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The Cloverdale Unified School District Board of Trustees and community lost a valued voice and perspective on the Board of Education when Eric Higginbotham recently resigned for personal reasons. The board valued his perspective and contributions, and will miss having him as a board member. We wish him well and hope that the provisional trustee can bring as thoughtful of a perspective to board deliberations as he did.

The CUSD Board of Trustees was overwhelmed by the response to the board vacancy announcement. Overwhelmed in a good and unexpected way. Previous vacancies over the last few decades have been difficult to fill due to of lack of interest. Clearly, community engagement is at an all-time high for our district and the board believes that is a good thing for our students, our schools and our community.

The process for filling a vacancy on the board is laid out in our Board Policies and Education Code. The board is authorized by law to make a provisional appointment to fill the position until the next election. The board is required to interview the candidates at a public meeting, accept public comment and then appoint a provisional trustee by majority vote.

In addition to the board interview each applicant was required to fill out a Candidate Information Form and submit a letter of intent and a resume. With five qualified candidates for the position each of the current trustees spent a substantial amount of time reviewing the paperwork submitted in preparation for the interviews. This preparation work prior to the board meeting took substantial time as each applicant was qualified for the position and each trustee takes a decision of this nature very seriously. We are bound by our responsibility as elected officials to represent the students, their parents and guardians, the faculty, staff, administration and management of our district, the electorate and the community at large. These responsibilities are outlined in our Board Governance Handbook.

At the board meeting on May 1 applicants were publicly interviewed with board deliberation and provisional appointment following. Each applicant was asked the same ten interview questions and had the chance to ask the Board questions as well. The trustees noted their response, asked follow-up questions and ranked the applicants. The trustees considered the applicant’s submitted paperwork, their responses to the interview questions and the criteria each trustee considered in selecting a candidate. As we entered this decision process, the board discussed what each trustee’s considered the main factor in their review of the applicants; with one being the agreed upon Board Governance Team Norm, “focus on the best interest of students.” The discussion was opened up for public comment and then returned to the trustees for final deliberation. With all the time considered, the selection process took each trustee several hours.

The strongest applicants were put forward by each trustee. No one applicant had a majority of the board place them in their top selection, but one applicant did place in the top two for every trustee, Brandon Axell. Among the factors that place Brandon Axell in the first or second place ranking of every trustee include, his long-term commitment to the district, his life experience, community engagement, participation and experience with the Board of Trustees and the School District, and his expertise with budgets and management. There were many qualified candidates, and after the thorough application review and the interviews, the trustees felt Brandon Axell was clearly the top ranked applicant. With minimal public comment and a clear high ranking, the choice was clear with minimal discussion.

The CUSD trustees are earnest in their responsibility to the entire community of Cloverdale in their unifying purpose which is to do the best job they can for the students of the district. Every trustee has a responsibility to each student in the district regardless of ancestry or gender. To that end over, the last six years the trustees have worked diligently to make sure every student in our district is given the best education possible within our limited resources. We as trustees take pride in serving our students and in the fact that our district’s faculty, staff and administration take pride in serving our entire student population. To see the past results, please visit the California Schools Dashboard at https://www.caschooldashboard.org/.

CUSD is currently facing unprecedented challenges including the switch to distance learning and a dismal budget outlook. The Board of Trustees is responsible for the fiscal health of the district and monitoring and setting the direction of our schools. The district already had coming budget challenges associated with our small population/district size, rising cost of retirements contributions for employees, and the rising costs of materials. Due to the current crisis we expect to have to cut the budget by 10% beyond the cuts that were already coming to maintain a positive budget certification. The board believes the responsibility for these difficult decisions about taxpayers’ education dollars’ best rests with the elected trustees of this district rather than the Sonoma County Office of Education. As a district we will need to maintain of fiscal health or the county will.

The district handled the switch to distant learning amazingly well, due to the district vision and funding for one to one technology that was already in place when the shelter-in-place orders were issued and the hard work of our faculty and staff. We know faculty went above and beyond with many giving up their spring breaks to prepare for the implementation of distance learning right after the break. Everyone put the students’ learning first even above their own personal time. This should be a model for future collaboration between the trustees and the faculty and staff of our district. District vision and leadership for technology, fiscal decisions by the Board of Trustees to prioritize funding mechanisms and faculty and staff implementation of technology for the learning needs of our students all came together in a synergy that gave our students an almost seamless transition to distance learning.

The trustees will continue to hear and value the input of our faculty, staff, administration and management personnel, as well as our students, parents/guardians, and other members of our community. The trustees will continue in our goal to have open dialogue and input from all. Ultimately though it is the Board of Trustees’ role and responsibility to govern and make the final tough decisions facing us. It is our role as a district to continue working together and communicating professionally once a decision is made so we can move forward constructively through future decisions. Decision processes such as the appointment of a provisional trustee and hiring of a superintendent are clearly outlined in our board policies.

Some of the tough decisions ahead will be regarding how our schools are structured next year to meet the needs of our students, choosing a new superintendent and making major cuts to our budget. We look forward to constructive input to help in those decision-making processes from all stakeholders as the Board of Trustees deliberate and make the final decisions. 

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