Santa Clara County Board of Education Trustee Has Wife Apologize for His Angry Outburst

What should have been a routine changing of the guard turned into a stalemate at last week’s Santa Clara County Board of Education meeting, when a motion to appoint trustee Claudia Rossi vice president failed to muster enough votes, with trustee Michael Chang absent and a bloc of charter school boosters—Joseph DiSalvo, Darcie Green and Grace Mah—abstaining. Typically, such assignments are a matter of rotation, so it took Rossi aback, she said, especially to see Green block her as VP by instead naming DiSalvo, “who just a few weeks ago treated female colleagues so poorly.” That poor treatment took place at a Sept. 6 hearing, when the veteran board member flipped out over a charter school petition. Rossi was the first from the board to interrogate the applicants, and she pulled no punches. When trustee Rosemary Kamei chimed in with a reminder about the time, and to note that Green had walked out, DiSalvo loudly interrupted, wondering why Rossi got to speak first. “We have always given everyone the opportunity to speak,” Kamei explained. “Not since I’ve been on the board,” DiSalvo replied. “I’ve been on the board longer than you.” Trustee Anna Song, who sat just left of DiSalvo, appeared to place her hand on his arm and ask him to calm down. DiSalvo flung her hand off. “Excuse me, don’t touch me,” he said. “Don’t touch me.” Kamei said, “Joseph, Joseph,” in a tone typically reserved for a child. “It’s going to be OK. Let her finish.” DiSalvo missed the following board meeting because an urgent family matter took him to San Diego, but he sent his wife, Christine DiSalvo, to read his one-page mea culpa. Brian Wheatley, president of the Evergreen Teachers Association, told Fly that he considers it the height of arrogance to belittle women and then have another woman apologize for him. Rossi, who said DiSalvo never gave her a personal apology, agreed. “I did not say anything because I felt some level of empathy for a spouse who would be put in a position to apologize on their husband’s behalf,” she said. “It compounded the offensive behavior.” In a phone call with Fly, DiSalvo chalked up his outburst to “passion” for charters and frustration with Rossi’s critical questions. “I felt that it was a conspiracy to start out from a negative place,” he said. “So, yes, I got angry.”

Below is the statement DiSalvo’s wife read at the Sept. 20 board meeting.

First, let me thank my wife, Christine, for agreeing to come to this podium and read this statement on my behalf. I wish I was there in person, however, we are dealing with very serious family issues in San Diego, where I have been since last Thursday. Christine flew home this morning to resume her work life and be here tonight to express my words.

Secondly, I want to sincerely apologize to my colleagues, Trustees Rossi, Kamai and Song whom I offended in an unfortunate and angry few minutes at our September 6 meeting.

In the moment, I inappropriately railed against our current process, which gives unlimited time for a trustee to speak during a charter school vote or hearing. Upon reflection, my outburst centered around the bigger issue that faces us all:

Our public education system continues to accept the unconscious bigotry of lowered expectations for children of color, even though current data screams for solutions. For 6-years, I have publicly and passionately fought to close the racial achievement gap. I believe that as trustees of this board, we need an “ALL hands on deck” approach, so that we can eliminate this unconscionable gap - some say gulf - that currently exists.

In 2010, this office and Board had an initiative called SJ/SV 2020, to eliminate the racial achievement gap by 2020. We have made a small dent in this gap, by taking courageous votes on some charter public schools, working on the Strong Start campaign and getting more seats in Santa Clara County for high-quality early learning options.

But this fight isn’t over. I commit to my community and to all of my colleagues that I will continue to fight and find ways that we can ALL work together and address the racial achievement gap instead of succumbing to a system that benefits adults, rather than ensuring the success of its children.

Tonight, I am sadly missing the hearing on KIPP Collegiate. We must find common ground so that we can continue to provide high-quality schools that provide high academic expectations for each and every student enrolled from Pre-K to 12th grade. I was very impressed to learn that KIPP employs a full-time mental health worker for each of their schools. Mental health is a very critical piece of the puzzle to address the learning needs of our children.

I take my position on this Board seriously and with honor. It is a privilege to serve. Thank you, Christine, for coming home and delivering these words on my behalf. I love you and our family very much.

Send a tip to The Fly

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

13 Comments

  1. > “We have always given everyone the opportunity to speak,” Kamei explained. “Not since I’ve been on the board,” DiSalvo replied. “I’ve been on the board longer than you.” Trustee Anna Song, who sat just left of DiSalvo, appeared to place her hand on his arm and ask him to calm down. DiSalvo flung her hand off. “Excuse me, don’t touch me,” he said. “Don’t touch me.” Kamei said, “Joseph, Joseph,” in a tone typically reserved for a child. “It’s going to be OK. Let her finish.”

