ATWATER -- In December, there will be three new faces on the Atwater Elementary School District board of trustees.
Joe Hoffar and Scott Lee ran unopposed to fill the trustee seats of John Hall and Lena Mendoza, respectively. Since they had no opposition, they have been declared the winners in lieu of an election, according to Kent Christensen, Merced County registrar of voters.
That means Hoffar's and Lee's names won't appear on the Nov. 6 election ballot, Christensen said.
Trustee Sheila Whitley also has resigned from the five-member board, but state Election Code requires that the Oct. 16 recall election against her go forward. The only declared candidate to replace Whitley is Larry Whitney, a lifetime Atwater resident and Merced business owner.
With Hall's and Whitley's resignations, the board has only three members. All must show up for meetings and vote unanimously for any business to be conducted, the school district's lawyers have advised.
Their resignations followed a turbulent time for the district.
Hall, Whitley and Mendoza, the board president, voted May 9 to terminate Superintendent Melinda Hennes and haven't divulged their reasons.
On July 10, Hall changed his vote and sided with Trustees Kelly Fincher and Dale Wilson to reinstate Hennes. Hall then resigned before the public portion of the July meeting was held.
First meeting Dec. 11
Hoffar said Tuesday that the Atwater district is a great district, and he will be happy to serve. His first board meeting will be Dec. 11.
"I'm really excited and eager to be part of the school board," Hoffar said. "My focus is the kids. Board decisions must focus on providing the human and physical resources necessary for student success based on legal mandates along with input from constituents, parents and staff."
Hoffar, 64, is the Atwater Police Department's community policing officer. He also heads up the Police Activities League and directs the 46 participants in the Police Cadet Program, which is part of PAL.
Hoffar said he doesn't want to make decisions without the input of residents, and hopes the public's spirited participation in board meetings over the past few months continues.
"Our students deserve the success that results when everyone has their efforts focused on the kids," Hoffar said.
Lee is the son of the late Bill Lee, former Atwater mayor, and Angela Lee. A lifetime Atwater resident, Lee attended St. Anthony's Catholic School, Mitchell Elementary School, Mitchell Senior Elementary School and Atwater High School. He attended Merced College, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees with honors from Shasta Bible College.
"I will work to bring back fiscal responsibility, harmony with the community, teachers, administrators and parents to further the education of the students of Atwater," Lee said.
A teacher at Providence Christian School in Merced, Lee previously taught for 16 years at Merced Christian School and continues to coach local students in the community.
Hennes said Hoffar and Lee are highly respected members of the community who have repeatedly demonstrated support for local students and families.
"We appreciate their interest in dedicating their time to serve our great district," Hennes said. "We're eager to bring them aboard."
Whitney shares this civic interest, Hennes said.
"We are confident that these new members of the board will work to meet the expectations of the Atwater community and our students will continue to thrive," Hennes said.
Hoffar and Lee join Fincher and Wilson, who have two years remaining on their terms. They voted against the termination in May and to reinstate Hennes at the July meeting.
Hoffar has lived in Atwater since 1980; he was a school resource officer from 1995-2000 at Atwater High School and from 2001-2010 at Buhach Colony High School. He has been a police officer for 22 years.
He believes his training as a police officer will serve him well in understanding legal issues such as the California Education Code, board policies and the Brown Act open meetings law.
The PAL program serves 750 youths ages 5 to 17 through Junior Giants, boxing, BMX racing, theater, Atwater Teen Advisory Council, After School Program and the cadet program.
Lee was a past president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Merced County and has worked with Rotary, Kiwanis and Special Olympics organizations. He also is a volunteer with the American Heart Association and supports St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.