BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — There are ongoing calls for a special election for a Kern County Board of Education trustee seat, following the retirement of longtime board member Ronald Froehlich last August.
The Board temporarily appointed Julie Beechinor, a Bakersfield College professor, during its September monthly meeting, but now, there’s a petition to terminate her provisional appointment.
And during its October meeting Tuesday night, the Board also considered a proposal to modify the appointment process, voting 5-2 to table discussions until another vacancy occurs.
Trustees Mary Little and Lori Cisneros were the two votes against it. The same voting trend was seen when members decided to table consideration of a parental notification policy.
“Let’s move on from here, I’m putting a stop to this,” said Daniel Giordano Area 6 trustee and board president, attempting to halt the back and forth among the other members. “At this point, we’re just going over and over the same problems, and there’s no need to do anymore.”
Per California Education Code 5091, in the case of a county education board vacancy or resignation, members must call an election or make a temporary appointment within 60 days.
And within 30 days of that appointment, voters can petition for a special election, as they are now. There has been pushback from some concerned Kern County parents demanding more say in who has a say over their kids’ education.
Tara Carter is one of them and has been leading the push for a special election.
“Julie may be a wonderful candidate, but she wasn’t elected,” Carter said. “And that is the whole point of all of this.”
Carter was a former candidate for the Area 1 seat, both against Froehlich in the 2022 election and against Beechinor for provisional appointment.
She told 17 News school boards have too much power over parents’ rights of their children and are taking away people’s ability to vote in their representatives.
“I want the Board to see that we’re watching them,” Carter said. “Every Board needs to see that we’re watching them.”
During public comment, another speaker stated, “The rights of the parents are the most important thing you have to consider.”
This speaker also said via appointments, outgoing members are continuing to pack the Board with their desired mentality, rather what constituents may want.
Carter also takes issue with the alleged unfairness of Beechinor’s selection process and claims Beechinor was the hand-picked successor.
“The reason I say dishonest is because Ron, in July, lied point-blank that he was not retiring,” Carter said. “In August, he said he had been vetting this person for two years, and he was announcing his retirement right then … That means you knew when you ran, you knew eight months ago you planned to do this.”
Carter is arguing Beechinor should’ve just run for election herself.
Beechinor, however, told 17 News in a statement: “Mr. Froehlich has told me in the past that I would make a great board member and that I should consider running one day. It’s something I have considered, but I did not want to run against Mr. Froehlich. I was never ‘notified I would be his successor.'”
Beechinor also expressed frustration during the Tuesday night October board meeting, telling members, “He didn’t do that. He didn’t pick me. I filled out an application. I had no idea what was even happening as far as the appointment piece.”
And when asked about the allegations she had been vetted by Froehlich for two years, Beechinor responded she did not know what we meant by vetting.
17 News has verified with Froehlich that he had been vetting Beechinor for two years.
Froehlich also explained while he did consider retirement during his 2022 run for re-election to the Board, a personal loss unexpectedly sped up that process.
Per the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, Beechinor is a professor at Bakersfield College and is no longer employed by Kern High School District. Working for a school district in Kern County disqualifies a county board candidate.
All but two trustees voted for Beechinor — Lori Cisneros and Mary Little. The two were also excluded from Froehlich’s candidate committee, which was discussed during the August Board meeting.
Lori Cisneros, Area 7 Trustee: “Why did you pick Joe and Paula and not me and Mary Little?”
Ronald Froehlich, former Area 1 Trustee: “I want somebody that’s level-headed and not have an agenda.”
Lori Cisneros, Area 7 Trustee: “I take offense to that.”
“The way it went about, and the way Ronald Froehlich announced his retirement and already had somebody picked out and already planned on having a committee, he announced with Joe Marcano and Paula Bray, were going to be part of that committee, and that he was already planning all of this out,” said Lori Cisneros.
But Trustee Paula Bray denied such accusations, saying there never was action by the committee, and all board members learned of Beechinor’s candidacy at the same time.
Froehlich also clarified the committee was never activated and that there were no “backroom conversations.”
Cisneros says she received both Beechinor and Carter’s applications via an email from KCSOS Superintendent John Mendiburu on Sept. 8. Bray also provided that date.
“I still do not understand what the accusations of corruptions are in that I was asked to be on a committee,” Bray told 17 News. “I said I would be on the committee. The committee was never convened. We went through a process in front of the community which was transparent.”
Trustee Joe Marcano did not respond to requests for comment.
“The cost associated with a special election will take funds away from providing support to the students of our community,” Bray said, expressing doubt on whether a special election is needed.
Beechinor called the petition “manipulative” and “misleading.” She also said she opposed a special election and spending $213,000 — the estimate the Kern County Elections Division provided.
“That includes ballot printing, postage, envelopes, staff labor. Again, there’s a lot of costs involved with conducting an election,” said Laura Cantu, Kern Elections Division manager.
After voters gather signed petitions, signatures are then sent to the county superintendent for approval, but in this case, the Elections Division verifies the signatures.
If approved, the special election will be combined with the March 2024 presidential primary.
It is unclear whether the seat will also have to be on the November general election ballot, as originally planned.
Because it is a provisional appointment, Beechinor would’ve held the position only until November of next year.
If she wins, she would be the Area 1 trustee until 2026, which is when Froehlich’s term would’ve ended. Then, she could run for a full four-year term.
Beechinor says she will run in November, and in March 2024 as well, if need be.
As for the ongoing push by some trustees to alter the appointment process they consider unfair, it revolves around parental rights.
Tara Carter also emphasized parental rights, saying schools must listen to parents and that KCBOE must be a role model to Kern’s 46 individual school districts.
“They have a huge influence. They overstate it,” Carter said.
KCSOS told 17 News their board has no direct jurisdiction over those individual boards, only its court and community schools of 563 students.
KCSOS also noted a county board of education can intervene with a district only on matters of expulsion, attendance and authorization of charter schools.
Before Froehlich’s resignation announcement, Area 3 trustee Mary Little proposed a policy to make the board’s appointment more transparent, like by interviewing candidates in front of community members.
She noted it was voted down, as Froehlich said the board did not need such a policy.
Froehlich told 17 News that is true and also that Beechinor’s temporary appointment is like that of any other he’s seen both during and before his over forty-year career on the Board.
According to a KCSOS spokesperson, there likely have never been accusations of an unfair process in filling vacant board seats.
Of the current seven board members, four were elected, and three appointed.
“In the past, there was nothing wrong with the process,” said Mary Little. “I think it worked, it was equitable enough, there wasn’t this strong competition as there is now, there is parental awareness… Well, there’s political awareness of the issues, right? The parents want to be involved, they want to know what the school board members think and how they feel.”
Some trustees questioned the revisiting of the policy already once-voted down.
“I don’t know why we’re revisiting this,” Marcano said.
To which Little responded that any insinuation she was bringing up the policy because “Tara isn’t [on the Board] is wrong.”
Little also stated repeatedly she couldn’t see why members were resisting what would be a positive, more transparent policy.