An effort is underway to recall the three trustees of the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) board who voted on March 10 to approve a plan involving the potential consolidation of Analy and El Molino high schools, according to Tasha Mattison, one of several recall committee leaders.
Mattison, who graduated from El Molino High School in 2003, said recall proponents issued Board President Kellie Noe, Board Vice President Jeanne Fernandes and Trustee Laurie Fadave notice of intent to circulate a recall petition on March 26. They were each served individually by certified mail and received the notices on March 29, according to Mattison.
Mattinson said the next steps include circulating the notice in a general newspaper and moving forward with collecting signatures to recall the trustees she said unfairly favor Analy High School.
The group has not yet filed the notice of intent and proof of service to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters Office as of April 2, according to Deva Marie Proto, the county’s clerk-recorder-assessor-registrar of voters.
There are just under 36,000 registered voters in the district, so proponents would have 120 days to get the signatures of 20% (roughly 7,200) of the district’s voters if a recall petition is ultimately approved to circulate, Proto said.
How a local recall process works
In a local recall process, recall proponents need to file a notice of intent and proof of service within seven days of serving the document. Then, they must publish the notice in a newspaper in general circulation and provide the registrar proof of that publication at the same time they file two blank copies of the proposed petition.
Meanwhile, an official receiving the notice has seven days to file a response with the registrar that must be included in the petition if filed in a certain time period, she said. The petition can circulate once the registrar’s office reviews it and gives approval.
“Say they get enough signatures, they file them with us. We do the signature checking, we certify. We would take it to the school board at their next regularly scheduled meeting … and then they would have to call an election within a certain specific period of time,” Proto said.
She said a nomination period opens up for people to sign up as the officials’ replacements, who can file statements to be included in a voter information guide. Voters would decide whether to recall officials on an individual basis and if so, how to replace them, so it’s possible voters would be able to recall one trustee yet allow a different trustee to stay, Proto said.
Recall effort one of several missions to keep El Molino in Forestville
At the helm of several efforts against immediate consolidation is El Molino parent Gillian Hayes, vice president of the El Molino High School Boosters and the Forestville Education Foundation.
“Overall, our goals are to get the board to revote and not close El Molino High School," Hayes said, or "if they are going to choose to consolidate to do it in a thoughtful, longer term process."
She said the recall effort is one arm of a three-pronged approach that also includes a committee focused on repealing the parcel tax and bond measure that partially fund the high school district (the majority of which is paid by west county), as well as “legal remedies” in several areas she said would not be made public until they’ve been filed.
“We have retained an attorney, I can tell you that much,” Hayes said, later adding, “The legal team oversees everything.”
The efforts mostly arise from the Keep Our Lions Roaring Facebook group of El Molino alumni, current parents, business owners and other community members, she said. The Facebook group currently has 1,800 members. The organizing group developed last fall when the board began to seriously consider consolidation, according to Hayes.
“When that group formed, we immediately started talking about a plan moving forward for the worst-case scenario,” she said, creating committees and other plans for interim and best-case scenarios. “So, this has always been on the table.”
Hayes said the group first informed then-board president Fernandes of their intent to launch a recall effort because they did not believe she was concerned about El Molino students and families and instead favored Analy. The effort subsided as the board did not decide immediately to consolidate, but “reignited” after the consolidation decision came to the fore in March.
“And we decided that equity and access to education was a number one priority for our students in the deep west county. And the three board members that voted against providing that equity and access to education didn’t deserve to be on that board,” Hayes said.
The district has created what it calls a “unity committee,” made up of staff and parents from both high schools. It is now seeking student input as well.
As for the district's unity committee she said, “There’s a lot of work to do in two months that I just don’t see happening.”
In the meantime, Hayes said the El Molino Boosters plan to host a barbecue on April 10 with all funds headed to the booster’s special "Save El Molino Fund.”
“Anything and everything to save the high school is what the money’s being spent on,” she said, declining to say what that might be other than that the attorney’s retainer is the only thing the money has funded so far.
“So, we’re gathering the money, we’re creating our strategies, fundraising to get to where we need to be and like I said, we’ll spend accordingly,” Hayes said.
In addition, the group is planning a United Rally to Revote on April 8 at 3 p.m., joining with Analy supporters who oppose the board plan to “rebrand” – rename Analy, change the mascot and the school colors. The plan for the rally is to march one block from Analy to the District Office.
WSCUHSD Board President Kellie Noe responds
WSCUHSD Board President Kellie Noe said, “First off, I wish that when we had two measures on the ballot that could have delayed our need to make this really awful decision that people would have come out and been more positively engaged in that campaign versus now putting their energies into something that’s more negative and detracting.”
Noe said she did not want to comment on the notice’s contents because the recall is not officially on yet, but that she would have to consult legal expertise because the reasons given for her recall were false claims. Misinformation about what consolidation means for the district and for the El Molino campus is an ongoing issue, she said.
“A recall — it’s not going to find $1.2 million,” she said. Noe added later, “We need to point toward unity and working together and trying to think about how do we move forward in a way that is best for kids in west county because they’re the ones that are going to lose out in the end.”
An official recall effort would cost the district money by forcing the district to pay for a special election, especially if the district could not share the ballot and the cost with another entity holding an election, “so it's more sections that we’ll have to cut, more programs, more sports that we’ll have to cut if indeed they do get to that point of getting on the ballot,” she said.
Noe said, “We’re trying to make the best of an awful situation and make sure that our kids have sports, our kids have music, that our kids have art. I wish things were different with school funding and we were in a different position and the reality is the state’s not giving us money.”
What WSCUHSD can do with federal and state funding on the way through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, the American Rescue Plan and Assembly Bill 86’s grants are another area of consolidation debate in recent school board meetings.
El Molino organizer Gillian Hayes said community members wanted the board to revote in light of incoming federal funding, referring to a resolution passed by the board last November.
The resolution passed Nov. 30 said the board would delay consolidation if both or either Measure A or Measure B succeeded in the March 2 election and that “the Governing Board reserves the right to proceed with school consolidation at an earlier date should the District experience a significant change in revenues or expenses.”
The resolution continues, “A significant change for purposes of this option would be financial conditions resulting in a negative impact on the District’s year end General Fund balance of $750,000 or more,” adding the consolidation timeline could be delayed if the district’s fiscal state “substantially improves,” citing such an improvement as “a net increase in the District’s year end General Fund balance of at least $750,000.”
While Chief Business Official Jeff Ogston was not available for comment on April 2, Noe said some community members do not realize relief funds headed to the district are largely restricted for addressing learning loss and pandemic-related issues and are not “a blank check.”
Others mistakenly believe the upcoming merger means the El Molino campus will be shut down and sold to build housing, she said.
“Really, our intention is to still use both campuses. We want to use both campuses for comprehensive classes, we want to use both campuses for sports. Those are all the things we’re looking at right now with bell schedules and transportation options,” she said. “I mean, there’s a lot of creative thought that’s going into how do we make this a new school model that really is reflective of the history and honors both schools.”
Furthermore, the Laguna High School and the district office will also be held at the Forestville campus, according to the consolidation plan.
The board president said the recall effort was disappointing and heartbreaking. “I’ve worked really hard for the last 15 years of my life in a position that is, for all intents and purposes, volunteer and have always dedicated my time to what’s best for kids, and it’s just kind of heartbreaking to think that people really feel like I have bad intentions because that’s not true at all,” she said.