Less than an hour after the polls closed on Tuesday, a Milpitas resident posted a photo on Facebook of Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) trustee candidate Minh Ngo and his family. Ngo, his wife, and their children beamed with smiles as they watched returns come in from their campaign party at Mountain Mike’s Pizza.
Ngo would wear his smile for the rest of the night, as it became clear he would win.
Following months of heated campaigning by both sides, Ngo, a division supervision manager by profession, defeated tech engineer Ling Kong to reclaim a seat on the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) Board of Trustees. The third candidate in the race, Vance Vuong, offered only token competition.
“I’m incredibly honored,” said Ngo.
Ngo’s endorsement list was heavy: Mayor Rich Tran, a majority of the current school board, the Milpitas Teachers Association, both the local police and fire unions, and this newspaper.
“The amount of support for our campaign has been tremendous,” Ngo said. “From the teachers to each of the unions. It really resonated with me.”
Kong, meanwhile, nabbed endorsements from a mix of current and former local politicos. Among them were current Councilmember Carmen Montano, former Mayor Jose Esteves, and MUSD Trustee Michael Tsai, who broke with the rest of his Board.
“I am extremely grateful for the support we received and are continuing to receive from many residents,” Kong said. “Coming from nowhere, with no establishment or political machine behind us, with only a grassroots effort, our team has accomplished so much.”
Kong’s election night, although it ended in defeat, was just as celebratory as Ngo’s.
“I was in high spirits and busy thanking the many Milpitas residents and volunteers who supported my campaign,” Kong said. “I thought our grassroots campaign did very well despite the onslaught of smear campaigns from the establishment.”
The Board seat opened last year when then-Trustee Daniel Bobay announced he was resigning his post and moving to Texas. The district then approved an interview process open to Milpitas residents who wished to apply for the seat.
Ngo was appointed to the seat in August after a controversial selection process whittled a list of 17 candidates down to just him and Kong.
Kong protested the selection after a convoluted — and oftentimes confusing — appointment process resulted in no clear winner.
But the board eventually settled on Ngo during an interview process, after then-board president Chris Norwood asked both Ngo and Kong whether or not either of them would run for a full term in November, 2020. Only Ngo said yes, which prompted Norwood to change his vote from Kong to Ngo.
A series of public records requests by residents revealed that the Board had flubbed several scoring metrics, calling into question the integrity of their selection process.
The nature of the appointment process spurred some of Kong’s supporters to submit a petition in October to remove Ngo from the seat and force this past Tuesday’s special election. The petitioners claimed the selection process had been too opaque. Others, meanwhile, claimed that a special election would divert funds from the district — $105,000 according to county officials — for what will only amount to an eight-month term.
Ngo said he’s committed to improving communication between the Board and the community once he’s seated.
“I’m looking to get caught up with everything with the School Board,” he said. “We’re looking to include community feedback in how to improve this process and be as inclusive.”
Ngo plans to seek a full Board term in November’s general election. Kong, however, didn’t comment on her intentions regarding November’s race.