Efforts to kick Orange Unified School District Board President Rick Ledesma and Board Member Madison Miner out of office are gaining steam with over 36,000 signatures to launch a recall election of both politicians.
Those signatures still have to be verified by the County’s Registrar of Voters before a recall election can be called.
OUSD Recall, a group of parents, teachers, and community members, launched efforts to recall Ledesma and Miner after the board called a special meeting over winter break to quietly fire Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen and put an assistant superintendent on paid leave.
Darshan Smaaladen, a member of the recall group, said the need for a recall became more apparent with what she called fiscal mismanagement and an exodus of staff that came in the months that followed the firing.
“If we fail, then we will see our district broken from within,” Smaaladen said in a Wednesday phone interview. “If we succeed, I think that you will see a wonderful time within OUSD because we have more parents engaged and checked in on what’s going on with our district than we’ve ever had before.”
Ledesma and Miner did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
The school district has taken up a host of hot-button issues since the year began.
Last month, Orange Unified School District became the latest school district in California to require school officials to notify parents if their children are transgender despite push back from state officials.
The policy came at the request of Miner as California Attorney General Rob Bonta is taking a hard look at similar proposals throughout the state.
In a news release last week, the recall group announced they submitted 18,370 signatures to recall Ledesma and 18,311 for Miner to the County Registrar of Voters – more than the 13,046 signatures required to initiate a recall of each board member.
“Proponents of the recall are calling for the elections to be wrapped in with the March 5th
presidential primary, in order to save the additional one million dollar cost of a special election,” reads the news release.
Bob Page, Orange County Registrar of Voters, wrote in an email Wednesday that his office has 30 days – until Nov. 9 – to validate the signatures.
“The estimated cost of conducting a special stand-alone recall election is $1,141,784 to $1,262,494. The estimated cost of consolidating a recall election with the March 5, 2024 Presidential Primary Election is $313,578 to $376,756,” he wrote.
No OUSD Recall, another group formed against the recall, argues that the efforts are a “special interest power grab” and that Hansen’s firing was justified.
“The OUSD Board Members targeted by the radical recall effort make up a common sense, student-first majority, and it needs to stay that way,” reads their website.
The group did not respond to an email request for comment.
Sacking Superintendent Hansen was one of the first moves the board took after the 2022 election.
The firing sparked fierce pushback from some parents and two different lawsuits alleging the board violated California’s open government meeting law – the Brown Act.
But an investigation by District Attorney Todd Spitzer found that the board members did not violate the Brown Act, but that there was evidence that Board Member Kris Erickson did by disclosing confidential information from a secret meeting to the OC Register.
Board meetings this year have often been filled with parents, residents, activists and sometimes elected officials or their representatives speaking out on both sides of issues like the Hansen’s firing, a parental rights policy and most recently a transgender notification policy.
In January, officials temporarily suspended their digital library over concerns of age inappropriate books being available to children.
Critics worried the move was a form of censorship and that it would limit book access to low-income students in the district.
In June, Ledesma and Miner spearheaded a policy to grant parents and guardians public access to curriculum, instructional materials and books as well as information on how to opt their children out of sexual education.
Opponents of the policy said parents already have those rights and feared the move would arbitrarily remove books and materials from the classroom. Supporters said their parental rights were being attacked by the state.
The board also banned flying the LGBTQ+ Pride flag and other banners on district flagpoles, restricting it to the U.S. and California flags.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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