Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee Joseph DiSalvo came under fire this week for what some viewed as an effort to undermine his colleagues.
Constituents and fellow trustees admonished the veteran schools official in a public meeting on Wednesday for urging the state to authorize a pair of charter school petitions that failed to win approval from his own board. Trustee Claudia Rossi said she was disheartened that DiSalvo asked an appointed body to nullify the work of local districts.
“I ask you to consider what you’re doing because it’s not contributing to harmony on our board,” Rossi said. “I think it’s unprofessional and unbecoming.”
Perseverance Prep and Promise Academy appealed to the county last year after the San Jose Unified School District rejected their petitions, deeming them deficient. The charter proponents then revised their applications and submitted them to Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointed state Board of Education, which gave them the green light.
San Jose Unified officials traveled to Sacramento for the meeting to argue that its school board should have had a chance to weigh in on the updated petitions. DiSalvo and county trustee Grace Mah, on the other hand, were there to testify on behalf of the charter schools. In a Feb. 21 column for the Mercury News, DiSalvo praised the state’s decision as a win for “school choice” over “special interests.”
Vera Sloan, whose daughters go to school in DiSalvo’s trustee Area 4, told him that by portraying charter critics in his op-ed as unions and bureaucrats he ignored the parents who took a bus to that same hearing to oppose Perseverance and Promise.
“So I think you can imagine how they might feel to have been completely erased by you despite their efforts,” Sloan said, addressing DiSalvo during Wednesday’s public comment period. “This is a democracy, Mr. DiSalvo, as you are fond of reminding us, and you are our representative. You may disagree with us, but you may not pretend that we don’t exist, and you certainly may not tell the world that we don’t exist because it suits the interest of your financial supporters.”
Sloan questioned the ethics of DiSalvo apparently trying to circumvent local control, saying she was shocked to see him and Mah speaking against the democratic rulings of their own board. She ended her speech by condemning DiSalvo’s “rudeness and aggression” toward women.
In the past several months, she said, he has repeatedly interrupted and aggressively challenged female colleagues. He also had a public outburst against trustee Anna Song last fall, and for which he sent his wife to read an apology on his behalf.
DiSalvo and an ally dismissed the criticism.
“I think I have a public record that counteracts what they say,” he said from the dais. He added: “It is hurtful to sit here and listen to things that my mother—who’s 99 years old—would say aren’t true.”
Mah defended him, too, calling the accusations exaggerated.
“I think he’s been very supportive of women,” Mah said, “and he’s a feminist himself.”
Song calmly, firmly interjected.
“I think it’s wrong for a female who wasn’t attacked to defend Joseph,” she told Mah.
Directing her attention to DiSalvo, she said: “I do want to defend you, like Grace. But as the person who was affected, an apology would have been nice.”
The fact that the issue keeps coming up underscores the need for some closure, perhaps a public apology, she added.
Song said their conversation that night gave her “flashbacks, memories” to other times when it seemed that DiSalvo spoke more harshly to females chairing the board than he did to former board president Michael Chang, who resigned in December.
As for DiSalvo’s op-eds and activism on behalf of charters, Song said, that may merit another discussion. “We’re free citizens, we can express our opinions,” she acknowledged, “but there should be some guidelines.”
DiSalvo wasn’t the only board member to take some heat on Wednesday. Newly appointed trustee Kathleen King’s character was called into question by local educator Bill Conrad, who questioned the board’s judgment in anointing her Chang’s replacement.
“It is unfathomable to me that you would appoint an individual who has been accused of using public monies for her executive position on the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation to fund political campaigns,” he said.
King also allegedly siphoned money from the children’s health foundation to support a tax measure, Conrad said, and disingenuously sought a CalPERS pension even though she never worked for a public agency.
“I respectfully demand that you rescind your nomination of this individual to the board,” he said, “and that you appoint an individual who has legitimate educational credentials and who is exemplary in his or her educational, financial and political backgrounds.”
Click here to watch video of the board meeting.