ARLINGTON -- Gloria Peña's election as president of the school board a year ago -- as its first Hispanic leader -- was a milestone in a the ethnic minority-majority school district.
So Peña was surprised this week when fellow board members quietly decided to replace her.
In a board officer election Thursday, the board installed Vice President Peter Baron as president, with no discussion and no other nominees.
In interviews Friday, trustees cited Baron's leadership capabilities. But Peña, who was told of the board's intent the day before the vote, said one reason for what she considers an early ouster is her growing differences of opinion with some colleagues.
"I think the culture of the board has changed completely from when I first came to it," said Peña, who has served since 2005. At the time, "there was a true feeling of working together."
Now, she believes, disagreement has become entrenched. "It's OK not to agree. ... But when you get angry, hold on to it and let it fester, that's when it gets unhealthy."
Bowie Hogg, a former board treasurer who was elected vice president, said the board worked together effectively during Peña's term.
"It's not a negative on Gloria. I just see Peter Baron as a better fit for president," Hogg said. "Peter is one of the calmest, coolest-headed individuals I've ever met in my life. It stems from when he was a [helicopter] pilot for the Marine Corps during Vietnam."
A review of board documents indicates no pattern as to how long board presidents serve. Officer elections are held every year after the public election of board members, so all are one-year terms. But most board presidents have served multiple terms. Three were one-termers.
The board voted after welcoming its newest member, Tony Pompa, who won the Place 7 seat. Hogg was re-elected to Place 6.
Baron was installed as president by a 6-1 vote, with Peña voting against.
"I didn't look for this job. Goodness knows I've got plenty to do," said Baron, a Grand Prairie schoolteacher who had to leave his Arlington teaching job after he was elected to the board. "I thought she was doing a great job. She brought us through this budget crisis, through the layoffs, through the RIFs," or reductions in force.
Hogg met with Peña on Wednesday to tell her he intended to nominate Baron at the meeting and outlined his concerns.
Peña acknowledges that she has offended a few board members with her committee appointments and her resistance to add agenda items that would have lengthened public meetings.
She believes another key issue was the division over a proposal to establish a school holiday honoring Cesar Chavez, the labor leader and activist. It failed twice last year.
Trustee John Hibbs, who nominated Hogg for vice president, said he hasn't sensed conflict even as the board struggled to cut the district budget in the face of large reductions in state funding.
"Gloria's disappointed, and she has every right to be disappointed," he said. "But this is a good board, and it's worked through some very challenging times this year. I think Peter is going to be someone who can really bring individuals together and bring our strengths to the table."
Luis Castillo, past president of the Arlington League of United Latin American Citizens and now treasurer of LULAC's seven-county District 21, said he was disappointed.
"It is important to have a role model, to tell our kids that people who look like them are in key positions," Castillo said. "This is a setback."
Peña said returning to her role as trustee will not limit her vision for the district. "I'm going to continue to work hard for the district because I'm working for the kids and the community," she said.