With three amply qualified candidates, it appeared the school board could not go wrong as they embarked on their Monday afternoon meeting, which was supposed to begin at 4 pm but started closer to 4:10.
Unfortunately, in their rush to find a date that worked for all four of the candidates, they chose a venue that would only be available until 5:20 pm. After rushing through a 20-minute interview with each candidate, they would take public comment briefly and then have to make a vote.
Last Thursday, it took just one vote to go from 8 candidates down to 3. This time, it would take just one vote to end up with a unanimous decision. Alan Fernandes would be the candidate they coalesced behind. But why were they able to make a unanimous decision so quickly?
As they were about to cast their vote, they all talked about how difficult a decision this was. Susan Lovenburg would explain her vote: “Certainly I think campaigns season candidates so I did cast my vote for Alan (Fernandes).”
As she stated it, it became clear Alan Fernandes would have enough votes to win. She would add, “The fact that Alan was the candidate that had the support of all four board members, just allows us to build coherence and cohesion out of the gate.”
Gina Daleiden, after announcing the decision, noted, “I think we all agree that all three will be outstanding board members sometime soon.” She noted as well, “Alan was the person who got a vote for each, and all of us were probably thinking about how do we move forward very quickly as a team as someone that everyone had on their ballot, it seems like a reasonable way to go at the moment.”
In the first round Alan Fernandes received votes from all four board members, while Barbara Archer and Madhavi Sunder received from three.
What seemed to set Alan Fernandes apart from his counterparts was, first, his experience as a candidate. Clearly, he had a track record and put himself out there. Interestingly enough, he finished third behind Susan Lovenburg and Nancy Peterson. So, once Nancy Peterson resigned, perhaps the board was conscious of Mr. Fernandes being next in line.
At the same time, they seemed to focus on consensus. The board couched it somewhat differently, but perhaps each saw Mr. Fernandes as the way to move forward the quickest, given time constraints. It is not clear what would have happened had the board not gotten to three votes on the first round of voting.
It is not clear that the interviews had a big impact on the board voting. Our observation during Mr. Fernandes’ interview was that he was speaking more in general terms rather than directly answering the questions.
Alan Fernandes had a good answer to the question about the complaint process, both at the interview and on the Vanguard. On the Vanguard he stated, “I am concerned that the primary focus of the process presupposes an adversarial relationship as opposed to conflict resolution. Second, I believe the use of outside contractors must be free from internal conflicts in the employment relationships between legal counsel and investigators used.”
He was asked to speak to how being endorsed by the DTA will influence how he governs. He responded, “I hope it speaks to the fact that I care about what teachers say. I think it’s really important to be a school board trustee and care about what the number one human capital resource in the district is, and that’s teachers and school employees I might add.”
He added, “I think that’s all it reflects, that I care and I want an open line of communication.”
While not a bad answer, it did not address the question.
A critical question is how he would differentiate his role as a parent from that as a trustee. This is a critical question that gets to the heart of the problem that Nancy Peterson had, where she was never really able to draw that line.
Mr. Fernandes responded that “Being a parent of a child in this district gives you an experience as to how your child is getting along. But that doesn’t take the place of or should it stand in the way or be a primary motivator for someone to assume the role of a trustee.” He then stated, “As a lawyer I can tell you what a fiduciary is.”
Ms. Daleiden asked Barbara Archer a similar question, and she really drove it out of the park. She stated, “We’ve all been thinking about that in light of recent events. I think frankly as a trustee you need to leave your parent hat at the door.” She would add, “But as a trustee you’re representing 8500 children, not your kid. That’s one of the sacrifices you make as a board member, whatever advocacy efforts you had in the past, perhaps that’s not important anymore.”
Tim Taylor asked one of the more interesting questions to Barbara Archer.
He asked, “So a week and a half ago, I had an opportunity to go to dinner with somebody who used to sit up here, wonderful young lady it was in the city of Nashville where she’s teaching first-graders. In that school that she’s in, it’s a very deep deep deep inner city school. It is heavily beset by problems there are I think there’s one – if I’m not mistaken – one or two children from two parent households. Every other child in the class of high 20s is in a single-parent household or with grandparents or some extended family member of some sort, sometimes not even extended family members. I think there’s one white child in the classroom, so it’s a very heavily ethnic population. There are kids who are having speech problems, reading problems, all sorts of problems that in a district like Davis would’ve been addressed and hopefully on the road to correction long ago but it’s just not happening. The children get two meals a day and both of them are at school breakfast and lunch, and many of them, that’s it. If they can cobble together something else afterwards they’re on the lucky side. It’s a tough district and it’s crime ridden neighborhood etc. etc. There’s no wrong answer to this question, you can run for election here or you can run for election there, which do you choose?”
Barbara Archer answered, “I’m up for either. I welcome challenges.” She said that she happens to live in this community, “but if I lived in that community there’d be no reason why I wouldn’t run to make a difference there.”
One of the questions that has already come up is whether the board’s decision here and the way it was made will restore the community’s trust in the board.
We were concerned from the start that the board would likely make decisions based on who it was most familiar with and comfortable working with. In good times, that may not be a bad idea. We also suggested the need for the board to make the appointment of someone who will not run for reelection, so that they do not create an incumbent who is likely to face lesser challengers than would be faced in the open seats.
The process here was very condensed, and the board had opportunities to look at candidates who are really unrepresented on the school board right now. Time will tell if this is the right choice or not, but the way the process proceeded is troubling. Forcing the board to vote, after 20-minute interviews, in about five minutes does not seem like a solid approach likely to restore the community’s faith.
This was our concern going in and it is now our concern as Mr. Fernandes takes his place.
—David M. Greenwald reporting