BERKELEY -- The school board appointed a former City Hall insider and current UC Berkeley community relations director May 1 to fill a position vacated by Leah Wilson, who resigned March 31.

Julie Sinai was appointed by the board in a 4-0 vote, the first time the board has appointed a new member rather than having an election.

"I want to be on the board because I deeply care about Berkeley's kids and families," Sinai said during a three-minute presentation by all nine applicants for the seat. "We have huge issues facing the district, including bringing in a new superintendent, the budget, employee contracts, the next phase of construction spending and addressing drug, alcohol and bullying issues."

The district had the option of holding a special election to replace Wilson but decided the cost, which could have gone as high as $750,000, was too much.

Wilson resigned because her new job as court executive officer with Alameda County Superior Courts could have created a conflict for her, she said.

Sinai, who was Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates' chief of staff from 2008 to 2012 and a senior aide to him from 2002 to 2007, was set to begin her tenure on the board at its meeting May 8. The post will end after the November 2014 elections.


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School board member Josh Daniels was the only member of the four who had other candidates besides Sinai, even though he voted for her in the end. Daniels tried to bring a vote for Meleah Hall, a special-education teacher in the West Contra Costa County School District, and for Peter Bloomsburgh, Berkeley High School math teacher and former director of Medicaid programs in Illinois and Massachusetts. He was not supported in either motion.

School board President Karen Hemphill said she feels Sinai's work with Bates on education issues is why he is "now considered the education mayor."

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.

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