Fuzzy math at Twin Rivers

Bites is new to north Sacramento, so somebody please explain: What is up with the Twin Rivers Unified School District?

The sprawling district is charged with educating kids in north Sac, Rio Linda and Del Paso Heights. Yet basic math seems to escape them.

How else do you explain why the district’s elected board of trustees accidentally on-purpose missed the county’s deadline for scheduling board elections, giving themselves an extra year in power?

The district was formed out of four smaller districts back in November 2007. The ballot measure that created it, Measure B, also provided for the election of its seven school board members. And it spells out when those members are supposed to stand for re-election.

The board of trustees is meant to serve four-year terms, meaning they’d be up for re-election in 2011. But that means a very costly special off-year election, $450,000 compared to the $50,000 it would cost to hold board elections in a regular election year.

Luckily, Measure B specifies the founding board can serve just three years before standing for re-election, if it chooses to “consolidate” with the closest general election. That would mean holding an election in November 2010.

But it now looks like the several board members and district staff want to postpone elections until 2012, giving everybody on the board an extra year in office. (Each receive a $750 per month stipend for coming to meetings. But Bites assumes this is about more than beer money.)

Brad Buyse with the county elections department acknowledges that, technically, the district didn’t come into being until July 2008, which was Measure B’s effective date. By this reading, the board members’ four-year terms would expire in July 2012. The board could have a June 2012 election and seat everybody in time for July.

Sounds pretty good. Except the board really was sworn in December 2007, and started meeting and making decisions as a board right away. In fact, the board named the district Twin Rivers and hired Superintendent Frank Porter that winter. Those are some pretty official acts. And for what it’s worth, the oath of office that each board member took says pretty clearly that their terms expire November 30, 2011.

Bites tried to get someone on staff at Twin Rivers to talk about the issue, but had little luck. District communications director Trinette Marquis said that staff would present its game plan at a special public meeting on March 11.

Which would be great, except according to county elections officials, the district was supposed to decide by Monday, March 8, if they wanted to hold a November election. Meaning, whoops, looks like the board will have to stick around until 2012. That, or take Sacramento County to court to get on the 2010 ballot. This would probably be successful, because the county’s unlikely to fight such a lawsuit.

But why did the district blow the deadline in the first place? Bites asked Marquis, but she said there really was no March 8 deadline, and that “That’s not what we heard” from county elections officials. Strange, because Buyse told Bites the district was told about the deadline back in April of 2009.

So did the board just quietly fail to make a decision, running out the clock so that it could stay in power for an extra year?

Consider, in January of 2009, over a year ago, Superintendent Porter wrote in a memo to his board members, “Staying until 2012 gives the District greater stability at a time when that may be sorely needed, however, some may question the Board’s decision to stay for an extra year.”

Gee, you think?