The $478,600 Coin Toss

When Kansen Chu left the Berryessa school board in June to take up his new position as the new San Jose City Council member for District 6, the school board went through a perfectly reasonable and open process to fill the vacancy. A list of 17 candidates was whittled down to five semifinalists and finally down to two very qualified people, Alkesh Desai and David Neighbors, that were considered by the four sitting members of the board. When the vote split two for each, rather than opting for a very expensive by-election to fill the spot which is up for regular election next year in November anyway, the board rightly agreed to abide by a coin toss to decide the winner—a completely legal and common method of settling the matter. The coin toss favored Desai who was considered duly elected and installed as the fifth member of the board. The board and Mr. Neighbors accepted the outcome, and there were no complaints from the public. Case closed? Not quite.

Two complete numbskulls, Dale Warner and Diane Kruger, decided that they would write a petition and attempt to collect enough signatures to force an election that would cost the district $478,600 of much needed funds for the education of the area’s children. To force the election, they need valid signatures from 1.5 percent of the district’s registered voters, a total of only 460. Can they honestly obtain that many signatures under the circumstances? Why would they do something so obviously ill-considered?

The board had the right to fill the vacancy by appointment until the next general election. When the four board members agreed to abide by the results of the coin toss, they, in effect, agreed to a unanimous decision as to the winner. It’s the same as casting four votes for Desai. Whatever the method of arriving at the decision, the decision was made and it is completely in keeping with the law and democratic principles. What’s more, the public has not objected in any of the dozen school board meetings since the election of Desai.

The only reason for Warner’s and Kruger’s action is that they do not agree with the decision and they want to manufacture an opportunity to draw attention to themselves and attempt to influence a different outcome. They don’t care that it comes at the expense of children.

Residents of the area are scornful of this feeble, small-minded attempt by the two petitioners to get attention, and view their motivation as a bad case of sour grapes. Warner failed in his previous run for election to the school board and Kruger was a trustee for six years but was removed by the citizens in a recall election. With their attempt to circumvent a perfectly legitimate public process and waste half a million dollars of public money, they have proven the voters to be correct in their assessment that Warner and Kruger are unfit to be public trustees. I have a sneaking idea that if an election is forced, the turnout will be higher than usual and most would vote for Desai no matter who else is on the ballot. Fortunately, it appears the vast majority of the voters in Berryessa believe that Warner’s and Kruger’s callous attempt at wasting $478,600 that would be better used to educate children in already difficult financial circumstances is wrongheaded.


  1. I grew up back East, and our school board consisted of parents who volunteered their time because they cared about our community, and our education. The school board held fundraisers, educational events, and fought to get State funding for our schools. They worked closely with our Mayor and Council, our Supervisors, and the teachers. I went home two years ago, and that is STILL the way it is done.
    Since when did serving on a school board turn into a stepping-stone to run for a Council or County Board of Supervisor seat? When did it turn into a huge political mess?
    I really oppose the politics involved in running for the school board, having to raise money and campaign, like they’re more interested in a political career move, than children’s educational welfare.  This whole issue just seems ridiculous to me from start to finish.

  2. As Superintendent of the Berryessa Union School District I feel it is important to provide some factual information to correct some misunderstandings that have been shared on the topic of the petition to hold an election to fill the current vacancy on the Board of Trustees.
    First, the Board and District respect the right of the public to petition for an election, as outlined in the law.  However, I want to clear up the issue of cost to the district.  Mr. Warner’s comments are incorrect and his
    thinking is not consistent with the laws governing this election. The cost to the district of an election varies based on the timing and type of election. If an election coincides with a general election that involves the voters
    living within the boundaries of the district, the cost of the election is approximately $32K.  This will be the case for the election scheduled for November 2008 where two seats on the Board will be up for election.  This is an election the District must hold and pay for.  The provisional appointment would have also been up for election at that time.
    The petition that Mr. Warner and his colleagues have filed requires a special
    election, which as of today, Colleen Wilcox has called for on February 5,2008.  This election, which will coincide with the presidential primary, is separate from the November election and will cost the district approximately $62K in addition as we are legally prohibited from consolidating the November election with this special election.
    That means that the Berryessa Union School District will have to pay for approximately $94K in elections during 2008.  This is $62K more than would have been the case had not the special election been called.
    If there is any good news in all of this is that a special election that included only voters residing in our district had been called, the district would have been on the hook for a bill estimated to be about $478K plus the $32K for the election in November 2008.
    Mr. Warner is also inaccurate in stating that there could have been an election this November (2007).  However, as no other election is scheduled in San Jose at that time we would have had to pay the full $478K and that would have been devastating to our district, and would not have avoided the
    election next November at a cost of an additional $32K.

    While the decision to have an election is now moot, it is important that as course of events is debated that people at least have the correct cost information before forming their opinions on issue.

    Marc Liebman, Superintendent
    Berryessa Union School District

  3. #4 – School Board is where Zoe Lofgren got her start, she defeated John Marlow.  Been this way for years.  I totally agree with you that such a position should be sought after solely by those who have a sincere interest in education.

  4. Mr. Liebman,
    Thank you for explaining the financial part of this issue, and for acknowledging Mr. Warrener’s right to due process. These are two very important factors to consider in this discussion.
    I still find the need to campaign, raise money, and hold political elections for the school board to be outrageous. A school board should not be a stepping-stone for a political career. Politics doesn’t belong in the importance of ensuring our children a proper education that will lead them towards becoming civic minded, hard working, well educated, tax paying citizens.
    Teachers shouldn’t have to struggle financially, nor should they have to take money out of their own pockets to substitute the lack of funding in schools, so that their students get what they need. I think all of you should be ashamed of how you treat teachers, and for allowing such large amounts of money for things that don’t relate to enhancing children’s education.
    Teachers spend more time with these kids than their own parents do, and in many cases shape their futures more than parents do. And this is how they’re repaid. This is very sad indeed.
    Whether it is one cent, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, that money belongs to the teachers, to the children, and to maintenance and up keep of schools.  Not one cent should be going to all this irresponsible politics driven insanity. The money spent on these kinds of stupid things could support an entire city of starving, homeless, ill children in a foreign country. Just sickening.

  5. So many errors and so little space to respond. Let me just tackle the issue of the costs of the election plus the parcel taxes issue.

    The fact is that the board should have asked Berryessa residents to fill the vacancy at the November 2007 election which would have cost $60K.

    By deciding to appoint a provisional trustee, the seat would be required to submit to an election in November 2008 at the cost of $60K. (The vacancy was for almost all of Kansen Chu’s four-year term.)

    Our thoughtful, democratic effort to return the choice to the voter should be held in February 2008 at the cost of $60K.

    Only if the signature validation is fumbled at a county level will a “special election” be required at the much-bandied-about cost of $478K.

    One way or another, the Kansen Chu seat was going to be submitted to the voters at a cost of $60K. We just pressed for it to be done in a democratic way earlier than November 2008.


    One element to this public discussion that has been overlooked is that the existing Berryessa board seemed to make quite an effort to select a provisional appointee who would support parcel taxes, and it is notable that news reports have quietly covered up this over-riding fact.

    We believe that if parcel taxes were the underlying issue for appointing (rather than electing) a successor to Kansen Chu, it would be better to be forthright about it and have it discussed in public.


    There’s a lot more, but the two items discussed here should suffice to show that the facts on the ground are just a little more complicated than meets the eye in media reports.

  6. I don’t understand ? If they both agreed to the out come what’s the point.
    This is a case of to Idiots having way to much time on their hands.
    As for Dale Warner sir find something else to do, if this is so important to you why don’t you pay for this with your own money ?
    I see that you don’t have much of a life as you seem to be able to post here every week with nothing SMART! to add.
    (case & point)

  7. Jack:

    Several questions I have:

    * under what law can a coin toss be used to decide an election?  I thought this was a democracy, where such elections were decided by the people, and not by a coin flip.
    * was it considered that the Warner/Kruger petition drive was an attempt at democracy, and not an actual waste of money?
    * If that same $478,600 were used to buy luxury SUVs and expensive vacations for Berryessa school board members, would you have any problem with it?  One would think that money is best used to ensure a more democratic process to elect leadership – the ultimate civic lesson for our children that appears lacking nowadays.

