Commentary: The School Board Has Made a Huge Mistake

Gloria Partida, Melissa Moreno, and Cindy Pickett in front of the Statement of Love Mural – three women of color elected in 2018 in Davis

In a lot of ways this is going to be an unfair indictment of the majority on the school board.  They ended up making a decision on May 21, four days before a revolution started.  It was a financial decision during a time when finances matter.  When Cindy Pickett announced she was leaving, the school board knew with the economy headed south, money was scarce and so they made the decision they have always made—they decided to appoint a replacement rather than pay the money (around $100,000) for a special election.

In retrospect that was a mistake.  The only real question is what that will mean for the district going forward.

What happened on Thursday night, however, happened in full view of the current times.  In 2018, when the appointment was temporary, the school board appointed Joy Klineberg to fill out the seat for Madhavi Sunder.  Woman of color leaves the board, replaced by a white woman.  No one really said anything at the time.  And because it was for a few months and Cindy Pickett was about to get elected, it probably didn’t matter that much.

But with Cindy Pickett making the decision to leave to take a position at DePaul in Chicago, the appointment is going to be more or less a permanent one—two and a half years.

It was a great field of candidates, and ultimately the school board appointed Joy Klineberg again to fill out the term.

But 2020 is not the same year as 2018.  July 2 is not the same as May 21 even.  With several qualified women of color available for appointment, the board again chose a white woman.  The board will now be all white, with just one woman.

Whether you believe that Joy Klineberg was the most qualified—and she was certainly up there—the board being tone-deaf to the optics of 2020 is troubling.  The board was more boxed in than they sensed, and they are very vulnerable at this point because the rest of the board members are white male—Tom Adams, Bob Poppenga, Joe DiNunzio and Alan Fernandes.

Cindy Pickett recused herself from voting last week.

She did not stay silent.

First she posted the definition of “cronyism” as “the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, without proper regard to their qualifications.”

Then she posted a comment that has drawn hundreds of responses: “At the school board meeting when the decision to appoint my replacement on the DJUSD school board was made, I pointed out that the recent history in Davis is that women of color get into office when they are elected… and they have been the top vote getters.  Tonight’s decision by the DJUSD board to not appoint any of the women of color who applied and who were amply qualified is appalling.”

The heat was already on when Barbara Archer, the former school board member and current communications manager for the city of Davis, stepped into the fray.

Barbara Archer wrote: “Keeping a commitment is hard.  The candidate who was appointed has over 10 years of experience working with the district.  It is too bad you are leaving on this note calling your colleagues’ decision appalling and cronyism.”  She added, “They will be the ones who have to make the hard decisions in the next two years.  Have fun in your new life in Chicago!”

That triggered a long back and forth.

I will highlight what I think is a key comment by Anoosh Jorjorian: “Communities of color in Davis have been waiting for fair representation much, much longer than 21 years.”

There is a critical point to be made.  During normal times, the consideration of $100,000 is probably the overriding consideration.  We are in a pretty severe economic downturn and the school district is going to be struggling to find its financial footing.

But these are no longer normal times.  In many ways, we don’t know what this world now looks like.  We may now have to throw out the book.  What was a reasonable decision in 2018—appointment, the appointment of a very well qualified and experienced community member—may no longer work.

The majority of the school board, inadvertently, by deciding to make the decision themselves rather than allowing the community do it for them, has put themselves into a horrible state.

Maybe you can argue that cooler heads should have prevailed.  Maybe you can argue that the school board should have been more sensitive to the times.

This is the problem now.  This is no longer your parents’ school district.  Davis at one point was a heavily white school district.  That is no longer the case.  The percentage of white students is moving near the 50 percent mark.  According to 2019 data, about 47.5 percent of students are from communities of color and they are served by an all-white board right now.

We have seen dramatic changes in 2018 even.  The top vote-getters in three Davis races were women of color: Gloria Partida, Cindy Pickett and Melissa Moreno.

That is not to disparage anyone in this process.  But this may well be a year of revolution and the school board needed to be more attuned to what is happening in the rest of the world—including Davis where hundreds of people have been marching in recent weeks in highly diverse groups of people, demanding action.