    Who’s paying these people?

    Wait. I’M PAYING THESE PEOPLE!

    I WANT A REFUND!!!!

  2. All I see here are a bunch of “gotchas”. With politics so poisoned these days, everyone is using whatever they can find to attack others. I don’t have an answer to that, but I’d like to provide some perspective:

    I was a union negotiator for many years. I was also a union steward, and I held other positions as a representative for a grievant, and for my Local.

    In our meetings with company reps, emotions often got the best of people on both sides. I’ve witnessed much more serious outbursts than what’s being reported here.

    When a company representative, for example, shouts “F—you, A—hoe!”, or something equivalent at a union rep (and more often it was our side shouting the pejoratives at a company rep), did the person on the receiving end file a grievance over that verbal abuse?

    Never, and for a good reason: Arbitrators have always held that “shop talk” (their term for such attack language) expressed in official company/union meetings is to be expected, since it is an emotional setting. It is not condoned, but human nature is such that it occasionally happens, and it can never be entirely eliminated.

    The Arbitration process is the final step in any grievance. When the parties know in advance that an Arbitrator will rule that ‘shop talk’ is occasionally expected, and therefore it will be excused by the Arbitrator, no one ever files a grievance for being yelled at—no matter how insulting the remark was, since no one wants to lose an Arbitration case.

    The events reported here wouldn’t be expected in polite society, but they happened in an emotional and combative setting. The sad thing is the Board’s polarization. Everything that a perceived political opponent says or tries to do is subject to sabotage. In this case, the cudgel being used is the womens’ issue, where females are portrayed as the weaker sex, and unable to defend themselves against the male caveman.

    Of course, that’s nonsense. And it detracts from any attempts to fix the problems they were elected to resolve. In deflecting to an “outburst”, these electeds are not working to reach a compromise regarding the issue at hand, and their petty nitpicking ends up cheating the public.

    I’m just pointing out that when someone tries to use human nature to attack an opponent, it’s a no-win situation. The public is not being served, and the animosity created sets the stage for a quid-pro-quo some time down the line. Better by far if the presiding officer said something like, “Thank you Mr/Ms X, for the apology. We understand that tempers occasionally get frayed. Now, if we can return to the business at hand…”. That would put the event in the past, and the Board could MovOn to its primary business.

    I’d suggest trying it that way, but that appears hopeless. These things have to run their course; all it takes is one individual to upset the apple cart, and the lines are drawn again. But the acting Superintendent should take the lead in stopping this perpetual infighting. And if/when a new Superintendent is appointed, that person needs to justify their $327,433 salary, and put a stop to this nonsense. The Supe has the tools, they just haven’t had the gumption to control the Board meetings.

    As usual, it’s the taxpaying public that is cheated by these highly paid children and their schoolyard antics:

    http://tiny.cc/l7clpy

    For the money we pay them, don’t we deserve better?

  3. It is not just a guestion of a board member speaking out of turn or rudely to his fellow board members. It is not a guestion of his non-apology apology which he turned into an excuse of why other’s behavior drove him to be so “passionate” and therefore the cause of his inappropriate responses. It is not the fact he had his wife deliver another tirade of why he is the champion in the fight to narrow the racial achievement gap, while implying others need to step in line with his views or fail children and favor adults. It is the fact that decenting viewpoints are so dangerous they should not be allowed.
    It appears that the mere inquiry into if a charter is meeting its required goals is viewed as critical questioning instead of due diligence of duties. Did Mr. DiSalvo apologize privately to those he claims to be sorry for having offended, or just use this as another chance to claim his moral high ground?
    I believe the actions of Mr. DiSalvo has more to due with one issue of charter vs. traditional schools than it does with any women’s issues. I believe the actions of the board to not appoint trustee Claudia Rossi as Vice President without giving any explanation and choosing to abstain is based on the one issue of charters. They choose to ignore all the other outstanding work she does in the service of children. It is the absence of tolerance for even questioning opposing views that is the root of the problem.

  4. So very, very little has changed in the nearly twenty years since I left. The same myopic, inward focus, the same chronically bruised egos. New players but the same script. What is it the County Board does, people would ask me for 25 years, seems like mostly they just fight. Well, I’d point out, mustering every ounce of irony I could, they also select the County Superintendent.

