East San Jose candidates skip on school board forum
Alum Rock Union School District Board of Trustee candidates (left to right) Joe Corona, Dolores Marquez, Scott Hung Pham, Brenda Pinal Zendejas and Corina-Herrera Loera.

Alum Rock Union School District organizers scheduled a virtual forum with five board of trustees candidates Saturday morning – but when around 20 parents tuned in over Zoom, there was no candidate in sight.

“Unfortunately we are not hosting the candidate forum today,” said Andrea Portillo of the East San Jose organization SOMOS Mayfair. “We did invite all of the candidates multiple times to today’s forum, however, only one candidate responded to our invitation and confirmed her attendance.”

Portillo and other parent organizers within SOMOS Mayfair known as the “EMPUJE” committee said recently-appointed trustee Corina Herrera-Loera was the only candidate to confirm her attendance.

Herrera-Loera is a former board member of SOMOS Mayfair who resigned after being elected to her trustee position with the Alum Rock Union School District.

“We decided to hold this space to be very transparent and let the community know what the update was,” Portillo said. “Also to take advantage of all of the folks that had registered and submitted questions for the candidates to use some time to learn a little bit more about why it’s so important that we engage in these elections.”

Candidates Scott Hung Pham and Dolores Marquez could not be reached, Portillo said, while Brenda Pinal Zendejas had prior engagements. Candidate Joe Corona also did not confirm his attendance, she said.

Two seats are open on the 5-member Alum Rock Union School District Board of Trustees. Herrera-Loera and Marquez are seeking re-election for another four years. They face challengers Corona, Pham and Zendejas.

The two candidates with the most votes on Nov. 3 will secure a seat on the board.

Marquez remains the last of three trustees who were called to resign by a Santa Clara County Grand Jury in 2018 for creating a conflict of interest through their handling of a deal with the construction company Del Terra.

Marquez and Pham did not respond to San José Spotlight’s request for comment.

Corona told San José Spotlight that he responded to an invitation to the candidate forum, but received word from organizers that it was canceled.

“I remember accepting the invitation, I believe it was SOMOS Mayfair (who canceled),” he said over an email.

Despite having no candidates show up, organizers used the forum on Saturday to discuss community issues and answer questions about voting.

One parent, Elizabeth Sanchez, said she’d like to see schools take on more of the cost of school supplies and library books.

Social and emotional learning should be an important part of the curriculum, she added, especially during distance learning.

“We have begun to see the negative effects on our children — for example, stress, anxiety, absenteeism rising,” she said. “The pandemic has exacerbated inequities between our students, and I would like our school to shift focus to educating the majority of our students.”

Sanchez said the district can support Spanish-speaking students by continuing to expand dual immersion schools.

Spanish-speaking parents followed along on Saturday through Zoom’s real-time interpretation function.

Close to 78% of Alum Rock Union School District students are Latino or Hispanic and 37% are English learners, according to the California Department of Education.

Representatives with the California League of Women voters also participated in the forum by providing election and voter information.

“We play two roles – one is voter and citizen education, and the other side of it is action and advocacy,” said Gloria Chun Hoo, second vice president of the California League of Women Voters. “This is an area that’s key to my heart.”

One parent, Flor De Leon-Jacobo, asked the speakers about what signature she should use when signing her mail-in ballot – to which the panel advised she use the same signature as on her driver’s license to avoid potential ballot rejection.

Chun Hoo said the league last month moderated a successful forum with candidates for the Santa Clara Unified School District. She said it was insulting that the Alum Rock candidates failed to come together to speak to voters.

“The fact that you do not have a candidate’s forum here for Alum Rock Union School District is appalling to us,” she said.

De Leon-Jacobo said that parents should contact the trustee candidates to explain the importance of speaking with the community.

“This is not any other board, this is the school board,” she said. “That’s why we were asking people for questions, to get that input and that way we can connect with those candidates and have an idea of where they’re standing.”

Portillo said the candidate forum would be rescheduled.

“There’s many other ways we can continue to be informed, to be active and vigilant,” she said. “To continue advocating and pushing back and keeping our students at the head of our agendas.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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