ATWATER -- Sheila Whitley, the Atwater trustee who is the subject of a recall election spawned by the abrupt firing of the school district superintendent, has resigned.
But the Oct. 16 recall election cannot be cancelled, according to state election statutes, Kent Christensen, Merced County registrar of voters, confirmed.
Atwater Elementary School District officials estimated it could cost $18,000 to $20,000 for the election, but Christensen was unsure Friday afternoon what the final tally would be.
Whitley, elected without opposition 2½ years ago, said it's time to move on and for the district to heal.
Whitley, former Trustee John Hall and board President Lena Mendoza voted May 9 to terminate Superintendent Melinda Hennes, with two other trustees dissenting.
Hall voted July 10 with Trustees Kelly Fincher and Dale Wilson to reinstate Hennes and then resigned from the board. Mendoza and Whitley opposed the reinstatement.
"I now feel that it is in the best interest of the community for me to step down and allow a new board to be assembled as soon as possible," Whitley said. "Every decision that I made as a board member was made with what I know was the best interests of the school district and the community in mind."
It's unclear how the two vacancies will be filled.
Hennes had no comment on Whitley's resignation. The superintendent said the district attorney has advised board members that any action must be by unanimous 3-0 votes until replacements are seated.
There is some confusion what the next step will be. The board will discuss trustee vacancies at its Aug. 14 meeting, Hennes said.
"These are uncommon circumstances," Hennes said. "We have every confidence business will proceed as usual."
Roger Wood, a former trustee and chairman of the Whitley recall committee, said it's not good for the district that the recall election must go forward.
"I am glad Sheila Whitley resigned," Wood said. "The work of board members was good up to (the termination vote) and then things went south. She made a bad choice back in time."
Wood said he was surprised by Whitley's resignation and glad that Hennes returned to work last week.
Filing ended Thursday for the Whitley recall election. The only declared candidate is Larry Whitney, a lifetime resident of Atwater, a business owner and managing general partner of San Joaquin Glass Co. of Merced.
Whitney could not be reached for comment by the Sun-Star on Friday night.
The filing period for the seats held by Hall and Mendoza ends Friday unless an incumbent doesn't file for re-election, which extends the deadline by five days.
Mendoza has indicated she won't run for another term, and Scott William Lee has filed for her spot. Joe Hoffar has filed for Hall's seat.
Fincher said Friday she wishes Whitley well.
"This is one more step for bringing normalcy and civility back to the district," Fincher said.
Wilson said he thinks Whitley did the proper thing but wishes she had done it earlier to save the cost of a recall election.
Mendoza also issued a statement Friday.
"I am very sorry to see Sheila Whitley resign," Mendoza said. "She was an excellent board member, and I wish her the best; she was a tremendous asset."
Another surprise disclosure Friday was the resignation of Assistant Superintendent Martin Fregoso, who is leaving in a month for a similar position with a Los Gatos school district.
Hennes said Fregoso has agreed to assist the district in finding his replacement.
"I am very sorry to see him go," Hennes said. "This is a tremendous opportunity for him to advance his career. I am very grateful for the many contributions he has made in many areas."
Hennes said the district will be moving forward with interviews for a new assistant superintendent to replace David Duran, who is retiring.
Fregoso handled business activities for the district and Duran was in charge of human resources and administrative functions.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.