Berkeley school board president Leah Wilson resigns

Leah Wilson

School board president Leah Wilson: “Beyond bittersweet”

Leah Wilson, president of the Berkeley Unified School District’s board, today announced her resignation, effective March 31. Wilson recently accepted an appointment as Court Executive Officer for the Alameda County Superior Court. That role presents potential conflicts of interest in future litigation.

“It’s potentially chilling to litigants that might be engaged in litigation with the district,” Wilson said. “It was something that I was told would not work. But it’s beyond bittersweet. It’s an incredible career opportunity and at the same time it has resulted in my not being able to fulfill the commitment I had made.”

Wilson was elected to the board in 2010 and assumed the presidency last year. She faced the delicate task of bringing the board together after a split over superintendent choice in the spring of 2012, and then the collapse of the search when finalist Edmond Heatley pulled out last fall.

According to Mark Coplan, BUSD spokesman, there is no precedent in Berkeley for replacing a board member. A press release from Coplan stated, “It is anticipated that the Board will seek applicants for a replacement appointment.” The matter will be discussed at a special meeting of the board at 6:25 p.m. this Wednesday, preceding the board’s study session on common core standards.

Wilson’s resignation comes as the board is in the middle of a search for a new superintendent, following last year’s failed search. The school district is also engaged in potentially contentious contract negotiations with the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.

School budget ‘cautiously positive’ despite challenges [03.13.13]
Berkeley teachers’ bonus plan rebuffed by district [03.07.13]
School board launches new superintendent search [02.13.13]
Fight relaunched to save school nutrition programs [11.19.12]
Berkeley schools show gains on standard tests [10.12.12]

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  • berkopinionator

    It is not a conflict of interest for a school board member to work as the Court Executive Officer. Court administrators are not judges and do not decide or influence cases. She got a new job that pays around 200K and won’t miss spending time dealing with the forthcoming BUSD teacher strike and ongoing superintendent search mess. We deserve a new school board President that is truly committed to the education of our students, and is willing to take ownership of the problems created by our school board’s mistakes.

  • Andrew Doran

    Way to go straight for the negatives. The anonymous cabal of regular posters on this site raises the level of civil discourse in solving the problems of our community to new heights. Bravo. I hold out hope that in person, we can discuss things that matter to us as neighbors regarding other of our neighbors with the tact and grace that humans who share space and resources with other humans deserve.

  • BUSD Parent

    Wow. This certainly is lousy timing . . . and (almost) two whole weeks notice . . . is something else going on that’s not reported here? berkopinionater is right. Berkeley deserves a board member who is truly committed to the education of our students and to making the local schools serving our kids and families the wonderful community institutions they can and should be.

  • TN

    I don’t understand how there is a conflict of interest. I hope that Berkeleyside will contact Ms Wilson to get some clarification.

  • I did speak to Leah Wilson, as indicated by the quotes in the story.

    She told me that the presiding judge in the superior court was concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest. You may not think so, but according to Wilson, the judge did.

    Consider: for some reason you sue the BUSD. On all of the court documents is Leah Wilson, Clerk of the Court. Even though she has no role in decisions, that doesn’t look good.

  • TN

    So, it is the presiding judge of the Alameda County Superior Court, Judge Don Clay, who made the decision for her as a condition of appointment to the job.

  • Completely_Serious

    Well, she certainly comes well recommended. But again, here is a career public employee making decisions about taxpayer money, with no evidence of ever having had to meet a payroll, sell services, or do anything else those of us in the private sector have to worry about. She’ll pull $200k for the next 20 years, then retire with a happy pension.

    Over in SF, the Chief Executive Officer pulls $216k per year. More than a judge.

  • Bill N

    Yeah what a loser! A do nothing job in a do nothing county working for do nothing judges. How dare she take this job without having worked in private industry that actually makes things like one of the big banks or brokerage firms.

  • Completely_Serious

    You don’t mess with Don Clay!

  • berkopinionator

    The Presiding Judge is correct. Appearances must be maintained. Congratulations to Leah Wilson on the huge new job. I wish her only success in operating the entire Alameda County court system.

    BUSD now needs to change the leadership and composition of the school board at the same time as trying to hire a new superintendent. Let’s try to make some good choices.

    What is the process for the selection of the replacement board member? When will that happen? Is there a public vote? Nominations? Appointment?

  • guest

    Failing upwards.

  • guest

    What a dumb comment.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    no super and now this, what an opportunity to start fresh…if we can just convince the rest of the knuckle heads to step down we actually might get something done and make some real change…and just maybe the city council will take notice and do the same!

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    most likely a back door deal like city council!

  • As I wrote in the story, the press release suggests the board will “seek applicants for a replacement appointment.” There doesn’t seem to be a specified procedure, which I find surprising. Is Wilson really the first-ever board member to depart mid-term?

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think Bill N’s comment was ironic. We all know what a great job the big banks and big brokerage firms have done of messing up the economy.

    There are some people in the private sector who have to meet payrolls and sell services – such as small business people.

    There are lots of people in the upper ranks of the private sector who are bureaucrats. They get stock options rather than pensions.

    It is pure ideology to say that the Chief Executive Officer of San Francisco does not work hard or produce anything valuable, while everyone in the private sector does work hard at producing something valuable.

  • guest

    “There doesn’t seem to be a specified procedure, which I find surprising.”

    Of course one is specified in the city charter.

  • berkopinionator

    There are procedures. BUSD can order an election, or make a provisional appointment. If they do neither within 60 days, the County Superintendent will order an election:

  • guest

    Berkopinionator is mistaken. 5091 of the ed code, which you are citing, does not apply to a district like BUSD that coincides with a charter city when that charter city makes alternative provisions in its charter.

    Some general rules of thumb about questions like this are (a) you have to first figure out under which legal authority the elected offices you are looking at were created — that gives you a clue where to look for governing code; (b) when looking at code like 5091 you have to look at the context and figure out the applicability (and in this case see 5200).

  • The_Sharkey

    I think you might be reading some of these comments a little wrong. Completely_Serious is clearly referring to Leah Wilson, not the CEO of SF, when he says “here is a career public employee making decisions about taxpayer money,
    with no evidence of ever having had to meet a payroll, sell services, or
    do anything else those of us in the private sector have to worry about.”

    The jabs at bankers are a bit of a red herring. How many privately employed people do you know who are the kind of upper-level bank employees? Almost everyone I know works in private industries, and not a single one of them works for a bank in any capacity.

  • As guest notes, and as two other readers have emailed me, the City Charter is quite clear.

    Section 13. Vacancy in office of School Director.

    If a vacancy shall occur in the office of School Director, the Board of Education shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy. If at any municipal election a School Director be not elected by reason of a tie vote among any of the candidates therefor, then the Board of Education, after the qualification of the persons, (if any, elected thereto at such election, shall appoint one of the persons) receiving such tie vote, to fill such office as in case of a vacancy therein. In each case the person so appointed shall hold office, subject to the provisions of the Recall, to and including the April 30th following the next general municipal election.

    Thanks once again to the Internet hive mind.

  • guest

    “Thanks once again to the Internet hive mind.”

    It wasn’t intended as a favor. It was hardly an obscure piece of information.

  • Okay. No favor acknowledged.

  • bgal4

    Andrew, are you on speaking basis with any of the current or former board members? If not, don’t assume that people posting anonymously are not informed about things you might not be aware of .

  • Bill N

    Why thank you Charles. Often irony is missed in these Berkeleyside posts!

  • Tizzielish

    The Peter Principle lives.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Good grief, lighten up!

  • Christa

    Congratulations on your new position Ms. Wilson, and thank you for your good work on the school board. I appreciate the openness you brought to the board- holding office hours and engaging with the issues.

  • Andrew Doran

    First of all, not interested in a flame war, just in explaining myself.

    One reading of berkopinion’s post I responded to is basically “Leah, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out”. That’s a rude thing to say. And I wanted to point that out. I contend that the anonymity many people use online is primarily used as a free pass to spout vitriol, rather than a tool to “speak truth to power” or some other such lofty ideal. There are real cases where anonymity is important in our society, like for whistleblowers, but the above comment struck me as an example of just feeling free to behave badly because there are no consequences when no one knows who you are. And frankly, seeing this as the first comment that one of my neighbors put on this story was just the straw that rubbed this camel’s back one too many times when I read it, to mix my metaphors about as badly as I can manage.

    The stories on this site are predominantly written, read and about other citizens of our little town. Your neighbors, my neighbors. We’re talkin’ two degrees of separation at most. I just don’t get the reddit style handles. I prefer to default to speaking as if we were standing in the same room, with the level of civility and courtesy that I usually manage in those situations, unless some extreme situation drives me to utilize what I consider to be rather cloak and dagger type devices. To each his or her own.

  • The Turk

    Anymore than you would want to mess with Don Corelone back in the day!

  • bgal4

    and another reading is suggested in the next comment from BUSD parent

    . . . is something else going on that’s not reported here? berkopinionater is right

  • The_Sharkey

    What does your personal philosophy about online commenting have to do with this story?

    You may not like them, but the comments from berkopinionator and BUSD Parent were reasonable. Suddenly ditching out on the school district with almost no notice in the middle of a school term for a better job (rather than an emergency or something unplanned) is not the action of someone who cares about the students or employees of BUSD.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    What “good work” are you crediting her with exactly? Seems like she was part of the Superintendent fiasco and was yet another board member who was chronically incurious about the large number of fraudulently enrolled students in BUSD. She initially expressed interest in getting to the bottom of that one, but ultimately asked no probing questions of staff when they came out with numbers that simply don’t make sense.

  • PragmaticProgressive
  • guest

    Can you point out where you found the salary of $200K?

  • curiousjorge

    amen. occasional outrage is one thing, but the sky is not always falling, if ever.

  • Andrew Doran

    My point was, and is, that the tone, not the content, of many posts around here is rude and flippant, and detracts from being able to discuss things as I think neighbors should.

  • Andrew Doran

    My comments were intended to be in regards to tone, not content. My aside on my personal philosophy is a pet theory of mine in regards to contributing factors to tone on the internet.

    My reading of the original article made it pretty clear to me that although this is an extremely unfortunate state of affairs for the school district, Ms. Wilson was torn by her dilema. It is “beyond bittersweet” is her quote. School Board Director is a part time job that is not putting food on the table. Everyone on the Board has another career, and other priorities in life, and the choice she was faced with is not one I envy.

    Again, horrible outcome for the District, terrible that she is leaving in mid term and with so much going on, and truly disappointing that she cannot fulfill her commitment to the electorate. but the original comment reads to me like they come from a place of zero empathy for her plight, and zero acknowledgement of her understanding of the consequences of what she has decided.

    My point, to reiterate, is that she is not some distant public figure striding the corridors of power, she is our neighbor, someone just like me or you, and in my opinion, should be treated with a little more respect and courtesy, even when disagreeing with her with all of one’s heart and soul.

  • guest

    “rude and flippant, and detracts from being able to discuss things as I think neighbors should”

    Andrew, do you think that is not on purpose? That they are going to say “Oh, sorry, you’re right, we’ll try to do better,”?

    “she is our neighbor, someone just like me or you, and in my opinion,
    should be treated with a little more respect and courtesy, even when
    disagreeing with her with all of one’s heart and soul.”

    That ethos is not operative here, unfortunately.

  • bgal4

    Do you think you might be projecting? just a little?

    not to mention the fact that you overlooked the congrats to Wilson in an earlier post from the same commentator you later admonish.

  • BerkeleyFarm

    Excellent call, and I’m bookmarking that site!

  • Berkopinionator

    Update from the remaining members of the BUSD board and our co-superintendents from 3/20/13. It turns out that both Charter and the Education Code procedures apply! The process is murky and not defined. If a special election is required, it could easily cost BUSD over $800,000 to elect a replacement.

    This will be a big and challenging process, and possibly a very expensive process.

    See Board discussion of the process Part One:

    See Board discussion of the process Part Two:

  • guest

    “It turns out that both Charter and the Education Code procedures apply!”

    Ha! Let’s put it this way: It doesn’t hurt if the board acts as if the 60 day time limit applied. Then everybody is spared that argument and the board can get back to business.

    If May 17 arrives with no appointment the county superintendent might agree that the limit applies (or might not). If she agrees the limit applies then she must order a special election. She has no discretion about this if it is true that the limit applies.

    If push comes to shove between Berkeley and the county, Berkeley can argue that the 60 day limit does not apply and it should be prepared to do so.

    The practical reason for Berkeley to resist is that what if the board is not able to formally finish making an appointment in 60 days but is able to make an appointment by 75 days.

    In that case Berkeley can and probably should dispute the claim that the 5091 timeline applies.

    Berkeley might point out that according the charter council itself could muster seven votes to schedule a special election if it deems it important enough. In other words, all “matters” covered by 5091 are actually covered by the Berkeley charter. In particular Berkeley does not have a deadline for making an appointment but instead leaves that discretion with council.

    The reading they came up with for 5200, 5091, and the City Charter make hash of 5091. They have cherry-picked timeline details from 5091 that don’t obviously make any sense unless 5091 as a whole applies. Without dispute, 5091 does not apply as a whole. So the reading that BUSD is now using is a creative reading in that regard.

    If it keeps a flame under the seats of the board to get the job done, though, worse things could happen.

  • Not a Crackpot

    I would LOVE if somebody looked at the fraudulently enrolled students in BUSD… this is Berkeley Unified letting lots of folks in to pad the enrollment rolls… it is ultimately creating a school district that is too big to succeed. But heck, think of all the football games BHS can win….(sarcastic comment)