MODESTO -- Stacie Morales will fill the seventh seat on the Modesto City Schools board, the six other board members decided Tuesday, citing her school board experience and perspective as a parent.
The vote was unanimous to select Morales, 52, after a marathon of 11 interviews Monday and two Tuesday.
Modesto board member Cindy Marks said Morales "was articulate and thoughtful in her comments. I could see her working well with us."
Morales, a marketing specialist for Stanislaus Regional Transit, has a year left on her term on the Empire Union board, but said she will resign. The Empire district falls within Modesto's high school boundaries and she cannot serve on both boards.
Reached Tuesday night, she called her selection "a bittersweet win." Her son is a seventh-grader in the Empire district, and she's been active in Empire schools, she said.
But her two daughters attend Modesto's Johansen High, and she said she's looking forward to putting what she's learned in Empire to work for the larger district. "I still have a steep learning curve," Morales said.
She advocates looking at school capacities and enrollment with an eye to using facilities more efficiently. She believes the imbalance of Modesto's high schools, which serve a spread from 1,400 to 2,500 students, needs review.
"That's the advantages of having a board member who's at the schools. I'm living life as a parent. I get the notices. My kids are struggling to get classes," she said. Students are driving across town daily to get Advanced Placement classes no longer offered at their schools, she said.
"I'm not sure what the answer is, but I definitely think that's worthy of looking at," Morales said.
Board Vice President Nancy Cline said she liked that Morales was an involved Johansen parent and has a focus on school finance. "She gave very good answers," Cline said.
Morales' school board experience was a plus for board member Amy Neumann.
Board President Rubén Villalobos, however, saw switching boards before her term was up as a minus. Villalobos and board member Steve Grenbeaux strongly backed retired Modesto schools administrator Dave Cooper, who made the top three along with Todd Aaronson.
The division caused the only serious friction between board members. It threatened to hold up the appointment until Monday to allow second interviews of the top candidates until Grenbeaux switched his support to allow a vote on Morales.
"I could understand that there wasn't four votes there (for Cooper)," Grenbeaux said later. "She'll do a good job."
Villalobos said after the vote he was ready to move forward. "The process worked," he said.
Leaders of the three employee groups watched all the interviews without comment. Representing administrators, Rose Avenue Elementary Principal Diane Scott said her group did not have an opinion on any of the candidates. "For us, it was just to get to know them," she said.
Modesto Teachers Association President Doug Burton said he disagreed with taking a sitting member from another board. But, he said, "Our stand at MTA is we want somebody who will be honest with us and do their homework. We just expect a fair listen."
Support staff were pleased, said Aaron Castro, president of the California School Employees Association Modesto chapter. "We're looking forward to working with her," Castro said.
Morales will take the place of Cathy Flores Hallinan, who resigned Sept. 10. The appointment will last until the next board election in November 2013, when voters will decide who finishes the last two years of the term.
The last two candidates were interviewed Tuesday. They were Sean Patrick Colt, head of technology for a Bay Area district, and Rickey McGill, a district volunteer.
Colt urged holding public forums before making cuts and financial transparency to build voter trust. He backed vocational courses, saying college is not for everyone.
McGill appeared despite his brother being gravely ill. He said his priority was to bring back school days. He suggested meeting with parent groups to encourage involvement.
After the interviews, board members wrestled with how to make their decision in open session. The board debated ways to narrow the field in a positive way, settling on listing who they liked.
Discussion quickly narrowed the field to three. Board member Sue Zwahlen said Aaronson "brought fresh ideas to the table." Grenbeaux and Villalobos praised Cooper as a strong leader at Modesto High.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.