Downtown Bakersfield schools will be without elected representation for the better part of a year after Bakersfield City School District board members stalemated Thursday evening trying to fill a vacant seat.

Five candidates applied for the appointment, however board members couldn’t come to a consensus after going through 16 rounds of voting. The seat will remain unfilled until a special election can be held in March 2018.

Trustees voted last month to forgo a special election that would have been held in November, citing cost constraints, but also because it wanted a new trustee as quickly as possible. Now, with a stalemate, they’ll be waiting even longer.

“If we had foreseen this, we might have gone to the special election because that is the democratic process, but our sense was maybe we needed someone on the board as soon as possible,” Board President Lillian Tafoya said Friday.

The Area Three seat became available in May after Trustee Raymond Gonzales resigned over mounting health issues just months after he won re-election. He had three years left on his term. His area covers downtown Bakersfield from Union Avenue west to Highway 99 and north from Brundage Lane to the Kern River.

Of the five people who applied to fill Gonzales’ seat, three gained sustained support from board members: Octavio Barajas, a graduate student at Tulane University; Linda Fiddler, a Cal State Bakersfield lecturer; and Sharon Owen, a Fresno Unified School District teacher.

“We clearly disagreed on who was the best choice,” said Trustee Pam Baugher, who consistently voted for either Owen or Fiddler, but initially asked for a special election from the start last month. “It’s unfortunate now that we have to wait until spring.”

That special election could also hamper the number of candidates who enter the race, Baugher said. The appointment process is less daunting, less expensive and less work, she said.

So will all five run for election? “I would be surprised if that happened,” Baugher said.

The Californian could not reach any of the candidates to find out if they would be mounting campaigns during the special election because contact information provided by candidates on public documents were redacted by the district. Its offices were closed Friday, and Tafoya said she was unaware of the redactions.

Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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