Alum Rock Union School District trustees are making moves to fill a vacancy left by Darcie Green’s departure. School board watchers believe the existing majority has settled on one of two candidates: Patricia Martinez-Roach, who lost two elections this year; and Javier Gonzalez, who was passed over for a county education post. The apparent fast-tracking of the process has created a firestorm in the community.
“We don’t think the process is fair, democratic or transparent in any way,” said community member Jaime Alvarado, who added that if the board does not take its time with the appointment process, “we’re going to get petitions signed for a special election, which is going to cost a lot of money.”
Last month, Green’s appointment to the county Office of Education’s board threw a wrench in plans for county Supervisor George Shirakawa and San Jose Councilmember Xavier Campos, who both lobbied county education board members to have their friend Gonzalez appointed. The board instead went with Green, whose selection meant she would need to resign from the Alum Rock board. A person cannot serve on the county board and a school district board at the same time.
The musical chairs became more complicated after the Nov. 6 election, however, with Dolores Marquez’s re-election to her Alum Rock board seat while Esau Herrera lost his spot. Charter school advocate Karen Martinez won the second seat on the Alum Rock board, meaning a newcomer would have a role in appointing Green’s replacement. Or so some people thought.
At a Nov. 1 meeting, Marquez, Herrera and recently appointed trustee Andres Quintero—a policy aide for Shirakawa who benefited his boss’ lobbying efforts—voted in favor on a 3-2 vote to have the appointment process take place Monday, Nov. 19. (Frank Chavez and Green dissented.) The unified three trustees cited “instability” that could be caused by waiting two weeks.
Here is an email Herrera sent to his Alum Rock board colleagues, which might violate the Brown Act—rules that require discussions among board members to take place at public meetings:
From: Esau Herrera
Date: Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 5:08 PM
Subject: Special Meeting: Pending Vacancy, Alum Rock School Board
I would like to convene a Special Meeting of the board to discuss procedures and timelines for filling the anticipated vacancy on our school board. Since we have recently gone through this procedure, I presume that the discussion/planning meeting would not consume a large amount of time.
At that special discussion/planning meeting, we would also set a date for candidate interviews and action on this appointment (presuming, of course, that the board prefers an appointment in place of a special election).
For the discussion/planning meeting, I suggest Nov. 1, Nov. 7 or Nov. 8, beginning at 5:30pm or 6pm. For the interview/action meeting, I suggest Nov. 19, 20, 26 or 27, beginning at 5:30pm or 6pm. Please contact the Superintendent’s office at your earliest opportunity to advise of your availability.
Esau Ruiz Herrera
Board of Trustees, Alum Rock Union School District
Coincidentally, or maybe not, the county Registrar of Voters doesn’t certify election results until Dec. 4, meaning Martinez, who works for Rocketship charter schools and has an active lawsuit against the district, will not be able to have her voice heard on the board appointment at the Nov. 19 meeting. If the board does wait for Martinez’ inclusion in the appointment decision, the total time between Green’s resignation on Nov. 7 and next month’s meeting—Dec. 13—would actually be the same period of time a seat was vacant before Quintero’s appointment.
Other local school board officials are openly criticizing the process and the reasons Marquez, Quintero and Herrera have given for fast-tracking the appointment.
Frank Biehl, president of the East Side Union School District, and Magdalena Carrasco, who edged out Martinez-Roach for a spot on the East Side board in the recent election, both called for a more open process in the appointment.
“Allow the community to apply through an open Democratic process,” Carrasco said, adding that the appointment of Martinez-Roach, who came in third against Rose Herrera (no relation to Esau Herrera) in the District 8 San Jose City Council primary, would be “a prize for taking on Rose.”
Biehl admitted, “It’s not unusual for a board to try and preserve themselves, to preserve political power as long as they can.”
And for this reason, it seems, Gonzalez, or even Esau Herrera—who would have to resign before the Nov. 19 meeting to potentially be reappointed—could be savvier choices if the current Alum Rock board decides to ignore pleas for a more thorough appointment process.
“This is probably an opportunity for George (Shirakawa),” Alvarado said of any potential backroom dealing. “He’s been getting people appointed for quite some time. I’m sure they see this as an opportunity to get one of their people appointed.” A source tells San Jose Inside that Gonzalez was furious with the county board’s decision to select Green and sees Alum Rock’s board as a stepping stone to challenging her in the 2014 election.
Just a few years ago, Shirakawa helped his chief of staff, Eddie Garcia, get appointed twice to the supervisor’s old seat on the East Side board. Garcia even earned reappointment after losing an election.
“It will be totally a mirror if Esau gets appointed through all of this,” Alvarado said.
Two other potential candidates for the Alum Rock seat who were among possible choices in Quintero’s appointment process are attorney Betty Duong and Alum Rock parent Julie Ramirez.