Newly-elected Alum Rock School District Trustee Scott Hung Pham has declined to take his oath of office, leaving the district scrambling to fill the seat just weeks after he was elected.
According to district documents, Pham submitted an email about his decision to district Superintendent Hilaria Bauer on Dec. 4. But many people, including those who ran against Pham, didn’t know about the vacancy until the school board’s meeting Dec. 9.
“Dear Dr. Bauer: I have received your email notifying me of the official certification of election from the County Registrar of Voters,” wrote Pham. “Because I consider the job of being a school trustee to be a very important one, I will decline to assume the position of ARUSD governing board member due to a number of reasons. Thank you so much.”
Pham did not return calls for comment.
The Alum Rock district has been plagued by scandal in recent years. In 2018, three trustees were called to resign by a Santa Clara County Grand Jury for creating a conflict of interest through their handling of a deal with the construction company Del Terra.
And this isn’t the first time this year the trustee seat has appeared in jeopardy. Earlier this year at a candidate forum hosted by SOMOS Mayfair, none of the candidates for the seat showed up.
Alum Rock trustees and Bauer spent five hours Dec. 9 grappling with the vacancy and how to fill it.
Board members voted 3-2 to declare the seat vacant as of Dec. 11 and move forward with a provisional appointment to fill the vacancy, agreeing it would be too expensive to hold a special election. Andres Quintero, Corina Herrera-Loera and Ernesto Bejarano voted in favor, with Dolores Marquez and Linda Chavez opposed.
Trustees had planned to interview applicants that evening to try and get ahead of the problem, but several community members raised issues.
Former candidate Brenda Zendejas expressed concerns with the process instead of giving her interest statement to the board.
“I feel uncomfortable giving my statement, and I would like to give my statement with everyone (who applies),” Zendejas said. Sitting board members approved Zendejas’ request. With that, Zendejas did take a moment to advocate for herself.
“I work with (students) on a daily basis,” said Zendejas, who made accountability to parents, along with budget transparency, highlights of her campaign. “I know what our parents need and ask for because I contact them on a daily basis. I am hearing of all the needs and support they wish that they have.”
Another candidate, Joe Corona, took the opportunity to put his name in the hat. In a conversation with San José Spotlight, Corona said he didn’t find out about Pham’s resignation until the day of the board meeting.
“There might be more people out there (that want to apply) and I want everyone to be considered,” Corona said.
Two more people expressed a level of interest: Minh Pham and Dieu Huynh.
Huynh said he was considering applying for the seat because he wants to see more representation of the Vietnamese community.
“If I do place myself in this process, I will do this in the interest of our children and reforming our Alum Rock district to be more fair and equitable, and a possible change of how we do elections in Alum Rock,” Huynh said. “I beg everyone here to reach out to anyone you know that’s qualified… it’s time to engage this community.
Minh Pham, a freshman admissions counselor at Cal State East Bay and member of the district’s bond oversight committee, said he wants to provide a “steady hand” to get the district through the pandemic and back on the right track.
“This is the time for unity,” Minh Pham said. “This is the time where we step back and say ‘COVID-19 and the economic situation is a threat to all of us,’ so we’ve got to band together and bail water to get to the other side.”
When word of Scott Pham’s refusal to take the oath of his office got out, Minh Pham said he received many phone calls urging him to move forward.
“I’m sorry to hear that Scott Pham declined to be sworn into his duly elected seat,” Minh Pham said. “But I’m hoping that (the board) will select someone who has got some financial knowledge of the district, to help them out of troubled waters.”
Applications for the seat open Dec. 14. On Dec. 17, Alum Rock trustees will take an hour to allow interested applicants to make their introductions to the board and to the public.
Applications will remain open until noon Jan. 4 with the final decision to be made Jan. 6.