Lodi Unified School District Trustees appoint Dr. Rommel Bal to fill Area 6 vacancy

Feb. 25—After interviewing four candidates during a special Thursday meeting, the Lodi Unified School District's Board of Education appointed its newest member.

The board voted 4-2 to appoint Dr. Rommel Bal to the Area 6 seat, replacing the departed Ron Freitas.

Bal will serve the remainder of Freitas' term, which ends in November of 2024.

Area 6 includes Clairmont, Larson, Mosher and Westwood elementary schools.

Board members Courtney Porter and Jeff Stroh cast the dissenting votes, stating that while Bal's background was impressive, another candidate appeared to be more suited to fill the seat.

"I just feel we have another candidate out there that is head and shoulders above everybody else in terms of background in law enforcement support and public relations, all the things we encounter and deal with," Porter said. "They bring to the table quite a plethora of ideas and background."

While Porter did not name the candidate in his comments, the only person interviewed Thursday who fits the description is Elisa Bubak, current spokeswoman for the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office.

Ironically, she was seeking appointment to a post vacated by her new boss. Freitas won the election to district attorney during the 2022 June primary.

Other candidates interviewed Thursday were Jeffrey Lewis, a business performance supervisor for Players Edge and the Stockton Kings, and Daisy Dickens, an electric engineering estimator for Pacific Gas & Electric.

Bal, dental surgeon, has owned her own practice near the Quail Lakes area of Stockton since 2006.

In her application letter, Bal said her intent for seeking appointment was to commit to the board's equity statement of building a strong, inclusive educational community.

She said that every child "should be provided a warm, welcoming, and nurturing educational environment," to give them the opportunity to succeed and become upstanding members of the community.

"I come from a family of proud educators and accomplished administrators," Bal wrote in her application. "Growing up and as a young adult I have first-hand experience in terms of the positive impact a kind teacher or an understanding administrator can have on a student's life and education. I bring with me a diverse set of skills and viewpoints from both my personal and professional life."

During public comment Thursday, resident Aaron Lange urged the board to select a candidate who was pragmatic and balanced.

He also wanted the board to make sure their chosen candidate would commit to the hours of attending meetings and poring over agendas.

"I was thinking aloud on whether these accomplished and very busy people have the time and resources and family planning and all the other things to make sure you have the time to be in the seat, and to do the board prep work and to be an active an engaged participant of the board," he said. "It's extremely important and I hope every candidate takes that very seriously."

Lodi Education Association president Lisa Wilkins noted that Lent began earlier in the week and that Ramadan was soon approaching.

Both are periods of reflection, she said, and hoped the board would use both observances to think about the kind of candidate that was most appropriate to fill the vacant seat.

"I want the board to be very reflective in their decision and think about not only bringing different viewpoints to the board, but also reflect on how those change," Wilkins said. "Some of what I see is stagnation with the board. So I'm hoping we have an opportunity to appoint another new member and reflect on new ideas and new ways to approach things."

Board member Susan Macfarlane said all the candidates interviewed Thursday were all very qualified to fill the Area 6 seat.

But it was Bal's volunteer experience that made her support the candidate.

Bal has been a member of the Give Kids A Smile Committee, providing free dental care to under-served children since 2011, and was a Science Olympiad/Bowl coach at John Muir and Elkhorn schools from 2011 to 2021.

She has served as president, executive committee member and board member of the San Joaquin Dental Society; as vice chair of the San Joaquin Dental Society Foundation, and editor of the society's publication, "Delta Sierra."

In addition, she is a Stockton Chorale board member.

"When I look at Dr. Bal's scope of volunteer experience, it's quite vast," Macfarlane said.