In 2012, Scott Pham quit halfway through a four-year term as Alum Rock Union Elementary School District trustee. Last month—despite the retired educator running a non-existent campaign and skipping candidate forums—voters gave him another shot by electing him to one of two seats up for grabs on the East Side school board.
This time, he apparently couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
On Dec. 4, just a day after officials certified results from the Nov. 7 election, Pham submitted his letter of resignation to Superintendent Hilaria Bauer.
“Dear Dr. Bauer,” it read. “I have received your email notifying me of the official certification of election from the county Registrar of Voters. Because I consider the job of being a school trustee to be a very important one, I will decline to assume the position of ARUSD governing board member due to a number of reasons. Thank you so much.”
Pham didn’t even take his oath of office.
Maybe he’s a commitment-phobe. Or maybe—as a couple longtime political observers in the district have suggested—he’s making good on a commitment to someone or something other than the electorate.
Alas, the “reasons” Pham mentioned in his missive to Bauer remain unclear; he never responded to San Jose Inside’s request for comment.
Whatever the case, Pham’s sudden exit empowers the five-member board to appoint someone to serve in his stead—at least until the next general election.
Tonight, at a meeting convened to discuss the matter, remaining trustees Andres Quintero, Ernesto Bejarano, Linda Chavez and Corina Herrera-Loera will vote on whether to hold a special election or tap a hand-picked replacement.
Given the steep price tag of going back to the ballot while the district stares down the barrel of massive budget cuts, it’s likely the board will opt for the latter course of action.
That’s what happened in 2019, when ARUSD trustees appointed Herrera-Loera to fill a vacancy left after Karen Martinez’s midterm departure for a seat on the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District.
Brenda Zendejas, who garnered the most votes after Pham, said she plans to apply for the spot and hopes the board weigh the voice of constituents as they select a new colleague.
“They know the district doesn’t have the funds to hold a special election, and that would not be the wisest choice to do, given the situation we’re in financially right now,” she said. “So, I do think an appointment would be the best way to do things right now—as long as they listen to the community and support who the community wants in this position.”
Zendejas, who works for ARUSD and whose kids attend schools in the district, said she knows it’ll be an uphill battle since she often locks horns with the board.
Over the course of the campaign, for example, she openly criticized Quintero for accepting political contributions from Del Terra, a construction management company recently fined $25,000 by the state’s political watchdog and repeatedly implicated in public corruption scandals in Alum Rock and a number of other districts.
Meanwhile, Bejarano clapped back against Zendejas by comparing her to Dolores Marquez, the lone survivor of the notorious Alum Rock Three. The first-term incumbent shared an online post from his public-figure Facebook page citing a quote Marquez once uttered from the dais, “I hope they hang you,” and expletives Zendejas once let slip when her mic was un-muted during public comment in a virtual board meeting.
“ARUSD kids deserve better,” the meme read.
In the five-way race for two seats, Quintero, Bejerano and Herrera-Loera put their weight behind Joe Corona, who finished last behind Marquez.
Whether Corona applies for the seat vacated by Pham remains to be seen, as he has yet to return a call for comment. But Quintero told San Jose Inside that he found Corona to be the strongest candidate in the latest election.
“He’s a grandparent in the district, raised his kids in the district and had a genuine desire to run and make Alum Rock better,” he said. “The campaign happened, and I’m not going to apologize about supporting some people and not others.”
Raymond Mueller, a ARUSD parent who has tried to secure a seat on the board by election and appointment, expressed doubts about the board’s fairness. In a Facebook post about Pham’s abrupt resignation Tuesday, he advocated for Zendejas and called on Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen to keep a watchful eye on the process.
“If anyone who was in the election is appointed other than Brenda,” he wrote, “it will scream of patronage, cronyism and the good old boys making deals in the back room.”
When asked about Mueller’s comments, Quintero bristled.
“I think his accusations are very unfounded,” he said, “and are disrespectful to folks who just want to serve the public and, through no fault of their own, are put in this position.”
Bejarano said he hopes people trust the process, which includes a scoring system and a chance for the public to weigh in—starting tonight.
“The way to go about addressing this is very clearly laid out in board policy, guided by the Ed Code, and that’s how we tried to fashion or conduct this response,” he said. “The system we use—the objectivity of it, the opportunity for public input, the transparency—I’m confident that will produce the appropriate result.”
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Andres Quintero shared an online post attacking Brenda Zendejas. In actuality, the post was shared by Ernesto Bejarano. San Jose Inside regrets the error.