    • > So very, very little has changed in the nearly twenty years since I left. The same myopic, inward focus, the same chronically bruised egos.

      I think the virtue signaling may have improved.

      They seem to be much better at it these days.

      We used to think of them as just self-serving clods. Today, they’re self-serving clods who never tire of telling us how much they care about the [insert victim group here].

      • Hm, if you’re right SJ and they’ve improved their self-aggrandizement skills, that’s saying one helluva lot. I spent 26 years attending two county board meetings per month (I was an executive manager and one of their supporting staff) and I can assure you that, with a few notable exceptions, members were expert, if heavy handed, at burnishing their credentials with every sentence spoken, every eyebrow raised.

        • I remember a board member threatening to go home and get her sons’s Uzi to blow another board member’s head off. This was during an open session of a board meeting. Ah, those were the days.

  5. “Our public education system continues to accept the unconscious bigotry of lowered expectations for children of color, even though current data screams for solutions. For 6-years, I have publicly and passionately fought to close the racial achievement gap.” — Joseph DiSalvo, apologizing for having behaved like a shrew during a board meeting.

    Unable to play the race card or scream sexual harassment, Joseph DiSalvo attempted to extract himself from his predicament by offering the next best thing as an excuse for having thrown a hissy fit: his frustration over the achievement gap.

    Count Mr. DiSalvo among the tens of millions of scoundrels who’ve tried to escape responsibility for their personal failings by laying the blame for them on a politically-approved demon (in his case a gap that is, and has proved itself, as natural as every other difference between human groups). How can we possibly judge him negatively for behavior prompted by his progressive goodness? Maybe what he needs is righteous-anger management training along with a big helping of public understanding and maybe a hug.

    What… a… putz.

    • Count Mr. DiSalvo belongs in the theater. The guy is rude and self aggrandizing. Several years ago, I sat through a few of their meetings. Kindergartners have better social skills.

      At one point, DiSalvo, got up and stomped out because he didn’t like what I had to say about his treatment towards the teachers to whom he asked a question. The guy needs to go. Honestly, no wonder our kids are at the bottom of the educational totem pole with guys like him steering the ship.

  6. The Santa Clara County Board does not clearly represent our schools and the children who attend. While I am not against charter schools and magnet schools, it seems this Board only wants charter schools in our county. I would like to ask them where is all this money coming from to keep opening charter schools? Land is so expensive and I worry money that could be used to improve facilities and decrease the number of children in the classrooms is being spent on corporations who are buying up land at taxpayers expense. I don’t think I know of any public official who supports charter schools have children or grandchildren attending one. I know many of them chose to send their children to magnet schools or private schools. I wish we had more magnet schools instead of increasing charter schools.

    Darcie Green and the others need to supervise and support our public schools. Unfortunately, Darcie has done nothing for the Alum Rock District and that is why it is such a mess.

  7. And meanwhile, the children are still waiting! The parents are still waiting! The Community is still waiting!

    The primary goal of schools and school districts is to improve the academic achievement of its students so that they are prepared for college and career. Is this too much to ask? Only when the professional practices of the teachers, principals, district administrators and yes the SCCOE team are improved will we reach this admirable goal for all students. We reap what we sow.
    Since neither the state nor the school districts can produce open, transparent, comprehensive, and understandable data visualizations of student academic performance, I have begun to build Python scripts that will visualize 3-year performance visualizations for ELA and Math for all school districts and charters within Santa Clara County.
    You can see my first sample at http://sipbigpicture.com under the page entitled Data Visualizations. Fewer than 1/2 of San Jose Unified School District students in grades 3-8 are proficient in Math and only about 1/3 of 11th graders are proficient. You would think that the SCCOE would make these kind of data visualizations available to students, parents, and community members!
    The SCCOE Board continue to fiddle while Santa Clara County burns. If students are not proficient in math, there is absolutely no hope that they can take advantage of the myriad of electrical engineering positions available in this county! A real tragedy. We cannot even prepare and hire our own!
    Is anyone accountable?

    If you like the data visualizations, let me know via comment and I will send them to you.

  8. I have had past experience with the board of trustees and was appalled at many of the trustees behavior during a meeting where the public was speaking….leaving their seats multiple times to go eat and drink, talking atbtjere seats in side conversations, getting up and talking to other people, make phone calls, all while parents and children were speaking to them. So disrespectful and I was ashamed they represented the educational community. Only 1member at the time acted respectfully. It made me feel cuts in education should start right there.

Leave a Reply to Kathleen Sullivan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *