During Wednesday night’s Antioch Unified School District meeting, the school board voted Gary Hack as the new Board President with Crystal Sawyer-White being the Vice President.
Citing a censure placed on Vinson, the Board voted 3-2 to appoint Hack, thus bypassing current vice president Vinson who was next in line to serve as Board President. The Board unanimously voted in support of Sawyer-White as vice president.
Trustee Diane Gibson-Gray made the motion to appoint Hack as president.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about this and we need somebody that will help to bring consensus to the board, trustee Hack has been a board member in full for 5-or-6 years, he has been vice president, but not president so I would like to make a nomination to elect him President,” said Gibson-Gray.
Board President Walter Ruehlig seconded the motion.
Jeff Belle, Vice Chair of Contra Costa County Board of Education, highlighted how their board voted for two African Americans as President and Vice President while citing history, precedent and inclusion for all.
“We know there are individuals who are qualified to lead the board. It would be my pleasure to see individuals who are qualified, of color, to lead boards, and that was not even a tough discussion with the county tonight because individuals are well qualified, “said Belle. “We need individuals of color who have been on the board who deserve an opportunity to lead the board.”
Antioch resident Velma Wilson responded to comments made by Belle stating as an African American mom, she disagreed.
“I can’t sit idle and say that I am pleased with the representation, the color of our skin does not determine our skill set. The color of our skin does not determine how well we perform and how well we advocate for the needs of everybody, collaboratively, collectively, non-divisive for our students.”
She encouraged the board to not make decisions based on one’s skin color or ethnic backgrounds and instead make decisions based on what is going to be best for everyone.
Trustee Crystal Sawyer-White stated she was not in agreement with the motion and motioned to postpone this matter if they were going to vote in this direction.
“A majority of the students are Latino and African American and two of the board trustees have attended governance training, the other three have not,” said Sawyer-White. “It is not about race, it’s about qualifications. How many years have you actually taught in the system? Your educational background, your credentials and I think Debra Vinson is qualified to be Board President.”
Trustee Debra Vinson stated she would like to see this board do something equitable and fair noting that typically the current vice president who had not previously served as President is elected as the next president of the board.
Resident Odessa Lefrancois, also of the East County NAACP, was allowed to speak from the public and asked why Trustee Gibson-Gray made the motion that Mr. Hack is nominated as Board President.
“Why would we change the direction of things we have always done in the past?” asked LeFrancois. “I want Trustee Gibson-Gray to explain to me and the residents of Antioch and everybody else why we would deter from that. I think we need to stop doing things because it’s personal, or makes us look bad or getting prepared for campaign. Let’s do the right thing when it’s not the most populous thing.”
Gibson-Gray stated she would be happy to do that noting her history on the board.
“As far back as I can remember, we have never had a censured vice President. A vice-president who didn’t participate in a process to find out why there were employee complaints. She is on censure by the majority of the board by the end of the school year. That is my reason for not going with vice president Vinson,” explained Gibson-Gray. “You can’t do one thing and then say, ‘oh, by the way, it’s ok, we’re going to make you president.’ Perhaps next year, but there has to be a lesson learned here.”
Trustee Sawyer-White saying this censure is not valid and explained it would end up in a lawsuit because she is not a district employee, but rather an elected official.
Sawyer-White then asked Gibson-Gray other than the censorship, what was her reason that she is not qualified?
“I feel that trustee Hack would be a better President. The censure is a big one for me,” said Gibson-Gray, noting that Vinson has called her a racist and she is not nice to staff or board members. “I just think we need a year to heal.”
Vinson responded to Gibson-Gray’s comments saying she couldn’t leave those comments out there.
“You have had numerous opportunities to have coffee with me, I am going to be quite frank with you that I have received numerous comments and postings from community members that you present yourself as racist based on your comments and based off your actions,” said Vinson. “I’ve not had coffee with you to present some of that info to you. It’s unfortunate you feel that I have called you racist, the other thing I am going to say to you is that you made comments when Barbara Cowan was on the Board that when it was my time to be President that you would support that so it’s pretty clear you are not ready to keep your word based on false information of a censure.”
Vinson added this was not a game, but about our children’s lives.
“It’s unfortunate you have made it personal but it’s not the first time you have made something personal with a board member,” said Vinson. “I am happy to go to coffee with you and talk about that and if you are open to do that. That is the one-on-one and collaboration is all about.”
She then stated how the Board has never had a board trustee of ethnic background as engaged in this community as she was while noting she has only had coffee with one other board member stating they have all had multiple opportunities.
“I really think I am next in line to be Board President and I really would like to see this board follow through on that action,” said Vinson.
Gibson-Gray responded saying she had never received an invitation for coffee.
“I apologize, I must have missed the invitation, I haven’t received it,” stated Gibson-Gray. “Regardless, I just feel that the behavior that led to the censure is a reason why that I am nominating Gary Hack. Unless there is further conversation, there is a motion on the table.”
The Board approved Hack as president in a 3-2 vote with Vinson and Sawyer-White voting against.
The board eventually voted Hack to the presidency with a 3-2 vote, with Gibson-Gray, Ruehlig and Hack himself voting yes and Vinson and Sawyer-White voting no.
Sawyer-White was unanimously elected vice president of the board.
Below is the AUSD Board Meeting Audio, the discussion begins at the 50:54 minute mark: