Whatever else four members of the Board of Education thought they'd accomplish last week, with their closed-door votes to dump San Marcos High's popular principal, igniting a local voter rebellion probably wasn’t high on the list.
Alas, that's precisely what they did.
On Sunday, hundreds of San Marcos parents who fiercely back deposed Principal Ed Behrens publicized plans on their Facebook page for a community meeting this week to “lay out a plan to recall SBUSD school board members.”
Wrote Marcy Pace Wimbish, president of the San Marcos PTSA* and a leader of nearly 600 parents signed up by the “SMHS Supporters of Ed Behrens” social media campaign:
On Tuesday, March 13th, we witnessed an outrageous failing of public service with the SBUSD School Board’s decision to ratify Superintendent Matsuoka’s release of Principal Ed Behrens from 20-years of exemplary service to San Marcos High School and the Santa Barbara community.
This happened despite overwhelming community response (2,500 signatures and approximately 500 people in attendance) to retain Principal Behrens.
Given their timing and lack of consideration for our community, coupled with the callous treatment of Principal Behrens, we have grave concerns regarding the competence and intentions of those that we have entrusted to educate our 15,000 SBUSD students.”
Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?
The good old days, two weeks ago. As a political matter, it’s hard to think of an elected government organization that habitually is less calculating, partisan or conniving than the board of the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
More often than not, the five members vote unanimously on policy matters, and overt politics seem to factor in their decisions considerably less than, oh say, the impacts of their choices on the well-being of the snowy plover.
In fact, the issues with which the board has dealt in recent years generally have been so low-key, if still important, that the biggest challenge has been simply rounding up enough public-spirited people to serve: three of the incumbents (Jacqueline Reid, Wendy Sims-Moten and Laura Capps) in 2016 captured their seats by default – because they were the only candidates to file for the positions come election time; a fourth (Ismael Paredes Ulloa) was appointed to fill a vacated seat by other members, and Kate Parker, the longest serving, actually had to campaign for her seat back in 2010, but also faced no opposition for her current term.
Now, however, the Era of Good Feeling is definitely over.
How the deal went down. The board’s 4-to-1 vote backing Superintendent Cary Matsuoka’s play to give Behrens the boot as principal (only Capps opposed the move) drew instant and angry blowback last Tuesday night which in the week since has grown into a political firestorm.
For those who got drunk and slept through last week's local news, KEYT, EdHat and the Indy all gave the event major coverage, with Noozhawk’s Brooke Holland churning out the most detailed report that provides the flavor:
Although a boisterous crowed turned out at a special meeting Tuesday night to support Behrens, the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of trustees voted 4-1, with Laura Capps opposed, in a closed-session to demote Behrens from his position as principal of the campus near Goleta on June 30.
The crowd broke out into loud boos, with a person shouting “shame on you” toward the district’s governing board...
At one point, the crowd sporting red attire broke out in an impromptu chant of “We love Ed,” while waving handmade signs showing an image of the principal, who has worked at in the district since 1991 and at San Marcos as assistant principal and principal for more than 20 years.
A supporter during public comment delivered an online petition signed by nearly 2,400 people to save Behrens’ job.
2,400 signatures? For a principal? Sheesh. The guys who ran public school back in Newsmakers’ day couldn’t have gotten 2,400 people to back them for anything but a bus ticket out of town.
Recalling recalls. Although the recall effort obviously is still in the preliminary, talking stage, it's worth taking a quick peek at the political landscape.
“Recalling” an elected official means removing them by vote from office, through use of a petitioned election, before their term if over (those lucky enough to have lived through the spectacle of Arnold Schwarzmuscle becoming governor when Gray Davis was recalled in 2003 will recall the potential for political entertainment inherent in such episodes. But we digress).
The terms of two school board members, Parker and Ulloa, expire this year, so their seats would be on the November ballot, assuming there are challengers, recall or not.
Well before the Behrens affair, Parker told friends she does not intend to run again.
The other three members all took office as the only candidates to file to run for a trio of open seats in 2016; those terms end in 2020. Reid and Sims-Moten voted to back Matsuoka's move against Behrens, Capps did not.
Although the operations of school districts generally are governed by the California Education Code, recall elections are regulated by the Elections Code.
From Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office, here is the framework for how a recall works:
At the election, voters will decide whether or not to recall the officer and, if there is a candidate, will also choose a successor if the recall is successful.
The recall election shall be conducted, canvassed, and the results declared in substantially the manner provided by law for a regular election for the office. (Elections Code § 11328).
If there are several officers to be recalled, one election is sufficient. (Elections Code § 11329).
At every recall election (other than a landowner voting district election) the following question shall be asked: "Shall [name of officer sought to be recalled] be recalled (removed) from the office of [title of office]?”
To the right of this question shall be the words “Yes” and “No” on separate lines with an enclosed voting space to the right of each. (Elections Code § 11320).
An officer whose recall is being sought may file a statement with the elections official in accordance with the provisions of Elections Code section 13307 to be sent to each voter together with the sample ballot. (Elections Code § 11327).
If a majority of the votes on a recall proposal are “Yes,” the officer is removed and, if there is a candidate, the candidate who receives the highest number of votes is the successor to the unexpired term of the recalled officer. (Cal. Const., Art. II, Sec. 15; Elections Code §§ 11381(c), 11384, 11385).
If one-half or more of the votes at a recall election are “No,” the officer sought to be recalled shall continue in office.
Also, Ballotpedia has some interesting data on school district recall elections across the U.S. over the past decade, which you can find here.
Bottom line. The pro-Behrens San Marcos parents have scheduled their “town hall meeting” for:
Wednesday (March 21) 7 p.m.
Goleta Valley Community Center
5670 Hollister Ave.
* Clarification: After this post was published, Wimbish told Newsmakers that she was speaking with these comments on behalf of herself and the pro-Behrens parents group, and was representing an official position of the PTSA.
Images: Ed Behrens; Logo from SMHS Supporters of Ed Behrens (Facebook); James Monroe (Google); Behrens with supporters at Board of Education meeting March 13 (Paul Wellman); School Superintendent Cary Matsuoka.