  8. #8, I think you are confusing the Berryessa district with the Alum Rock district, which has been suffering from petty bickering between loosely inbred board members for decades, including attempts by one to run down another with his car if memory serves me.

  9. Fascinating thread. Can anybody give us any context into how the Berryessa School District performs in state and national testing, and if the existing school board has been effective in spending $ to advance the academics of its students? This would be a helpful backdrop to this comic tale. Thanks. Rose Garden Dad.

  10. Great, 62K to pay for Dale Warner’s inflated ego. Haven’t we suffered enough of it in this city with his various campaigns.

    I guess that’s one less new teacher for the district.

  11. Dale Warner was quoted in the Murky News this a.m. as saying the cost of the election is low” in his opinion.

    So, Dale, I suggest you pony up the “low” amount yourself, and let the kids have pencils and books.

  12. Dale Warner has always been a gadfly in District 4, and especially the Barryessa School District’s politics.  As unfair as this is to the district, the two candidates who agreed to the format, and to the students who will have to go without the $62K, this should suprise no one. 

    Note:  frequently, people will sign a petition if they think it’s fair.  Just what was Mr. Warner telling people as he was shoving this petition in their faces?  What message did all these people who signed the petition get from Mr. Warner?  Did they understand that by signing this, their children would go without $62,000?  probably not.

  13. Gadfly

    A persistently annoying person, irritating critic; a nuisance.

    One that acts as a provocative stimulus; a goad.

    A jerk, annoying pest

    Dale Warner –  co-founder European-American Issues Forum 

    Metroactive News   ” Giant freak” ” It’s his commitment to championing the plight of the white man that makes him special. ” ” In his spare time, Warner stands up against defamation primarily on behalf of his fellow oppressed white people. ”

  14. #15 –


    A persistently annoying person, irritating critic; a nuisance.

    One that acts as a provocative stimulus; a goad.

    A jerk, annoying pest “

    It seems like you have proved my point; meanwhile, the voters of Barryessa School District have to spend an additional $62,000 to resolve something that was already resolved according to all applicable laws…

  15. Law allows mail-in special election

    Mercury News, 10/01/2007 – page 11A

    Law allows mail-in special election

    I read with interest about the recent decision to hold a special election to fill the vacancy on the Berryessa school board.

    It may be helpful for readers and those in local government to know that when I served in the state Assembly, I authored AB 1544, which allows local school districts and smaller cities (under 100,000 residents) to conduct a special election wholly by all-mail ballot. The bill was signed into law and took effect on Jan. 1, 2004.

    Mail ballots offer an efficient, cost-effective method of filling vacancies. They also produce more voter turnout, allowing more people’s voices to be heard. While the cost of mail ballots is still significant, it is substantially less expensive than a regular election and offers another option for election officials and voters.

    Filling a vacancy isn’t easy, but having as many ‘good government” options as possible is a step in the right direction.

    Joe Simitian
    State Senator District 11 Palo Alto

  16. I think State Senator Simitian is an excellent example of a good, thoughful representative that pays attention to the needs of the people, and if I lived in his area, I would vote for him without a second thought.  That being said, it still does not change what Marc Liebman, Superintendent Berryessa Union School District said about the cost of this election – $62,000.

  17. ok i go to morrill middle and i need questions because i am doing this topic for my history day project and yeah and im in 8th grade

  18. Dale and Diane. . .
    How many more years must you do this? It has been over twenty years now. You are not helping the Berryessa School District, you are hurting it financially. Neither of you are successful at running for the Board because the community will not vote for you. Diane was elected and then recalled by the community. What is it about “go find something else to champion” that you guys don’t get?  You don’t really want to help. . . you just want to stir it up because of what it does for you.  Please stop.