Oakland Tribune / Argus

Board President Abruptly Quits Amid Conflict-of-Interest Questions

Board President Abruptly Quits: McDonald cites family reasons; she faced conflict-of-interest questions from
fellow trustees

NEWARK — School board President Eileen McDonald announced her resignation Tuesday, abruptly ending 13 years of service to the district.

McDonald’s resignation, effective July 1, came almost three months after some of her colleagues on the board raised conflict-of-interest questions regarding the district and the travel agency she owns. The board has no more meetings scheduled in June.

For years, the school district has been a customer of the Travel Store and has paid the business $66,379 during the past four years, according to an Argus investigation in May.

McDonald said Tuesday night that their misgivings only partially influenced her decision to leave.

“It’s time to spend some time with my family,” she said, adding that she will be spending a lot of time in Los Angeles visiting relatives.

McDonald, 53, chose to resign effective July 1 to help the board avoid spending money for a special election.

If she had waited until August, the district would not have been able to fill the vacancy by putting an election on the less-expensive November ballot.

“You try to go out with a little class,” she said.

In March, Trustee Janice Schaefer mentioned concerns — shared by other board members — about the Travel Store at a meeting, but refrained from discussing the issue in public afterward. Sources say this was to avoid impugning the entire district before residents voted on a June 3 parcel tax, which lost by a wide margin.

McDonald has seen some pivotal moments at the district, including the voters’ passage of a $66 million facilities bond in 1997. She has worked with three superintendents — Ruben Petersen, Jerry Trout and Ken Sherer, who will retire June 30.

After her announcement at the beginning of the meeting, McDonald sat in the audience for a while before leaving in the middle of the meeting.

Trustee Ray Rodriguez offered kind words.

“I appreciate the years you’ve given to the community,” he said. “We’re better off because of you.”

None of the other trustees followed suit.

Just before McDonald left the building, Carol Viegelmann, who retired after this year as principal of Kennedy Elementary School, told McDonald the announcement surprised her.

But Sherer said he had known that McDonald’s “commitment to her family” would cause her to resign soon.

“She is a bubbly person,” he said. “She always brought life to a meeting.”

McDonald said it is time for her to move out of the public arena.

“No matter what you do, there is always something people can question,” she said. “The more you are out in the public eye, the more of you there is to show.

“I cried during the pledge, because I knew it was my last time,” she said. “I said ‘I pledge allegiance,’ and then I cried for the rest.”