What Tuesday’s Election Means for Education Reform

Trying to make sense of Tuesday’s election results through the lens of educational reform is migraine inducing. But the past couple days have given me time to process the aftermath, so I can offer some explanations for the state, county and local results.

Gov. Jerry Brown coasted into an unprecedented fourth term, as expected. The 76-year-old has positioned himself as a leader in new school funding models—or, in bureaucracy-speak, Local Control Funding Formula. He’s favored laws to up the number of quality charter schools and appears to be ambivalent on the Vergara vs. California aiming to revoke teacher tenure, one of the fundamental issues in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson held on to his post with a 5 –percentage point lead over challenger and fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck. But it was Torlakson who pulled support from the Democratic Party and labor. On the other hand, Tuck was endorsed by every major California newspaper and a considerable number of moneyed, pro-charter education reformers.

Unsurprisingly, the results were divided by geography, with the southern part of the state favoring the challenger and Northern California the incumbent. In Orange County, Tuck finished with 56.6 percent of the votes to Torlakson’s 43.4 percent. In Santa Clara County, results were 60-40 in favor of Torlakson. Statewide, results split almost right down the middle: 52.1 for Torlakson and 47.9 for Tuck.

I endorsed Tuck because I believed he could bring real change. He was a founder of a charter school network, Green Dot, with a “thin” union contract that doesn’t honor the state’s tenure laws. He was a staunch supporter of the landmark Vergara vs. California decision by a Southern California superior court judge. Torlakson wants to appeal that ruling and stands more in line with teachers’ unions.

Results indicate that the status quo will march on and that battles of teacher tenure will only intensify. It’s what I hoped against but thought would happen.

The Santa Clara County Board of Education, with three incumbents vying for their seats, was particularly interesting to me, because they are my colleagues.

Dr. Michael Chang won re-election with a landslide 77 percent of the vote over John Mumy. Chang represents Trustee Area 2, which encompasses Cupertino Union, Lakeside, Loma Prieta, Los Gatos Union, Saratoga Union, Low Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District and small portions of other districts.

Vice President Darcie Green, who was challenged by Alum Rock Union Elementary School District trustee Dolores Marquez, held on to her seat with 57 percent of the vote. She resides over Trustee Area 6, which spans Alum Rock, Mt. Pleasant, Franklin-McKinley and the corresponding portion of East Side Union High School District. Marquez voted against Rocketship opening up another campus in her East Side district earlier this year. When that application came to the county level for approval, Green and six of her colleagues voted in favor of the charter school, which angered Marquez.

Julia Hover-Smoot, who presided over Trustee Area 7—covering Morgan Hill, Gilroy Evergreen and small parts of other districts—lost her seat to Morgan Hill Unified School District Trustee Claudia Rossi, 56-43. Rossi won the seat with a largely grassroots campaign against an established candidates who enjoyed $185,000 in charter school backing.

My colleague Hover-Smoot has consistently supported high quality charter schools and has voted her conscience on behalf of all children on many occasions during her four-year tenure on the board. Meanwhile, Rossi, in her capacity as a trustee for Morgan Hill Unified, has been a steady “no” vote on three charter decisions this past year. She twice voted against Navigator Charter and once against VOICES College Bound Academy, a dual-immersion Spanish-English language charter school.

The Santa Clara County Board of Education results indicate one more push for school reform. Interestingly, the board will be voting on both VOICES and Navigator charters on appeal from Morgan Hill come Nov. 19. Hover-Smoot will weigh in as she finishes her tenure on the board at that meeting with one final vote.

Rossi will be sworn into her newly elected office Dec. 10.

I am saddened that we’re losing Hover-Smoot as a trustee. She is eloquent and wise. She challenges us and speaks with genuine concern about the unsustainable path we are on as a county.

Still, I welcome another informed and authentic voice to the discussion on how we can give each and every child the best possible education, regardless of zip code or skin color. In the end, that’s what matters.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

3 Comments

  1. These two statements are complete contradictions:

    “Julia Hover-Smoot, who presided over Trustee Area 7—covering Morgan Hill, Gilroy Evergreen and small parts of other districts—lost her seat to Morgan Hill Unified School District Trustee Claudia Rossi, 56-43. Rossi won the seat with a largely grassroots campaign against an established candidates who enjoyed $185,000 in charter school backing.”

    “The Santa Clara County Board of Education results indicate one more push for school reform.”

    Your voting constituents are trying to tell you about how they view the SCCBOE’s “school reform” through relentless Charter School approvals, against the wishes of the districts and even, the recommendations of SCCOE staff….they’re not happy with your performance and you’re not re-electable, even with boat loads of outside money.

  2. What should Tuesday’s results teach DiSalvo? Democracy and Humility.
    .

  3. Your view point is right about the contradictions but how can anything be read as a message from the voting constituents given the percentage of voters who participated in this election. Trustee Area 7 has 120,453 registered voters, Of those, only 26,748 actually voted (11,600 for Julia and 15,148 for Claudia) which represents 22% of the registered voters. The majority of voters, constituting 78%, remained silent on the issue in Trustee Area 7. Taking stock of the voters who actually voted for Rossi, she was elected by 13% of the registered voters. Hopefully in 2016 more voters will cast a vote to enable one to discern a message from the majority..