Runner-up school board candidates reflect on election results

Jeffrey Tu and Jason Lin

Palo Alto residents have elected Jennifer Dibrienza, Jesse Ladomirak, and Todd Collins to the district’s school board. Katie Causey, Karna Nisewaner and Matthew Nagle are the runners-up. “I spent less than $1,000 and I’m going to get … about 9% of the vote,” Nagle said. He compares his spending to the elected candidates, who he says spent around $20,000 to $30,000 in their campaigns. According to financial disclosure forms published in Santa Clara County database, as of Oct. 23, Ladomirak had raised $28,034. Image: County of Santa Clara Registrar of Voters

Following a Palo Alto school board race that featured six main candidates battling for votes amid a pandemic crisis in the district, the three losing candidates are now reflecting on the district’s future under the leadership of the winning candidates. 

Contacted by The Paly Voice in the month since the election, the runners-ups — Matthew Nagle, Karna Nisewaner and Katie Causey — named the opportunity gap, racism, and trust as the greatest areas of concern they hope the board will address.

Causey and Nisewaner expressed worries over the opportunity gap between certain groups of students where different factors contribute to a lack of educational opportunities for students.

“How our opportunity gap is addressed in the coming years is going to be critical as there is a risk the pandemic could exacerbate it,” Causey said.

Nisewaner said she hopes the board will look at more than just the D/F report for high schools, but also encourage more testing in other grades to provide the best education possible.

Nagle is worried about racial equality. 

“I would … have been a big advocate and proponent for actually looking at all of our BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] students, and especially the underachievement of our brown and Black students,” Nagle said. 

Nagle and Causey said that trust was a key issue during the election.

Causey says she feels that trust between the community and the educators has broken down due to how the reopening plan was handled.

“We should reopen when we have … a consensus between our educators, families, and community members who could be directly impacted by the reopening, that they do not feel their safety is at risk,” Causey said.

Nisewaner said she hopes that election victors Ladomirak and DiBrienza’s experience as parents will make sure the school board continues to consider the parents’ perspectives.

Nagle says the last-minute item that the board added to the Nov. 10 board meeting agenda, which gave administrators, including Superintendent Don Austin, contract extensions, was an example of this lack of trust. The items Nagle references are consent calendar items G through K, which gave employment extensions for Austin, Sharon Ofek, Carolyn Chow, Anne Brown and Yolanda Conaway. 

“It looks like they kept it a secret from the voters— and so that part is disturbing,” Nagle said. “Our two incumbents, Jennifer DiBrienza, and Todd Collins, should have not kept that [the contract extensions] a secret. It really does not build trust. So that’s the question that voters have to ask: do you trust this current school board?”

DiBrienza and Collins said at the Nov. 10 board meeting that since the performance review done in June had a “satisfactory” result, the normal course of action would be to extend the contract.

“What we’re doing is customary and routine, it’s consistent with past practices, it’s consistent with what we intended to do,” Collins said. “I feel very comfortable that this is the thing to support.”

When asked by the Paly Voice about Nagle’s opinion on the employment extensions, Collins declined to comment.

Causey agrees that this last-minute item was communicated poorly. 

“In a crisis [the COVID-19 pandemic], communication is critical,” Causey said. She said she would have preferred the two-meeting rule be applied to the item, “so community members have the opportunity to give input.” 

Collins, DiBrienza, and Ladomirak will be sworn in next Tuesday, Dec. 15.