“This is part of democracy. We don’t agree with this appointment, and we are working within the system.”
When Fa Yoeu found out about the August 13 appointment process for Milpitas Unified School District’s open Board seat, he was angry. To him, the process lacked transparency, and in the end, he felt that another candidate should’ve been selected. This is why he was one of three petitioners who challenged the results and collected signatures, to call for a Special Election.
That Special Election was officially granted last month, on October 11, after the County of Santa Clara Registrar of Voters verified the petition signatures.
A letter from County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan, which was addressed to the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) Governing Board, stated the following:
The signature verification process resulted in the verification of 500 signatures of which 392 signatures were found valid. According to the Registrar of Voters, the petition has a projected number of 547 estimated valid signatures. This meets and exceeds the required number of signatures necessary per Education Code Section 5091(c)(1).
To understand how the upcoming Special Election came to be, one must go back to the actual board appointment…
What Happened on August 13
In mid-August, after a selection process that spanned several hours, MUSD Board Members found themselves casting a 3-1 vote, with the majority of them selecting candidate Hai Minh Ngo as the new trustee to fill a Board seat left vacant by former veteran Board Member Daniel Bobay.
When Ngo was sworn in by Superintendent Cheryl Jordan, the event occurred without any fanfare. It was late in the night, and by that point, the room had nearly emptied out. Everything seemed destined to move forward, business as usual. At the next August 27 meeting, Ngo would take his seat and sit in on his first official meeting as an MUSD Board Member.
Chia-Ling Kong, who was the runner up, had only one vote in the end (from Board Member Michael Tsai), and that wasn’t enough to cut it.
Prior to casting their final vote, the Board used a pair of scoring rubrics to assess the candidates. Minutes before the vote, Superintendent Jordan announced that per the Board’s application of these rubrics, Kong and Ngo had been tied. Prior to Kong and Ngo being named the final two candidates, they had been in a pool of eight total candidates, all of whom had answered a series of interview questions. Their answers to those questions were scored by Board Members.
Per that scoring rubric, Kong had scored higher than Ngo. Nine points higher, to be exact.
However, per a second scoring rubric, by which the Board Members each listed their number one personal favorite for the seat, Superintendent Jordan said that Ngo had received the most votes.
In the midst of that scoring process, as Board Members narrowed it down to Kong and Ngo, they’d struggled a bit to determine whom they would ultimately select for the seat. At one point, Vice President Hon Lien altered her scoring to see if that would help make the decision easier. Petitioners would later use Lien’s “adjustment” to point to corruption in the appointment process. Lien’s attempt, however, made no impact on the result.
Both candidates were still at a tie.
In MUSD’s Board Bylaws, under “Provisional Appointments,” it states:
The Board shall interview the candidates at a public meeting, accept oral or written public input, and select the provisional appointee by a majority vote.
So while scoring methods do play a part in selecting an appointee, in the end, it all comes down to the vote.
Per the bylaws, the Board Members took an initial vote (one of two that night), only to find themselves in another tie. Tsai and Board President Chris Norwood went with Kong; Vice President Hon Lien and Trustee Kelly Yip-Chuan went with Ngo.
Seeking some way to break the stalemate, the Board then had Kong and Ngo sit in front of them to answer a series of questions. In the end, President Norwood favored Ngo’s answers over Ling’s, and opted to change his vote to Ngo, which broke the tie.
As stated, Ngo was sworn in later that night.
In the weeks that followed, though, things did not sit right with Chia-Ling Kong.
In an interview with The Beat just a couple days after the appointment process, Kong mentioned that she wasn’t satisfied with the way things had been handled, namely the way that Lien changed her scoring, and how Superintendent Jordan suggested at one point that Board Members think about selecting someone who aligns with their strategic plans.
“Folks have asked me if I want to appeal. I just feel like, having gone through the process, and seeing how much they wanted the outcome to suit the district priorities, maybe now is not the time. But 2020 may be different,” said Kong.
At the end of that interview, Kong said she would walk away from the whole Board appointment issue and move on. However, since then, a group of Kong’s friends, as well as a group known as Better Milpitas, have mobilized on her behalf. Three petitioners — Raymond Wong, Fa Yoeu, and Hiep Tran — got the process started. They, along with other petitioners, have stated that they collected around 700 petition signatures, in favor of a Special Election process. Now a special election for the Board seat is set; the date is March 3, 2020. MUSD will have to foot the bill, which is estimated to be around $105,000.
At present, Kong is not ruling out the idea of running for the newly-open board seat…
“As an 11-year MUSD parent with children in schools, my goal has and will always be centered on driving positive changes. It is unfortunate that timely actions were not taken to avoid the Special Election,” Kong shared with The Beat. “These past months have been very trying for my family as I continue to be subjected to misrepresentation, conspiracy theories, personal attacks, and intimidation. These threats even included my children. I need time before making any election announcement. Hopefully this quiet time will enable the vitriol to cool down so that we can all focus on what really matters — the well-being of our students and the excellence of our schools.”
In September, Kong even filed a police report against an individual who she felt had been intimidating her.