About 75 people showed up to Alum Rock Union Elementary School District’s May 10 meeting expecting to weigh in on next year’s budget and an ongoing investigation into financial mismanagement. But those hopes were dashed by about 5:40pm when the meeting was called off because three of five trustees couldn’t make it.
Karen Martinez had to tend to her sick daughter. Khanh Tran was on a business trip abroad. And board President Esau Herrera says he had to attend to an undisclosed “family situation.” A group of elementary school kids who planned to sing outside the district office after being publicly commended by the board that night left without getting to perform any of the numbers they practiced.
It was a big letdown, fellow Alum Rock trustee Andres Quintero says. And even more so to find out that Herrera apparently played hooky to watch another performance entirely. Quintero says he spotted Herrera hours later leaving a Luis Miguel concert at the SAP Center.
“I saw him making his way down the stairs,” Quintero says, “and I ran after him just to confirm. Because I thought, well, I can’t just wonder if it’s actually him or not. And yup, lo and behold, I could see his face.”
Quintero says he and his wife went to watch the Mexican pop star in a bid to salvage the evening after the meeting cancellation. But the Herrera sighting raised some questions.
“Is that why he couldn’t make it?” Quintero wonders. “I was really upset because we had some serious things to take care of at that meeting.”
Like audits addressing Alum Rock Union’s ties to sketchy contractor called Del Terra Group that’s handling hundreds of millions of dollars in district bond money.
Raymond Mueller, who chairs the district’s bond oversight committee and is challenging Herrera’s re-election this fall, sees his absence as yet another sign of the board’s dysfunction.
“Conflicts arise and decisions of priority must be made,” Mueller acknowledges. “As much as I love Madonna, and even if it was an exclusive VIP show downtown at a small club, I would not turn my back on the crisis that is happening right now in our schools and with our finances.”
Herrera stuck to his story about skipping the meeting to attend to a family situation. But he ignored Fly’s follow-up request to confirm the SAP Center sighting.
Incidentally, Fly mistakenly sent an earlier email to his brother, East Side Union High School District trustee J. Manuel Herrera, who says he didn’t get the concert invite. He also says he keeps getting emails meant for his brother, who has come under fire for defending Del Terra and allegedly flouting open meeting laws, among other things.
“This is happening quite frequently with my brother and the Alum Rock school district in the news so much, and people are confusing the two of us, even people who know us well,” J. Manuel writes. “I’ve had hostile things or expressions of regret said to me by prominent civic leaders who clearly were thinking about Esau Herrera, and I’ve had to clarify that the news coverage is about Esau Herrera and the Alum Rock school district, not J. Manuel Herrera and the East Side Union High School District. In each instance, these were civic leaders who know both me and Esau very well!”