measure H.
When asked what his guiding principles as a board member would be, Axell said that they revolve around being fiscally sound.
“A school cannot operate on a budget that can’t be sustained looking forward in the following years,” he said. “Look at this year — what’s going to happen with what’s going on currently?”
During public comment prior to deliberation, Teachers Association of Cloverdale president Erika Sauder urged the trustees to look at candidates who may be able to help represent the members of Cloverdale’s Spanish-speaking community.
“I think the candidates presented really strong backgrounds and various backgrounds that are important in different ways to our community. Something that I think is really important to consider, and it keeps coming up in the academic region … is that we constant underserve our Spanish-speaking population and students, and we continuously talk about the fact that there’s a disconnect between who we see in public participating and who a majority of our students are,” Sauder said. “I think it’s really important, and the best way to raise those things academically is to get in touch with that community, and we do have a few candidates who presented strong strengths there.”
The candidates who listed being bilingual as a strength were Lepe-Duarte and Mendoza-Torres.
Sauder also commended one of the candidates, who said that the best way to gauge the health of the district is reaching out to various types of community members such as parents, teachers, staff and principals.
“The entire health of a district is every single person who’s a part of it, and I only heard that from one candidate,” she said.
When deliberating about who to choose for the role, trustees said that they were looking for applicants who they felt would be able to fill the gap left by Higginbotham.
“I think this appointment may be different than other ones we may make, and the reason for that is the situation that we’re in. We’re facing so many things that we need to be able to deal with, and we need someone who will be able to help us deal with them,” Peterson said, referencing the district’s budgetary and financial struggle. “I think any of these candidates would be wonderful in certain times, and I’m wondering if the time dictates who we are and what we do.”
“I’m floored at this many strong candidates,” Addison added.
When comparing individual scores based on the interviews and additional paperwork submitted by candidates, the trustees found that the only person in the top two of each of their lists was Axell, who scored high due to his familiarity with the district and the comments he made surrounding the importance of the district’s budget.