SAN RAMON VALLEY -- For the past 12 years, Paul Gardner's Tuesday nights have been filled with debate and decisions over issues that have determined the fate of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.
Those discussions on budgets, boundary adjustments, childcare and after-school programs could often extend late into the night -- and came after he had already completed a full day of work at his regular job as vice president of commercial operations at First Republic Bank.
Gardner, 66, a 12-year member of the San Ramon Valley school board, had his final school board meeting earlier this month after opting not to run for re-election.
"It's a strange feeling," Gardner said, of leaving the board. "I think 12 years is enough for anybody and it's time for new blood. It's time for me to move on."
Several local politicians, and even ex-Superintendent Steven Enoch, who drove down from Sacramento, attended his final meeting and spoke highly of his tenure and expertise in finance.
"What I've always respected about Paul is his commitment, his diligence, and voice of reason," said Contra Costa Supervisor Candace Andersen.
Danville Mayor Newell Arenrich said Gardner was on the board when the district's student body grew by a third, and when two of the largest school bond measures in the East Bay were passed, allowing for improvements to the district's facilities.
"You've made a really big difference in our community," Arnerich told Gardner.
Gardner said he and his wife Marilyn started volunteering at Los Cerros Middle School and Monte Vista High School when their two boys were students.
In 2000, a board member who was stepping down convinced him to run for the board. "I felt with my background I had something to contribute," he said, adding that while on the board the district navigated economic crisis after economic crisis.
In the early 2000s, the board began building up a large reserve fund, which has helped it weather the current downturn without cuts to staff or programs.
Gardner said he stayed on the board long after his two sons graduated from high school because he enjoyed working on the issues and had a desire to give back to the community.
"School boards are often boards that people don't want to be on," he said. "There are a lot of heavy issues and they are important issues. It's all about our kids and the future of our country."
Gardner's seat will be filled by Mark Jewett, who like Gardner has a background in finance, attended San Ramon Valley Schools, and starts out with his own children attending district schools.
"I think the district has a great future," Gardner said. "We've got excellent programs. We've got excellent staff and teachers and a good solid board that works together. We're in a great place."
So what is Gardner going to do now that he longer has to attend those long school board meetings?
"I'm just going to enjoy a little bit of freedom on Tuesday night," he said.
Contact Jason Sweeney at 925-847-2123. Follow him at Twitter.com/Jason_Sweeney.