Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) Board President Chris Norwood has some choice words for advocacy group Better Milpitas, the community advocacy group that has been calling for a special election to appeal the controversial appointment of Hai Minh Ngo to the school board.

“It has been brought to my attention that many in our community are being both misinformed and misled by individuals about the process and outcome of our appointment of Minh Ngo to a seat on our School Board,” read a letter penned by Norwood.

In the letter, Norwood laid out his case for choosing Ngo as his candidate for the school board, and how the board came to choose Ngo as its new member. He took credit for being the deciding vote to place Ngo in the seat, despite initially voting for Ngo’s opponent, Chia-Ling Kong. He voted for Ngo based on Ngo’s vocal longterm commitment to the Board, which Kong herself would not make. He also rebuked any claims that he or the Board fixed the election in any party’s favor.

Norwood also took time to mention fellow Board Member Michael Tsai, saying Tsai never made a motion to stop the vote or abstain, despite some claims among community members that Tsai took other actions to spoil the vote.

Tsai indeed came under fire last week, fighting off accusations that he unfairly favored Ngo’s opponent, Chia-Ling Kong, the runner-up for the seat.

Tsai himself has been highly critical of the appointment process, claiming it wasn’t transparent at all, and some sources say he has been encouraging members in the community to push for appealing the appointment and supporting a special election.

He doesn’t, however, lay any claim to calling for a special election.

“There were issues with the appointment process, and I have been raising those concerns for some time,” said Tsai in an interview with The Beat. “I do not recall any statement I made explicitly calling for a special election. What’s probably happening is that people are conflating my questioning of the process to mean that I am calling for a special election.” 

Meanwhile, Norwood lambasted Better Milpitas, the group that began circulating a flyer and a YouTube video alleging Board Members fixed the vote, and also criticizing Superintendent Cheryl Jordan for allowing it to happen.

“If MUSD and the superintendent can make a fair and decent fraud like this in an open election, can we still believe that MUSD can reasonably manage the taxpayers’ money?” asked the memo from Better Milpitas. “This meeting video is definitely a collapse of credibility,” read the memo.

Norwood defended the superintendent as he pointed to the Board of Education’s bylaws. “The superintendent works for the board, not the other way around,” Norwood wrote. “She acted in the capacity we asked her to fill.”

Once the district released the tape documenting the entire selection process — including the criticized pair of scoring rubrics they used to score Kong, Ngo, and the other candidates — Better Milpitas pushed for community members to pack the September 10 school board meeting to protest Ngo’s appointment.

The advocacy group has been active in lobbying for legislation in Milpitas, including seeking to ban cannabis dispensaries within city limits and opposing rent control measures.

However, several attendees at the September 10 meeting alleged that some members of the group who showed up are residents of places like Fremont and San Jose, and thereby ineligible to vote on matters pertaining to Milpitas.

A web search on the group’s 1738 North Milpitas Boulevard address ties it to Kason Travel, a local travel agency.

The group also runs a similar web page titled Better Cupertino.

A memo Better Milpitas released to Chinese-speaking residents and translated into English alleges the board wanted to insert Ngo into the board instead of Kong, as Kong — according to the memo — was seen as more likely to rein in spending within the district. They also claim that Kong was “concerned” about the recently-passed Measure AA, a measure overwhelmingly passed by voters in November 2018 authorizing $284 million in infrastructure upgrades to district schools.

Their goal? To move the rest of the community to support a special election to replace Ngo.

The memos seem to have worked: Last week, three Milpitas residents officially filed a petition with the County for a special election. The County has 30 days to verify the signatures. 

In his letter, Norwood repeatedly disputed the literature from the group, citing “false information” and “inaccurate facts.” He also stated that MUSD’s attorney will be looking into the memos.

“While I believe in free speech,” Norwood wrote, “members of our community, and Board, who purposely deceive the residents of Milpitas should be held accountable.”

Should a special election take place, it will happen during the March 2020 primaries; the winner would then assume the seat until the term is up for grabs again in November, 2020, 14 months from now.

 

 

 

Lloyd Alaban
Lloyd Alaban is a freelance writer who has lived in Milpitas his entire life. He has a BA in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz and a MS in Journalism & Mass Communications from San Jose State University. He has written for publications such as AsianWeek, realtor.com, Work+Money, and SpareFoot, and currently writes for sports blog Uni Watch. He’s also worked at tech companies like Yahoo! and Google, and has subbed at every public school in Milpitas — except Pomeroy. In his spare time, he likes playing anything that has to do with trivia (especially watching Jeopardy!), running, drinking beer, reading, and playing with his Siberian Husky.

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