Mistakes Were Made
It bears noting that despite the questionable tactics employed by Better Milpitas to reach their objectives, the board appointment process was far from perfect.
“They still need to make decisions on how to improve the appointment process,” said Raymond Wong, after speaking a bit about his reasons for changing his stance on the petition.
At the September 24 MUSD board meeting, during Public Comment, Chia-Ling Kong actually presented new findings, which showed that Superintendent Jordan had, in fact, made an error on the scoring cards.
Kong had requested the scoring cards on August 26, yet it took about 28 days to finally receive them from the school district. In addition, some in the Better Milpitas group have brought up how difficult it is to get video recordings of school board meetings. MUSD keeps no archive of videos online, and charges $70 for a DVD of a meeting; whereas a district like Fremont Unified streams all of their videos on their website and archives them for the public to view at any time.
However, back to the scoring cards request…
When Kong did receive the cards, she saw that Ngo had not clearly won the “top choice” metric that the Superintendent had initially said he won. After Kong further studied the sheets, she determined that three of the board members had selected her as their top choice for a candidate, and only one had selected Ngo.
However, Kelly Yip-Chuan delivered a statement days after Kong’s discovery, saying that she had initially ranked both Ngo and Kong as her top selection. But after the Superintendent informed her, during the meeting, that she could only narrow it down to one choice, Yip-Chuan decided to give Ngo the “number one” ranking, bumping Kong to “number two.”
So in actuality, Ngo and Kong had received a tie per this scoring rubric, whereas Superintendent Jordan had mentioned that Ngo had come out ahead. Her mistake was something that members of Better Milpitas immediately seized on, claiming that the Superintendent had indeed manipulated the vote.
The Beat tried to get a comment from Jordan in the days after Kong’s discovery, but she did not respond.
At the October 22 MUSD board meeting, Milpitas resident Joseph Weinstein got up during Public Comment to ask everyone, excluding Minh Ngo, not to run in the Special Election. His thinking was: If Minh Ngo is the only one who runs for the seat, the district won’t have to pay the high election costs.
“For the Special Election, if we only have one candidate run in that election, and nobody else files, the school district can keep the $104,000 focused on the students and their programs,” said Weinstein. “The district is doing well. We’re getting state and county recognition for programs. Some of our programs — STEM, Immersion, and other things — are getting lots of recognition. Students are doing better, parents are happy, and generally the Board is doing a great job.”
Weinstein also went on to say that any interested candidate can go ahead and run next November.
“Let the community stand behind the one person who deserves to be on the Board, and save the $104,000. If you’re committed to the district, please run in November. Not in March,” Weinstein told the room.
Speaking as a voice on the side that stands in opposition to Better Milpitas, Weinstein has called their push for a Special Election “a real disservice to both the education and general community.”
In fact, Weinstein was so concerned about the group that he paid someone to have their controversial flyer translated from Chinese to English. When the translation came back, Weinstein was appalled by “their outright deception and lies regarding the two bond issues.”
“They wrote that there’s nothing to show for the $284 million dollars…that’s one statement that I’m furious about,” said Weinstein.
He’s referring to bond money that was approved by Milpitas voters back in November 2018, through the passage of Measure AA.
Over this past Summer, the school district completed a series of bond projects across nine different sites, working on roofing, painting, and replacing HVAC and galvanized piping. At Spangler Elementary, the galvanized piping was original and had been in place for over 50 years. The construction team updated all of it with copper piping.
Upcoming plans are also in the works to modernize Milpitas High School and Ayer Educational Park. Creating a second high school campus for around 500 students is also a big priority for the district.
In the meantime, MUSD is planning for a modernization of Randall Elementary School, which would cost about $21 million alone; some of those funds would be used to promote a safer, more secure campus, and would include perimeter fencing, and also situating the admin building in a spot where one can easily view those entering school grounds.
Weinstein currently serves on the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC), and has also served on the previous committee, which oversaw the spending of a $95 million bond that voters approved in 2012.
It bears noting, meanwhile, that Weinstein has history with the individuals from Better Milpitas and South Bay Eco Citizens…
Several years ago, Weinstein became co-founder of a group called the Milpitas Odor Group, which was composed of residents who felt the City Council wasn’t taking sufficient action to mitigate the Milpitas odor issue. Weinstein spoke to The Beat of that group’s leadership, naming such individuals as petitioners Raymond Wong and Fa Yoeu; Chia-Ling Kong was also part of the group. Milpitas resident Jennifer Strohfus, who ran for City Council in 2016, was also a co-founder of the group. They worked at a city and regional level to call attention to the issue, and even went to testify in Sacramento, before the BAAQMD.
Along the way, however, the group split apart. Weinstein remained committed to the original group, while others broke away to form a new one. “The other group was focused on shutting down Newby Island, and our group was focused on working on a solution to the odor, which would have included Republic Services, had the City agreed to work with them,” said Weinstein.
