NEWARK -- With a November election now set to feature three challengers against one incumbent, the school board was enveloped Friday by the campaign's biggest issue: whether to replace a popular superintendent.
Board members -- including incumbent Nancy Thomas -- had a vested interest in the question. After three hours in closed session, they declined Superintendent Dave Marken's offer to rescind his resignation, and identified a finalist who could replace him.
Also, school board member Charlie Mensinger said after the meeting that he had withdrawn his candidacy papers Friday and will not seek re-election.
"I am withdrawing due to the negative climate surrounding the election," Mensinger said. "I feel it is better to go away quietly than to participate in something that is tearing the district apart."
Each announcement likely will affect the election prospects of Thomas and the board challengers -- Elizabeth Brazil, Tom Huynh and Christopher Wecks.
Keeping Marken on the job would improve the education prospects of Newark's children, said a dozen speakers among 100 people who crowded into a Silliman Center room Friday. A few waved signs with scrawled messages: "We love Marken" and "You asked. He said yes!"
The special meeting had been scheduled for trustees to interview at least one candidate to replace Marken, whom many credit with lifting Newark Unified to unprecedented heights after three years on the job.
Marken resigned in late May, and supporters later accused the board of alienating him by overstepping governance boundaries and intimidating district employees.
In a reprise of several meetings since Marken resigned, speakers Friday urged the school board to keep its popular and effective superintendent.
Marken was out of town visiting his father, said Virginia Marken, who addressed board members on her husband's behalf.
"Dave has never wanted to leave this district," she said. "And the overwhelming support from parents, students, teachers, staff and the community has ... shaped his decision to stay."
A principal speaking on behalf of the district's managers also asked the board to keep Marken on the job.
Marken acted in the district's best interests, said Graham Elementary Principal Terrance Dunn. "We now ask you to do the same," he said. "Please act in the best interest of the district ... by supporting Dr. Marken's service for the full term of his contract."
Linda Simpson, a Newark first-grade teacher, urged the board to "not give in to pride" and to set aside hard feelings. "Think of what is best for the kids and the decision is an easy one," Simpson said. "Keep Dave here and let us work our Newark magic."
After more than 40 minutes, the board adjourned to a three-hour closed session to interview a candidate to replace Marken.
"We took a vote on accepting the rescinding of his resignation and the vote did not pass," trustee Jan Crocker said in an interview following the closed session.
The school board members did not reveal their vote tally on Marken. "Because there was no action, there's no requirement to report out the vote," Crocker said.
The board also announced that a finalist to replace Marken had been selected but that a new superintendent could not be officially hired until Aug. 19, the board's next regular meeting. Trustees did not announce the finalist's name.
One disappointed Marken supporter said the five-member board had "slapped us in the face" by refusing his offer to stay.
"The overwhelming feeling in the room was that those five people have no respect for us, our students or our community," district employee Christine Herrera said.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.