If they were boxed in too much by having to make the decision themselves, they still had time to put it to the voters.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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    1. Bill Marshall

      Nor, apparently, males… in a previous article, both gender and ethnicity were cited as crucial criteria… seems to the author, the Board got it “half right”… but no points given…

    2. David Greenwald

      The problem was that the only person of color stepped down, it’s an all white board now, and the board had plenty of very good candidates to choose from. Bill was right, they should have let the voters decide it. Then they would have avoided this problem.

      1. Matt Williams

        They would have avoided the problem only if there were candidates who stepped up to run for the seat that were (1) from diverse demographics, and (2) were of sufficiently high quality to convince the voters to vote for them.

        In 2016, how easy would it have been to increase diversity by electing a woman to City Council?

        1. David Greenwald

          But Matt – they had four or five women of color to choose from. At least if they send it to the voters, the decision is out of their hands.

        2. Matt Williams

          Look back at the Council replacement field for Don Saylor’s position on City Council.  As I remember (and I could be wrong) there were 10 candidates in the field for that appointment.  If it had been an election rather than an appointment, do you think all 10 would have filed papers and run for the seat?  I doubt it.  There probably would have been a field that was less than half as large.

          1. David Greenwald

            The issue resonates this year more than it has before. Part of the criticism is one of tone-deafness to the changing times.

    3. Ron Glick

      Why doesn’t she need to run for the seat in November? When Fernandes was appointed he had to run in November for the remainder of Peterson’s term. Are you saying that it costs $100,000 to add a seat to the ballot in a regularly scheduled General Election where DJUSD seats are already on the ticket?

        1. Bill Marshall

          Darn good point… should ask Jesse Salinas what it would cost… $$$ may be higher this year as Newsome has dictated that ballots be mailed to all registered voters… that increases the overall costs of the election… or perhaps same, given fewer poll-workers needed (?)…

        2. Bill Marshall

          Cite, David?  Remember this will be a ‘ramp-up’ thing in CA… many cites that all-mail will mean a 1-2 week delay (from current) in reporting/certifying election results…  given your “call” of the DJUSD measure, you need to consider that… you were flat-out wrong, then… I actually warned you, at the time…

    4. Eric Gelber

      No. It’s not that white people need not apply. It’s a question of whether the school board should reflect the diversity of the community it serves. It would be one thing thing—albeit disappointing—if voters decide otherwise. In this instance, however, the board squandered an opportunity handed to it and, instead, took a step backwards, demonstrating where its values are (or aren’t).

      1. Bill Marshall

        Well, appointments and elections… neither can “guarantee”  ‘the diversity of the community it serves‘… 

        We need a computer algorithm to ensure 2-3 women, no more than 50% white, and a mixture of the women and men within their respective categories… 2-3 women, of the women and men, at least 50% ‘of color’… will save time @ board meetings, save money on elections… appointments and/or elections are not guaranteed to do that… and then we need to add into the algorithm gender identity, spiritual/religious beliefs (or lack of same)… also add in age, length of residency… add in qualifications, competency… now, THAT could get to  the diversity of the community it serves…

        Same is true for all employees of any public agency, right?  Every category (line, supervisory, mgt) within those… right?

        The time has definitely come to make those structural changes…

        And perhaps, to effect those changes as soon as possible, all elected officials and public agency employees should be terminated, as soon as possible… a “re-do”…

        1. Eric Gelber

          This is a typically dismissive and sarcastic response when diversity of representation on governing bodies, etc. is raised. No one is calling for exact correspondence, and there’s no need for algorithms. But when there are zero people of color on the school board of a town where 47.5% of students are non-white, or virtually no women or minorities on, e.g., the boards of major corporations or a local judiciary, there’s an obvious issue that should be of concern.

  1. Ron Glick

    “Have fun in your new life in Chicago.”

    Saying this to someone who’s claimed her biggest regret was being unable to finish her term because of job insecurity is pretty rude and hurtful. I’m surprised Barbara, who has a day job with the City and a public relations background, would post such a thing.

    So much for equity and inclusion and closing the achievement gap. The school board fails the test of leadership by example. We can return now to lip service as usual.

  2. Ron Oertel

    Oh my god, who cares.  Is an appointment to a school board a “big deal”?

    What earth-shattering decisions do they make? And, what kind of differences are there “between” them, in regard to those decisions?

    But yeah, do they not even like each other (according to the comments between them)? Really?

    1. Ron Oertel

      All I’d really like to know is “which ones” would be willing to “right-size” the district at some point.  😉

      You know – think of what’s best for the community at large, instead of (only) the school district’s narrow scope. (Which is sometimes two different things.)

