School recall effort under way; board member quits post
After the Plumas Unified School District superintendent and two school board members received recall notices March 8, one school board member quit.
Brad Baker, from the Quincy area, stood and said, “I will save the district the cost of a recall election — I quit.”
Sonja Anderson, the other board member targeted for recall, and Glenn Harris, the superintendent, remained for the rest of the board meeting, though Anderson called for a 15-minute recess. Anderson then took over running the meeting, which Baker had been chairing for the absent Chris Russell. Russell had a family emergency and left Quincy just prior to the meeting.
Superintendent Harris received his notification during the public input portion of the county office of education meeting. Chester resident William Scott approached the podium with several others standing by his side, including former school board trustee Jonathan Kusel.
Scott read a notice of intention to circulate a recall petition. The notice cited Harris’ gross mismanagement in his capacity as the elected Plumas County superintendent of schools and accused him of “creating an environment of fear and intimidation among administrators, teachers and staff; allowing an incomplete and incompetent budget study to be used as a basis for decision-making; allowing a public process on school closures to proceed that failed to provide needed information and was disrespectful of community members’ time and work; repeatedly misrepresenting the budget to the board and the public; and failing to care for all students of the county and ensuring that their educational needs are met.”
The document was signed by 31 individuals, predominantly from the Chester-Lake Almanor and Indian Valley areas. After Scott made his remarks, there was a smattering of applause from the audience. Harris did not respond to the document except to say “Thank you.”
The recall notices for board members Baker and Anderson came about midway through the public comment section of the school district meeting, which immediately followed the county office of education meeting.
Again, a group gathered at the podium. This time Chester resident Mary LaVerne Strate spoke. Addressing Brad Baker, she read, “The grounds for the recall are as follows: Due to failing to exercise necessary oversight and management of the district superintendent, failing to provide adequate fiduciary oversight of the district, and failing to care for all students of the county and school district and ensuring that their educational needs are met.”
After LaVerne Strate handed the notice to Baker, Quincy resident Dave Keller delivered the same notice to Sonja Anderson.
Just one more public comment was taken, and then Baker handed a yellow piece of notepaper on which he had jotted his resignation to fellow trustee Bret Cook, stood up, and announced that he was quitting. As he rose, he told those assembled in the Quincy Elementary School cafeteria that they could “run this man out of town” referring to Harris, but the next superintendent would have the same problem: “not enough students; not enough money to go around.”
Reached for an interview the next morning, Baker said that he “wasn’t intending to do that,” but he was standing by his decision. Baker said he was frustrated by people believing that there was some hidden money. “These people, the complainers, they’re waiting for some magical solution,” he said.
Baker restated that there aren’t enough kids so there isn’t enough money, unlike 10 years ago when he was first elected to the school board. He also noted that the situation isn’t unique to Plumas County, that there are school districts “from San Diego to Redding” that are closing schools and cutting teachers.
Even though he resigned, Baker said he must continue to attend meetings until a replacement is found. Because of personal travel plans, the next meeting he plans to attend is at the end of the month.
The morning after receiving her recall notice, Anderson admitted to being “shocked,” even though she had heard some grumblings. Unlike Baker, Anderson plans “to ride it out as best I can.”
For Anderson it was particularly difficult to see friends involved in the recall effort. “One lady up there, our friends played together,” she said. “It made it hurt more.”
Both Anderson and Baker are midway through their third terms as school board trustees. “I’ve been involved in schools for 21 years, with nine years on the school board, PTAs, Boosters …” Anderson said, adding that she and her husband have devoted so much to the schools over the years.
Harris, who spent Friday in Sacramento meeting with other superintendents and state officials on funding issues, said he was not surprised to be the subject of a recall effort. Harris said he doesn’t pay attention to social media, but was aware that “there was a lot of talk about wanting to recall.”
“If you’re angry at the fiscal situation of California — you can’t change it,” Harris said. “You take your frustration out where you can.”
He also wasn’t surprised that Anderson and Baker were targeted for recall because “they were the two board members that were involved in hiring me.” However, he said he was saddened by the recall attempts because “it ignores all their involvement” for many years working on behalf of the schools.
Harris said he plans to keep working and actually sees a bright side to the situation. “I can understand why people are upset,” he said. “But the good thing is that it’s actually creating more awareness of the seriousness of funding levels. I think it will lead to more productive discussions about the future of education.”
County Clerk Kathy Williams said that serving the notice of intention to recall triggers a series of actions and timelines before a recall election can be held. Those initiating the recall drive have seven days to file proof that they served the notices and then must publish their intentions to recall in the newspaper. After some additional terms are met, petitioners have 60 days to collect 2,563 valid signatures from throughout the county, except for a small portion of the Sierra Valley, which is in a neighboring school district. Once those signatures are deemed valid by the county clerk’s office, an election is scheduled.
Since Harris is an elected official for the county board of education, but is appointed on the school district side, the recall only affects his role as county superintendent. The school board would need to take action to remove him from his role as school district superintendent.