BENICIA – A special election will be held in April to fill a vacant seat on the Benicia Unified School District Governing Board after community members who applied for the seat petitioned to overturn the board’s special appointment process, alleging nepotism.
Three candidates are now running for the seat, although no candidates registered to run in November’s general election, which triggered the board’s appointment process.
Before the Nov. 8 election, Solano County officials notified the school board that no candidates had applied to run for the seat representing Area 5, which represents the northern area of the city.
The vacancy prompted the board to appoint a member of the community to fill the seat. The seats representing Areas 1 and 4 were also up for reelection in November, where incumbent board members Sheri Zada and Mark Maselli ran unopposed.
During its meeting on Nov. 3 the board interviewed four applicants: attorney David Nicholson, infectious disease specialist and veterinarian Paula Macedo, employment lawyer Amy Hirsh and licensed clinical social worker Ariana Martinez.
The Board selected Martinez for the role, but the other applicants called for the appointment to be rescinded because the board had not disclosed that Martinez’s mother is the chief assistant to the superintendent.
In a public comment during the board’s Dec. 12 meeting applicants Nicholson and Hirsh accused the board of making their decision before the appointment process began. They said that because Martinez was the only applicant without children in Benicia schools, they felt that the board had colluded to exclude parents of current students from district governance. None of the board members currently have students enrolled in the district.
A statement from the board cited Martinez’s experience with social work as a significant factor in the decision. “Our Board believes Ms. Martinez could empathize with families seeking equitable outcomes within the educational system” and that her background would support a clear understanding of the laws that govern special education, the board said.
When the board stood by their decision to appoint Martinez, Nicholson and Hirsh petitioned for a special election, collecting more than the required 62 signatures from registered voters in the trustee area, which has 4,132 voting age residents.
Zada, the board president, said that because no one ran in the last election, the district is now on the hook to pay for the upcoming special election. “The special election is estimated to cost $60,000 to $80,000. That money comes out of the district’s general fund and it is money that will not go to programs for our kids,” Zada said.
The election will be held on April 11. Hirsh and Martinez have registered to run along with a new candidate, Ali Mansouri, who was not an applicant in the provisional appointment process. Nicholson and Macedo did not register by the Jan. 13 deadline.
Hirsh is an employment law litigator who grew up in Benicia and went to Benicia schools. She is the mother of two boys who now attend schools in the district. She has volunteered in the classroom, has supported children as a cub scout leader and has served on the Matthew Turner Elementary Site Council, according to her candidate statement.
During the provisional appointment interview process Hirsh said, “I would love to see all Benicia students have somebody who believes in them because I believe that every single student has the potential to achieve.”
Martinez went to Vallejo and Benicia schools. As a young student, she volunteered with preschoolers and saw the value of individualized learning plans first hand because her sister was a special needs student, Martinez said in an interview. Later she earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California. She was a child welfare social worker for 4 years and now trains social workers for Contra Costa County.
During her district interview process, Martinez said that if she is selected to serve on the board, she hopes to continue to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion into the curriculum to strengthen the school district so that it is able to meet the needs of all learners no matter how different they are.
Mansouri was a U.S. Air force officer and a nuclear engineer until he went back to school to become a medical doctor. He now works locally as a hospitalist. He has two children in Benicia schools. As a board member he said that he would work to facilitate constructive communication between parents, teachers and administrators.
“We are seeing the rates of teen suicide, anxiety and depression go up in this country,” Mansouri told the Vallejo Sun. “As important as education is, I also feel that it is important for students to have a balanced life that can support their mental health.”
He added that as an Iranian who immigrated to the U.S. as a young boy, he is sensitive to students who are learning English as a second language.
The county will mail ballots to all eligible voters. Voters can drop off their ballots at specified locations beginning March 13 and the polls will be open from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM on April 11. More information on polling locations is available at https://solanocounty.com/depts/rov/
Before you go...
It’s expensive to produce the kind of high-quality journalism we do at the Vallejo Sun. And we rely on reader support so we can keep publishing.
If you enjoy our regular beat reporting, in-depth investigations, and deep-dive podcast episodes, chip in so we can keep doing this work and bringing you the journalism you rely on.
Click here to become a sustaining member of our newsroom.
THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Election 2023
- Benicia Unified School District
- Amy Hirsh
- Ariana Martinez
- Ali Mansouri
- David Nicholson
- Paula Macedo
- Sheri Zada
- Mark Maselli
Ryan Geller writes about transitions in food, health, housing, environment, and agriculture.
follow me :