After the recall, it’s time to get along

By Union Democrat staff May 26, 2009 10:28 am

Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District voters made history this week in recalling every single member of their school board.

“A surreal journey,” is how Trustee-elect Gloria Marler described the tortuous, long-running campaign at a pro-recall gathering Tuesday night.

She got that right: The months’ long battle was by turns a tragedy, a soap opera and a political gong show. Charges and counter-charges flew, sometimes over the most trivial of issues.

So bizarre was the Groveland recall that the Los Angeles Times provided semi-regular coverage of the campaign to millions of no-doubt amused Southern California readers.

Trouble is, the school board battle was anything but amusing to students, teachers, parents and anyone else with a stake in the district and in the quality of education provided to the community’s young people. The recall was instead divisive, pitting Groveland’s Tioga High School community against that of Don Pedro, and teachers and students against administrators and trustees.

But now the voters have spoken and the campaign is over. Recall backers were jubilant. Their win, in fact, was a landslide: Close to 70 percent of voters favored ousting the incumbents.

Whether the recall is a success, however, has nothing to do with Tuesday’s numbers and everything to do with the new board and the willingness of this divided district to put aside differences and look for common ground on which to build a new foundation.

With the election over and new trustees taking office, a window of opportunity is open. It’s a chance for reconciliation, understanding and compromise, but it will require something we didn’t see during the campaign: respect and courtesy.

Everything was black and white in the months leading up to vote. No points were conceded and every motive was questioned. Dialogue, nonexistent for months, must begin.

Recall opponents, however, must not forget that more than two-thirds’ of the district’s voters demanded change. The mandate given the new board is as clear as there is in politics.

Not only that, but turnout for the mail-only recall was close to 60 percent. That is about 20 percentage points better than the countywide turnout for Tuesday’s statewide special election and reflects a healthy interest in the school district’s future.

So change will come, and those on the losing side should not fight blindly against it.

At the same time, the board should consider views from all constituents and from all parts of the district in shaping its new course. Gloating, retribution and running roughshod over any dissenters will only guarantee that the political chaos that has prevailed this year will continue.

The Big Oak Flat-Groveland district has an illustrious history, dating back to its hard-fought, community-galvanizing secession from Sonora High School in the mid-1980s, and including repeat Academic Decathlon victories, distinguished school honors and passage of a multi-million dollar bond issue aimed at improving the Tenaya, Don Pedro and Tioga campuses.

Words from one newly-elected trustee, Ian Morcott, offer hope that this fine tradition can continue: “I’m really looking forward to switching from politics to academics,” he said, promising that the board will “focus on what’s best for the kids.” 

With a host of difficult decisions ahead, the board and community have a choice: They can put the rancor of recall behind them and work together to build better schools, or ignore the painful lessons of the past six months and render this week’s election just another sad chapter in a downward and self-consuming spiral.

With the education of the district’s children at stake, the former is the only acceptable option.