      1. Ron Oertel

        All I’d really like to know is “which ones” would be willing to “right-size” the district at some point.  

        If I had to guess, I’d say that the number is somewhere between “zero and none”.

    2. Tia Will


      Are you joking? Of course, it matters unless of course, you think funding allocations, curricular development, employee negotiations, and in the time of Covid-19, a comprehensive safe & detailed reopening plan with enough funding allocated to make it feasible for teachers to open classrooms spending their own money for disinfection supplies and designing their own classroom protocols. Yes, this is actually happening in a bay area county where my daughter is a science teacher… for at least as long as science is considered an important topic.

      1. Keith Olsen

        So Tia, from reading your post and all of the forward looking district challenges it seems like you would want the most qualified applicant regardless of race.  Likewise, being that you often use medical analogies, one would want the most qualified surgeon they could find to perform a life saving operation regardless of race.  Do you agree?

        1. David Greenwald

          I hear this a lot from the right… most qualified applicant regardless of race…

          I’ve sat on many hiring panels, the panels rarely are precise agreement as to who is most qualified. There is in fact no objective measure of most qualified most of the time.

          Second, if you have a district that is pretty evenly split and zero people of color, I would question whether adding someone more similar to the existing body is the best choice.

        2. Keith Olsen

          Okay David, you’re facing life saving surgery.  Would you consider race as well as experience and qualfications in choosing your surgeon?

          1. David Greenwald

            But that’s not a good analogy. Because part of the qualifications in this case would be ability to represent and serve diverse communities. While the only consideration in the life saving surgery is ability to save a life.

        3. Bill Marshall

          Remember, KO, there is also the gender criteria… expressed by several, several times…

          There are other criteria needed to fully reach ‘diversity’…

          I want my surgeon to be most experienced/competent, regardless of other criteria… and yes, once elective surgeries can take place, will be dealing with one…

          And no, not a lobotomy…

          1. David Greenwald

            One point I would suggest you reconsider is that this push is less a push for generalized diversity and more a push to include representation from previously marginalized and oppressed populations

      2. Ron Oertel

        Are you joking?

        Yes and no.

        I have yet to see any school district representatives (adequately) consider the broader needs of a community (in terms of how the school district “fits into” those needs).

        I believe you’ve made similar comments – that the school district should meet the needs of the community, and not the other-way around.  I am reasonably certain that some on this blog (and possibly even within the board) support sprawl for the sole reason of supporting a school district.

        Other times, school districts are more than willing to sell-off their own land, rather than (say) give it to a city in need of a park (e.g., to serve those same students).  In the long run, I’m (somewhat) concerned about Nugget Fields, for example.  I don’t know enough about the Grande site, to say whether or not that should have been preserved.

        I normally don’t know much about those running for school board positions, let alone the color of their skin.  (And, sorry to say, but I don’t think that skin color, gender, disability status, sexual preference, etc., are actually a “factors” that should be considered.) I do have relative confidence that any/most of them make reasonable decisions regarding the issues you brought up.  But, I doubt that ANY of them put the desires of the school district into “context”, regarding the needs of the city as a whole.  And yet, they are entirely taxpayer funded.

        In my opinion, school boards have too much “autonomy”, and end up representing a very narrow interest (which doesn’t necessarily correspond with the best interests of those paying their bills).

  3. David Greenwald


    Just talked to Cindy for a follow up article and she said that with around 700 signatures, the voters can within 30 days petition the appointment and put it on the ballot.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Woman of color leaves the board, replaced by a white woman

      I have a question for you.

      Isn’t the appointment “temporary”, until the next (normal) election (which wouldn’t cost an additional $100,000)?

      Why not focus energy on that, instead?  Or, do you believe that an appointee would have too much “advantage” by that point, assuming that he/she runs for re-election?

      Or, are you simply concerned about someone (or the board as a whole) being too “white”, to fulfill the duties of the position until then? 😉

      Also, if Cindy Pickett was that concerned about it, maybe she shouldn’t have left. (It’s difficult to tell what her concern actually is, from this article. But apparently, she’s not very concerned about the $100,000 cost as a result of her decision and advocacy, at this point.)

      Seems to me that there’s some personal animosity going on, here.  As there often seems to be, regarding school boards.  (Again, too much “autonomy”.)

