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Group Hints at Possible Drama Over Fresno School Board Vacancy

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Local group Save Our Fresno Schools is anticipating a political tug-of-war over filling FUSD's vacant board seat. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)
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The untimely passing of Trustee Carol Mills has left a vacancy on the Fresno Unified School Board that could result in a struggle over filling the seat.

Mills won her fifth term representing the Fresno High area in November 2020. She died Wednesday after a battle with ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — a progressive neurodegenerative disease.

60 Day Timeline to Decide

The School Board now has 60 days to choose between two options to fill the vacant trustee seat: make a provisional appointment or call for an election. That decision must come by Sept. 19.

If the board chooses an election, it would occur in early 2022. The next regular election for the seat will not come around again until November 2024.

“My preference is what we can do legally and expediently,” Fresno Unified Board President Valerie Davis said.

The next scheduled school board meeting is August 11, but a special meeting to discuss the matter could be called before then.

Provisional Appointment Option

If the board decides to appoint a replacement, eligible candidates can apply or be nominated. Eligibility includes being a registered voter (thus a U.S. citizen) and living within the FUSD Area 5 boundaries.

A subcommittee of up to three trustees would vet potential nominees to make sure they are eligible. Interviews with the candidates would take place at a public meeting, with the nominee being selected by majority vote of the full board.

A similar process was followed by the Clovis Unified School District in 2019 when the board selected Hugh Awtrey to replace retiring trustee Brian Heryford. Awtrey was elected by the public a year later.

If a provisional appointment is made, the new trustee would have full rights and privileges. The appointee would face election in November 2022 to fulfil the remainder of the term and could then run for a full term in November 2024.

Appointee Could Be Challenged with Petition

If an appointment is made, residents can challenge the decision with a petition calling for a special election.

Jim Tuck, president of a grassroots group called Save Our Fresno Schools, expects the board to make an appointment. And he expects the board’s choice will not be to his group’s liking. If so, they plan to initiate a petition.

The group formed in response to a decision by the School Board to replace Fresno High School’s Warrior mascot, which depicted a Native American man wearing face paint and feathers.

California Education Code calls for 1.5% of registered voters (based on the November 2020 election date) of the district to sign a petition to submit to the county superintendent of schools.

The total number of signatures needed to force an election is a point of contention. Discussions by GV Wire with multiple education and election law experts did not produce a consensus interpretation of the Education Code’s provisions.

If signatures are required to be collected district-wide, 2,761 are needed (based on 184,043 registered voters in Fresno Unified at the time of last November’s election). If signatures from the trustee area alone are sufficient, just 402 will need to be submitted (based on 26,791 registered Trustee Area 5 voters).

Either way, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino would have 30 days to certify signatures.

If successful, the provisional appointment would be nullified. A special election would take place no later than 130 days.

If every step of the process goes to the maximum deadline, a special election could take place between March 22 and April 12, 2022.

David Taub has spent most of his career in journalism behind the scenes working as a TV assignment editor and radio producer. For more than a decade, he has worked in the Fresno market with such stops at KSEE-24, KMJ and Power Talk 96.7. Taub also worked the production and support side of some of TV sports biggest events including the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and NASCAR to name a few. Taub graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email