Santa Clara County education board rushes to fill seat
Hundreds of parents, students and elected officials turned out for a Santa Clara County Board of Education candidate forum in October 2022. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    Residents are sounding the alarm over an abrupt process to fill a vacant seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

    The board, which includes seven members and represents more than 30 school districts, is looking to fill its Area 3 seat, which is being vacated by Rosemary Kamei, the councilmember-elect for San Jose City Council District 1. Kamei submitted her resignation on Oct. 21, and it takes effect Dec. 21. Area 3 represents the Cambrian, Campbell Union, Luther Burbank, Moreland, Union and Campbell Union High school districts, as well as parts of San Jose Unified School District and Santa Clara Unified School District.

    The application process for the vacancy was discussed during last Wednesday’s board meeting. Eligible candidates were alerted  last week through a news release, leaving a little over a week to meet the Nov. 12 application deadline.

    Advocates say the board’s sudden imposed tight deadline for applicants raises concerns over whether there is sufficient time to vet qualified candidates.

    “We have to protect the democratic process and when that’s not happening, at any level of governing bodies or governance… that’s just gravely concerning,” Kim McCarthy, president of the Campbell High School Teachers Association which represents the Campbell Union High School District, told San José Spotlight. “Getting the word out to potential applicants and getting a diverse pool of applicants in a very short amount of time is the problem as well.”

    The board of education oversees academic performance and finances and also approves renewals for charter schools. Board members are also responsible for creating policies on topics such as early education and educational equity.

    Board President Peter Ortiz, who is running for the San Jose City Council District 5 seat, said interested candidates would have known about the upcoming vacancy, and the expedited process allows for the seat’s smooth transition between its predecessor and successor.

    “We are confident that the timeline will be able to accommodate serious applicants for the role,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight.

    Application windows for board seats can range from a week to several weeks, and submitted applications will be reviewed by a board committee to determine eligibility, said Mary Ann Dewan, county superintendent of schools and San José Spotlight columnist. Eligible applicants are registered voters living in Area 3 and cannot be employed by public or charter schools.

    To date, no applications have been received, she added.

    Candidate information will be available to the public through an agenda posted Nov. 13 for the board’s Nov. 16 meeting, Dewan said. Applicants will be interviewed by the board at the meeting with opportunity for public input.

    The board’s timeline leaves the public’s voice unheard, McCarthy said. Trustees have a large impact on educators and students, with school districts relying on the Santa Clara County Office of Education for guidance on curriculum and professional development. She added the board should have policies in place to determine the specific number of weeks candidates have to apply for a vacant seat.

    Not everyone on the board supports the quick timeline. Trustee Grace Mah has raised concerns about the expedited process.

    “We typically spend over a month educating the public, allowing inclusive engagement of our whole community. We can extend the application deadline to a month, hold interviews and finalize the final appointment,” Mah told San José Spotlight. “What is the rush?”

    The board of education filled a vacancy last year, following the Area 2 incumbent’s resignation in June 2021. The seat was filled in August 2021 by board member Tara Sreekrishnan, following an appointment process which included four other candidates.

    Input from parents should be considered throughout the appointment process, said Eva Heredia, a parent who attends the meetings. The last appointment process for a vacant seat felt longer, she added.

    “The board serves our kids and they make the decisions about our kids’ education,” Heredia told San José Spotlight. “Give more appropriate time and give the opportunity (for) the community to be part of it too.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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