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San Dieguito school board votes to appoint new trustee

ENCINITAS — Despite calls from both the public and student board members to hold a special election, the San Dieguito Union High School District board of trustees voted on Monday to appoint a new Area 5 representative at its upcoming April 22 meeting.

The vacant seat, left by former Trustee Kristin Gibson’s abrupt departure from the district this month, leaves just four trustees on the school board.

The board showed concern about a possible high-price tag of a special election which they say could be as high as $650,000. And with much to debate and discuss in the district, the board has opted to leave the electorate in Trustee Area 5 out of the decision.

“It was a very preliminary estimate given to us by the Registrar of Voters,” Superintendent Robert Haley said.

According to numbers on the district website, Trustee Area 5 has a total population of 33,330, but just about half of that number are registered voters making it the smallest trustee area in terms of voter registration.

Board President Mo Muir, along with Trustees Michael Allman and Melisse Mossy, agreed to vote yes to make an appointment at the April 22 board meeting with Trustee Katrina Young voting no.

“I have two mindsets. One is obviously fiscal responsibility and holding a special election especially during COVID is a huge concern,” Young said. “But we are a very divided community and there seems to be an erosion of goodwill. So it’s worth considering to make sure that all members of our community feel like they’re being heard.”

Trustee Mossy also showed interest in giving the Area 5 electorate a voice in an election but was convinced otherwise by her fellow trustees that an election could still be held after the appointment.

According to district bylaws, after the appointment is made notices will be posted in public areas and newspapers of the action. The public will then have 30 days to file a petition with the office of the county superintendent for a special election.

“I’m looking at this situation kind of like we are hiring a long-term sub,” Mossy said. “And if we don’t hire a long-term sub then there is no one there which is not what we need right now in a pandemic. Things are harder than they’ve ever been.”

Adam Fisher, a parent in the school district, made his feelings clear on how the board should handle the vacancy.

“In order for the community’s wishes to be heard the only fair approach is to hold a special election,” Fisher said. “There is not just a few months left in the term, but 21 months left. An election will produce the most committed candidates for the position who can communicate their positions to the community. An elected candidate has more legitimacy which is especially important in times such as these when there are many critical topics to be decided.”

Fisher also noted that the district should soon be receiving stimulus funding which could be used to help pay for a special election.

“Costs should not be a primary concern,” Fisher said.

Although not able to vote on this matter, student members of the school board Carrie Su, of Canyon Crest Academy, and Carrie Miller, of San Dieguito Academy, both made comments supporting an election to fill the vacancy.

“I would strongly advise the board to move forward with an election. Even though the cost may seem to be high I think, especially right now, we need to build the trust in our community,” Su said. “As a school board, we should be making sure that the voices of the people represented by Trustee Area 5 are heard and I think an election is the only way to do that.”

The district will now collect resumes and questionnaires from those interested in the vacancy before interviewing the candidates and making a decision on an appointment on April 22.