When the school board evaluated their selection to replace Cindy Pickett early this month they made the pick as though we were still playing under 2018 rules—quite literally—as in they selected the same person to head up the board. But the ground shifted on them, not only before the selection was made, but during it.
In late May, the school board knew it was facing two crises—the first was figuring out whether to re-open schools in the fall and the second, a longer term crisis was going to be the fallout of the economic collapse that has followed the pandemic.
In that lens they made what had appeared to be the safe choice to them—a person who had already served for a few months on the school board in 2018. A person who had ten years of service as a volunteer, serving on the PTA and the Site Counsel.
They had also made two other crucial choices. They saw the need to avoid the extra costs of a special election while, at the same time, not wanting to face these crises with a four-person board.
Ironically, their choices led them to the very place they hoped to avoid—a four-person board until perhaps December.
I would probably argue that the hindrance of four people on the board is probably less than you might think. The board rarely makes decisions on 3-2 votes. The toughest call has probably already been made, with the district determining that they cannot restart on campus instruction in the fall—and the state really took that choice away anyway, by setting up state guidelines that would eliminate DJUSD from being able to open on campus in the fall.
In 2018, there was a deadlock between Joy Klineberg and Donna Neville for the appointment with, at that time, Barbara Archer and Tom Adams lining up squarely for Klineberg and Alan Fernandes and Bob Poppenga going to for Neville. In the tenth round, facing the prospect of the coin flip, Fernandes flipped and supported Klineberg, breaking the draw.
Facing perhaps a similar prospect this time with Vigdis Asmundson as a finalist along with Klineberg, Fernandes made the immediate move to support Klineberg, joining Adams and Joe DiNunzio on the 3-1.
In 2018, with the position being temporary, with it clear that Cindy Pickett and Joe DiNunzio would join the board in December, no one balked at the appointment.
Why did 2020 go so differently?
The landscape was different. In a normal year, a person like Hiram Jackson would have been an incredibly strong candidate. In fact, he got past the first round of voting with support from all four board members. But, as a white man on a board that was already four men, the optics of that was not going to work.
In addition, the landscape in the middle of the process shifted. Even before May 25 and the death of George Floyd, the public was pushing for a woman of color on the board. A woman of color was leaving. The board was all male and mostly white. The public comments that came in heavily weighed toward two people—Rachel Fulp-Cooke and Vigdis Asmundson.
The board didn’t read this shift in landscape. But they should have—by the time they voted in early July, there had been a full month of protests, including a 1000 person march the weekend prior to the vote.
The second key ingredient was the reaction of Cindy Pickett. She could have done what most people do in this position—leave and largely allow her former colleagues to make their selection. That’s certainly what Madhavi Sunder did two years before. But Cindy Pickett didn’t stay quiet.
Her first post on Facebook was a screenshot of the definition of cronyism: “the appointment of friends and associates to position of authority without proper regard to their qualifications.”
She then did a second post: “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.”
It’s difficult to know if the response of Barbara Archer—the former school board member and friend of Joy Klineberg—played a part, as she not only defended her friend and her “10 years of experience working with the district” but took what read like a potshot: “keeping a commitment is hard.”
Opinion might have been galvanized anyway, but this threw fuel on the fire.
Anger and disappointment turned to action. One person who was on the inside told me that it wasn’t even really anger driving this process. It was a sense of purpose.
The driver of this is interesting. Parents who had never been involved got active. The group was large. But it was a bidirectional drive. The large number of people involved in gathering signatures meant in some cases people were getting hit up multiple times for signatures. At the same time, people were actively reaching out to people wanting to sign the petition.
The end result was flooring—four days, nearly 2000 signatures and within two weeks of the decision it was effectively overturned.
A big question is what does this mean? That is far from clear. One thing it has not meant so far—a huge number of candidates. There have been some curious alignments in the past.
In 2014 when Nancy Peterson resigned, there were a large number of candidates for the two full-term seats, but only Alan Fernandes ran for the two-year term. In 2018, there were tons of applicants for the temporary board position, but only four candidates for three seats for the actual election—and, really, one was token at best. The same thing might be happening here. So far, there is a low number of announced candidates for effectively three seats, with just over a week to go.
There is a good possibility that there will be no incumbents, though Alan Fernandes has not made that decision final yet. Bob Poppenga announced he was leaving.
Finally is the question about the overall political climate—which appears to be in chaos, at least at the national level.
—David M. Greenwald reporting