He also mentioned that the other group eventually evolved into South Bay Eco Citizens, and was led by individuals like Kong and Clavel. At the time, Republic Services gathered signatures on a petition in an effort to put Measure L on the ballot in 2016.
“My opposition to Measure L was based on the fact that I felt the Eco Citizens group was being dishonest. Measure L should’ve asked the citizens: Are you willing to pay more for garbage rates, if we shipped the garbage away from Newby Island? They led people to believe changing garbage companies would solve the odor issue. Our garbage rates went up because we are now shipping away from Newby Island. A majority of the Milpitas citizens are very unhappy with this new garbage system,” said Weinstein.
He also added: “And, the steps that are now being taken, which were opposed by the other group, are steps that our odor group was proposing from the start; the only way to solve the odor issue is to do a complete study of the 7 odor producing areas.”
Kong is still one of the leaders of South Bay Eco Citizens. And Weinstein mentioned that he is still actively involved with the odor issue, though he is no longer involved in the original odor group.
“Many of the leaders of the odor group appear to be the leaders of Better Milpitas,” shared Weinstein. “Watch for the same faces and posts on Measure L, the garbage issue; and rent control, marijuana, and the school board issue. Note that they still attempt bullying tactics, often with out of town speakers.”
Minh Ngo, who is gearing up for the Special Election, sees this period in time as a challenge, more than anything else. A challenge he is fully ready to take on.
“It’s more important for me to stand up and be that voice for the community, because we’ve only been hearing from this once particular group; and the rest of the community would like to have a voice as well. And I appreciate their support thus far and really look forward to exceeding their expectations…” said Ngo.
During the short time he was able to serve on the Board, he enjoyed visiting all the schools and learning more about the district’s modernization projects. Ngo and his wife have three children, one of whom is a first-grader at Rose Elementary. Ngo has been serving on the PTO at Rose, as well as the CBAC. He wants to do all he can to ensure a greater future for Milpitas children.
“I felt very bad for the gentleman who was appointed by the board to serve as my replacement,” said former Trustee Daniel Bobay, who moved to Texas upon vacating his seat. “And I sincerely hope that he decides to run for re-election and puts a lot of effort into that, because I believe he deserves the opportunity to serve and the opportunity to win that election.”
As for Chia-Ling Kong, she remains uncertain about whether or not she will run in the March election. However, she’s now confident that the Special Election was the only route, since she feels that things were mishandled in the appointment process.
If she does run, her friends who petitioned for her and those who signed the petition will most likely support her. One unnamed source called Kong a hero in the community, and expressed sheer admiration for all Kong’s work in helping to find solutions to the odor issue over the last several years.
Another member in the community expressed a similar sentiment:
“Ling is very humble. She works very hard. She’s smart and she’s thoughtful. She’s pretty much everything I want in a community representative,” said David Graham, a friend and supporter of Kong’s, who got up during Public Comment at an October school board meeting to express his concerns over the board appointment issue.
However, people like Raymond Wong believe that prolonging this issue with a Special Election is only creating greater division in the community.
“In my opinion, it makes Ling look bad. It makes her look like she’s a sore loser; it makes her look like she’s forcing her way in, because she had a group of people get signatures. If she makes it in, great. But then she runs again in November, and it’s not sensible,” said Wong. “Why are you doing all this, just to be in there for 9 months, when they had a candidate in there who probably would’ve done a decent job? So why not leave him in there and have him do some work that would be positive for the school district?”
Aside from the division that has been created, there remains the question of who exactly is part of Better Milpitas, and who exactly was behind circulating misinformation in the community.
Although Kong says she is not a part of Better Milpitas, The Milpitas Beat looked at Better Milpitas’ Facebook page back in October…and discovered that Kong was listed as an Administrator on it. When The Beat asked Kong about this, she said that she had been added by someone as an Admin while she was working on the odor issue in 2014.
“It used to be Milpitas Citizens Network. And [the name] got changed. There are a lot of Administrators on it,” said Kong.
After The Milpitas Beat raised this question to Kong and to those associated with Better Milpitas, someone apparently deleted Kong as an Administrator on the page. Not only that, but someone even deleted the name Better Milpitas from the group, renaming it Milpitas Citizens Network.
The Beat took before-and-after screenshots of the list — one before Kong was deleted as an Administrator, and one after Kong was deleted as an Administrator.
Regardless of what happens from here, Kong hopes that people in the community will continue to stand up and strongly advocate for issues that matter to them:
“We need to be heard,” said Kong. “We cannot stay in the background and be taken advantage of. When you don’t speak up, you’ll be ignored. You might be in the majority…But if you’re silent, nothing happens.”
Go back to read the earlier parts in the story, in case you missed anything:
Editor’s note: The article has been updated to reflect accurate information about Republic Services petitioning for Measure L to go on the ballot.