School Board Avoids Million-Dollar Special Election

The Bonita Unified School District Governing Board holds a special meeting on Aug. 18 to discuss their plans for filling a board vacancy resulting from Board Member Krista Chakmak’s Aug. 5 resignation. Their decision to make a provisional appointment will save the district almost a million dollars. Photo: Rommel Alcantara

By Isabel Ebiner

On Aug. 18, the Bonita Unified School District Governing Board voted unanimously to appoint a new board member, instead of holding a costly special election. The provisional appointment will save the district almost a million dollars.

A seat opened up on the BUSD school board when Board Member Krista Chakmak resigned on Aug. 5.

The board has until Oct. 3 to appoint Chakmak’s replacement, otherwise a million-dollar special election will be triggered. 

While BUSD spent $135,599.55 on the November 2020 election, a special election in April 2022 would cost the district approximately $942,000, according to an Aug. 17 letter from the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk’s office.

When more government entities hold elections at the same time, the cost is shared, Superintendent Carl Coles explained during a special school board meeting on Aug. 18. However, the April 2022 election would “pretty much be a standalone election. There’s just not a lot of elections that will take place on April 12,” Coles said.

Coles acknowledged the financial uncertainty caused by COVID-19 and estimated the money used to pay for a special election could fund 10-12 teachers or six to eight mental health therapists.

“It will take money away from the students,” Coles said.

At the special meeting, Greg Palatto, a school psychologist and board member, said, “Taking this money away from our kids, to me, a million bucks, is just wrong … if we could just put someone in place for 13 months in the interim.” 

Bonita Unified School District Governing Board Members (from left to right) Derek Bahmanou, Greg Palatto and Glenn Creiman sit at the dais during a special meeting on Aug. 18. The board unanimously voted to make a provisional appointment, instead of holding a special election, to fill the current board vacancy. Photo: Rommel Alcantara

The board decided to make a provisional appointment to fill the vacant seat until November 2022. However, if voters gather enough signatures to formally challenge the board’s appointment, the district will be forced to hold a special election.

There is no prescribed process for making an appointment, and the board may choose any eligible candidate.

Coles laid out the timeline:

  • Sept. 2-9: applications for the open seat will be accepted.
  • Sept. 10: a subcommittee of Board President Chuck Coyne and Board Member Derek Bahmanou will prepare interview questions and confirm applicant eligibility.
  • Sept. 15: qualified applicants will be interviewed publicly during a special board meeting.

While Bahmanou said he generally prefers letting voters decide through elections, he voted for the appointment process. “I look at a million dollars, and that is a lot of money that can really impact our kids,” Bahmanou said at the meeting.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 1.

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