Spencer, Kahn and Tam are school board heirs apparent

Spencer, Kahn and Tam are school board heirs apparent

Michele Ellson

Updated at 1:03 a.m. Wednesday, November 8 to reflect full precinct count

School board Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer led a pack of eight candidates to keep her seat despite robocalls that questioned her record.

With nearly all of the precincts counted, Spencer had taken 9,966 votes, or 21.34 percent of the ballots cast and counted. Barbara Kahn, an 83-year-old retired social worker who recently rekindled her activism on school issues, was in second place with 7,907 votes or 16.93 percent of the ballots cast.

Incumbent Nielsen Tam, a retired school administrator, also appeared set to keep his seat, earning 6,406 votes or 13.72 percent of the ballots cast.

Ron Mooney, who has long been active in efforts to raise funds for schools, appeared set to lose his seat after one term on the board. Mooney was in sixth place early Wednesday, having captured 9.33 percent of the vote. Michael Robles-Wong was in fifth place, followed by Mooney; PTA Council President Tom Lynch; attorney and parent Robert W. Mann, who suspended his campaign halfway through the race; and Kurt Peterson, who has questioned the district's spending decisions and advocated for more transparency.

“I have incredible supporters. It’s been a long four years,” Spencer said. “I really want to thank our community, our staff, our teachers, our employees, for having faith in me and we will continue the good fight to take care of all of our kids and educate them to the best of our ability.”

Kahn, who was once part of a group of parents who called themselves the Brown Bags who were active on school issues, thanked the Alameda Education Association for working to get her elected and challenged her supporters to become more involved and the school district to be more open to public scrutiny.

“I look forward to being part of the effort to restore the good will that has always existed between our teachers and our board,” Kahn said. “We are all on the same side of the question ‘Is it good for kids?’ and working together is the way to build a district and community that answers ‘yes’ to that question before every decision.”

Union president Gray Harris vowed to get involved in the school board race after a contentious year at the bargaining table with district administrators, and the union backed Spencer, Kahn and Jon G. Murphy by funding mailers, calling voters and walking precincts. The moved echoed a similar effort undertaken by Alameda’s firefighters in 2010, when they were in the midst of a similarly contentious effort to reach a new contract deal with the city.

Murphy, a Peralta Community College District instructor who hadn’t previously been involved in local schools, was in fourth place late Tuesday.

Spencer came under fire in robocalls that highlighted her votes against the district’s anti-bullying curriculum.

The candidates reflected a wide range of public opinion about the job school district administrators are doing, including some voters who feel the district has made progress under its current leadership by implementing a master plan and approving a robust anti-bullying curriculum and others who are frustrated about the terms of Superintendent Kirsten Vital’s contract, district administrators’ planned move to leased space and contentious negotiations for a new teachers contract.

All three of the union-backed candidates had expressed frustration with the district office move and the lack of a full teachers contract, while Spencer voted against Vital’s contract, which grants her an annual raise, full medical benefits and bonus pay for reaching board-approved goals.

Mooney and Tam had voted for both the contract and the move, and were being backed by a group of parents along with Robles-Wong, who spearheaded the successful Measure A parcel tax campaign and whose family is involved in a lawsuit aimed at reforming the state’s school finance system.

"I’ve congratulated Barbara on her victory and wish her and the ‘new Board’ the best is facing the issues over the coming years," Mooney said.

In 2008 voters dumped a pair of school board incumbents, David Forbes and Janet Gibson, and a third member, Bill Schaff, left. Mooney, Tam and Spencer took their places.

The winners of Tuesday’s contest are likely to face some arduous discussions about the district’s budget, which may continue to be challenged by weak state funding even if Proposition 30 passes as it was poised to do early Wednesday morning. They will also be seeking solutions to address Alameda Unified’s $92 million or more in needed facilities fixes. And the district is again at the bargaining table with teachers for a new contract.