      1. Ron Oertel

        beause the rest of the board members are white male—Tom Adams, Bob Poppenga, Joe DiNunzio and Alan Fernandes.

        Even “worse” that they are males, I suppose.  😉  Kind of surprising, though.

        I had assumed that “Fernandes” was not a “white” name.  Whatever that means. Not sure about the others.

        I’d suggest that in the future, all candidates (for all positions) list exactly what their race/skin color, gender, gender identification, disability status, sexual preference, etc., is. Maybe put that on resumes, as well.

        And despite Alan M’.s explanation, I”m still not sure what it means to be Jewish, for example. (Yeah, I”m sure that will insult someone.) In any case, please try to clear this up, for future elections. 😉

        That should make the selection process easier, for some.


      2. David Greenwald

        The appointment is for 2.5 years.

        “Also, if Cindy Pickett was that concerned about it, maybe she shouldn’t have left. ”

        Her job situation changed and she got a new one in DePaul. Also, she is concerned because her children are remaining in Davis and attending school here. It’s probably best not speculate about people’s personal lives.

          1. David Greenwald

            While you did not, the issue of “If she was that concerned…” starts to creep into personal decisions that involve weighing different considerations

        1. Ron Oertel

          But again, from the article itself (and some of the comments), it does appear that there’s some personal animosity among the board members.

          That I did “speculate” about.

          Regarding Cindy’s kids, I’m pretty confident that whoever is on the board will make reasonable decisions for all the kids. (But again, maybe not for the city as a whole, in the long run.)

        2. Ron Oertel

          While you did not, the issue of “If she was that concerned…” starts to creep into personal decisions that involve weighing different considerations.

          I meant it.  She chose to advance her career, instead.  (I think that’s a reasonable decision, for what that’s worth.)

          But, maybe she (then) should back-off on school board decisions, after that.  Especially if there’s personal animosity involved (which I speculated about).

          Or, she can try to influence a decision to spend $100,000 for the temporary appointment needed as a result of her decision.  Ultimately, even that won’t be her decision to make.

          I strongly suspect that whoever is on that board will make reasonable decisions for the kids, regardless of skin color.

          1. David Greenwald

            The consequence for her resigning meant that she did not get to make a formal decision, that does not mean that she is not entitled as a citizen to weigh in on the efficacy of that decision

        3. Ron Oertel

          I tried to add this:

          Or, is Cindy really that concerned about the skin color of her temporary “replacement”, needed as a result of her decision?

          1. David Greenwald

            You will get a pretty good sense for her concerns when I run the interview with her tomorrow

        4. Ron Oertel

          I’d suggest trying to interview Barbara Archer, as well – given her comments that you re-printed.

          But, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was unwilling to do so with you.

          Of the two of them, only one is going to remain part of the school board.

          1. Don Shor

            Of the two of them, only one is going to remain part of the school board.

            Barbara Archer is no longer on the school board. She is now the Communications and Customer Service Manager for the City of Davis.

        5. Ron Oertel

          Correction – I just saw this:

          The heat was already on when Barbara Archer, the former school board member and current communications manager for the city of Davis, stepped into the fray.

          Something tells me that there’s more than simple concern regarding skin color of a replacement, in this case. Regardless, I don’t think I’ll step any further into the “fray”.

          I do hope that the “fray” doesn’t end up costing an unnecessary $100,000.

        6. Alan Miller

          She is now the Communications and Customer Service Manager for the City of Davis.

          Her primary role with the City is to tell people leaving town:  “Have fun in your new life in that new town of yours!”

    2. Bill Marshall

      Thank you… not up to starting the petition, but would be willing to sign… yet, still will not guarantee “diversity”… what ‘district’ is she in, and do all 700 signatures have to be in that district?

      Might not be qualified to sign…

  4. Ron Glick

    “So is this the attitude going forward?
    Despite being highly qualified, white people need not apply.”

    Since the last four vacancies on the school board have been filled by white people through the appointment process the empirical evidence suggests that it is the opposite that is true. The line would read more accurately if  it stated non-white people need not apply.

  5. Ron Glick

    “I hear this a lot from the right… most qualified applicant regardless of race…”

    The recent college entrance scandal put the lie to that argument.

  6. Ron Glick

    “Just talked to Cindy for a follow up article and she said that with around 700 signatures, the voters can within 30 days petition the appointment and put it on the ballot.”

    I would sign it but the pandemic makes signature collection difficult.

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