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School board president steps down

DEL MAR — Saying she has been “isolated” and “marginalized” by her colleagues, Comischell Rodriguez resigned as president of the Del Mar Union School District board of trustees, but will remain in office, she said in an April 26 statement.
Rodriguez said board members have attempted to exclude her from conversations during closed-session. She also said they have signed documents and met with legal counsel without her knowledge, “assuming the board presidency in all but name.”
Rodriguez was elected to the board in November 2008. Earlier that year, trustees Annette Easton, Steven McDowell and Katherine White voted to buy out the contract of then-Superintendent Tom Bishop, a move with which Rodriguez said she didn’t agree and one that prompted her to run.
Sharon McClain was hired to replace Bishop in August 2008, but was fired with a 3-1-1 vote this past March 31. Rodriguez was the only trustee who did not support terminating McClain’s contract. Since then the relationship among board members has been “definitely strained,” Rodriguez said.
“I came on knowing we wouldn’t always agree,” she said. “I thought that we could agree to disagree and move on, but we just haven’t been able to.”
Trustees, parents, administrators and staff have all shared differing opinions, especially during board meetings, on several issues facing the district, including everything from budget cuts and relocating the district offices to possibly closing a school or reconfiguring attendance boundaries.
Amid growing tensions in December, Rodriguez was nominated by White to serve as president, an offer she said she “politely rejected” at first to gain experience.
“But with the majority of the Board’s insistence and promise of support, I accepted the office,” she said in her statement. “Although initial support was promised and received, it has abruptly come to an end.”
Rodriguez said she didn’t want her resignation to be about individual board members, but working on a subcommittee with White to create a contract for James Peabody, the interim superintendent, has been one source of conflict.
Days after McClain was fired, Rodriguez and her family went on vacation for spring break. Shortly after returning, she was unavailable because of a family illness. McDowell took her place on the subcommittee.
White said she and McDowell met with the district’s attorney to discuss Peabody, but the appointment “was certainly not unauthorized.” Rodriguez said she learned about the meeting after seeing a letter about Peabody signed by White. Rodriguez said she “was shocked” to see the letter an tried to “find out what was going on, but to no avail.”
“There was no reason to begin without me,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not policy, but it’s a professional practice that the board president is privy to all actions and conversations.” She said it is “very unusual for board members to meet with counsel” without informing the president.
Contrary to Rodriguez, White described the recent atmosphere among board members as “pleasant.”
“Nobody’s been rude,” she said. “We’ve all been polite. We’ve moved on. We haven’t always agreed on everything, but I don’t see that part,” White said in response to Rodriguez feeling marginalized.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but if that’s the way she feels,” White said. “I’m sorry to hear about the news. … Things happen and life changes. I’ll support her if she wants to stay. I thought she would do a good job.”
As board clerk, McDowell will run the meetings until trustees name a new president. If asked for a nomination, Rodriguez said she would offer McDowell because he understands that a board should operate by giving guidance and direction and creating policy.
Rodriguez said Perkins was the only trustee to call her after receiving her resignation statement. “He said he was shocked and asked me to reconsider,” Rodriguez said.
Although that seems unlikely, Rodriguez said she will focus on moving forward to address the issues facing the district.
“I don’t want (the board) to be a distraction to the business of the district,” she said. “I will use my voice to support district stakeholders by weighing every decision I make on what is best for our children.”