More than 150 people tuned in to the Alum Rock Union Elementary School district’s special meeting this week expecting to see more candidates emerge for the district’s latest empty board seat.
The board had decided the week before to finalize interview questions and take pitches from prospective applicants. However, the Dec. 16 meeting was not broadly publicized until the day before so no other potential candidates turned out.
But those who tuned in made sure board members knew how they felt about having to appoint a new trustee so soon after an election. Three of the four trustees on the board have been chosen via an appointment process, and not by election.
Trustees Andres Quintero and Corina Herrera-Loera were first appointed to the 5-member board in 2012 and 2019, respectively, but have both won re-election since then.
“The parents and the community are here to work in collaboration with you guys to make sure we choose the best candidate,” said Flor De Leon-Jacobo, an organizer with SOMOS Mayfair. “Let’s put our personal lives aside and let’s find someone qualified… to make changes on our board.”
Scott Pham, who was elected to the board last month, declined to take his oath. Sitting board members will make the appointment after conducting interviews in January.
Pham notified the board and the school district Dec. 4 he would not be taking the seat. But many people, including those who ran against Pham, didn’t know about the vacancy until the school board’s Dec. 9 meeting.
In passionate public comment, parents, alumni and community members asked the board to make sure the appointment process would be fair, equitable and reflect the needs and desires of the community.
The district, consisting of 24 schools and serving about 10,000 students, has undergone turnover and turmoil on its board in recent years.
All the candidates for the most recently vacant seat skipped out on a school forum in October, forcing a cancelation of the event.
Former board member Dolores Marquez was fined $7,000 in 2019 by the Fair Political Practices Commission for mishandling surplus campaign funds. And a 2018 Grand Jury report found the school board failed to meet standards of governance and fiduciary responsibility, calling for the resignation of three of the five trustees on the board.
So far, several candidates have stated intentions to apply for the seat: Minh Pham, former candidate Joe Corona, and former candidate Brenda Zendejas. On Dec. 9, the three made statements to the board introducing themselves.
Dieu Hyunh, a teacher and East San Jose resident, said he was still considering applying.
“It’s clear to me that whomever joins the board must … understand that equal representation is not the same as equitable representation,” Hyunh said.
Board members decided on a list of eight questions to ask candidates, including the following:
“Describe any experience you have in the development and implementation of large scale, wide reaching projects or initiatives that impact large communities, at scale, particularly from a financial perspective.”
“What is your position on the sale of district land?”
“How have you supported or contributed to restorative justice, racial equity and ethnic studies to increase the support or the children in our district before and during this pandemic?”
Applications are due by noon Jan. 4.
Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected]