Special Election for Santa Ana School Board Seat Could Cost $565,000


District headquarters. Photo by Gabriel San Roman

For weeks, Santa Ana Unified School District trustees failed to break a deadlock on appointing someone to the seat formerly held by Cecilia Iglesias. The charter-loving Republican won election to Santa Ana city council in November and resigned from the board after briefly entertaining thoughts of holding onto both seats. Two main candidates emerged from the application and interview process: Carolyn Torres, an activist profiled in a past Weekly People Issue and an Anaheim junior high school teacher and Bruce Bauer, an attorney and former Santa Ana planning commissioner.

But since the school board couldn’t agree on either of them within 60 days of Iglesias’ resignation, the Orange County Superintendent of Schools now has to order up a costly election set for Nov. 5. The Orange County Registrar of Voters, which just received the OC Department of Education’s notice of election on Monday, estimates that the special election will cost somewhere between $511,000-$565,000. Fun!

Board president Valerie Amezcua and trustee John Palacio endorsed Bauer when he ran for Santa Ana school board in 2016, placing sixth in a crowded field of candidates. Together, they  continued in supporting Bauer, casting votes in favor of him being appointed to the board in a series of meetings. Trustees Rigo Rodriguez and Alfonso Alvarez favored Torres. (Full disclosure, my brother is involved with Association of Raza Educators alongside Torres).

The last chance to break the impasse came during a Friday afternoon meeting on Feb. 8, when the only thing both sides seemed to agree on was wanting to avoid a special election.

“What I would really dislike is that we go to special elections, especially because there’s a lot of bad things and negative things being said about my friend Bruce Bauer,” said Beatriz Mendoza, a former school board candidate in 2016. “Can you imagine how the election would go if we had an election? It’s going to get really bad.”

As the deadlock continued, supporters of both candidates got testy on social media but most of the public comments, as in prior meetings, leaned heavily in favor of Torres.

“I would especially ask Mr. Palacio and board president Ms. Amezcua to use the district’s funds wisely, to reconsider your position and do the right thing,” said Susan Luevano, an academic librarian at Cal State Long Beach. “Ms. Torres is a candidate of impeccable experience and top-notch academic qualifications.”

No votes would be swayed by meeting’s end with the board largely forgoing a rehash of a past discussions. “This has been a hard process,” said Alvarez. “We have two very well-qualified candidates. We’ve been extremely open about the process.” Palacio deemed the deadlock as unique experience, one that labored through five meetings. “Half the board believe in one candidate,” he said. “The other half believes in the other candidate. I totally agree with the cost issue, but if we can’t agree, we can’t agree.”

And they couldn’t, logging one final 2-2 vote.

Whether or not the cost can be mitigated remains to be seen. If Santa Ana decides to hold a special election in November to replace councilman Roman Reyna, who resigned as part of a settlement in a suit brought on by his opponent Phil Bacerra alleging he didn’t live in the district he won, it may affect the trustee race.

“With a city council vacancy, there could be a chance of another special election,” says Theresa Cisneros, district spokeswoman. “There could be a cost savings, but we do not have any indication of what that could be. The Registrar will tell us what that is.”

Only Iglesias seemed to clamor for a special election throughout the deadlock. Angie Cano, her pro-charter protege, narrowly lost to Alvarez for a third open seat in 2016. Last year, she placed third behind Palacio and Amezcua, both of whom firmly won election.

Come November, the field of candidates won’t be limited to two and opens up to anyone on a filing date still to be determined.

Updated with new statement from the district 

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