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Dauber elected to Palo Alto school board; second seat too close to call

Foster close behind Godfrey by 72 votes

With all precincts reporting, Ken Dauber has been elected to the Palo Alto school board, but the second seat remains too close to call with Catherine Crystal Foster 72 votes behind Terry Godfrey.

After a first failed run for a board seat, Dauber held a steady lead for the entire evening as results came in. With 46 out of 46 precincts reporting, he has 29.5 percent of the vote, with 6,233 of 21,132 votes counted.

Though Godfrey and Foster were neck and neck for much of Tuesday evening, Godfrey eventually pulled ahead with 5,678 votes counted (26.87 percent of the vote). Foster has pulled in 26.53 percent with 5,606 votes counted.

But with provisional ballots still to be counted, the second board seat is too close to call.

Candidate Gina Dalma came in with 14.26 percent of the vote, or 3,013 counted.

Jay Blas Cabrera has a reported 602 votes, or 2.85 percent.

Foster, reached by phone over the din of an election party at her home early Tuesday evening, wasn't surprised by the neck-and-neck results.

"There are some great people running for school board. I never expected it to be anything other than a close race," she said.

Terry Godfrey said the same.

A group of more than 30 supporters for Dauber and Dalma gathered at Dalma's house early Tuesday evening, many crowding around a large flat-screen TV, analyzing the early batch of results from the registrar.

Though most candidates were then cautiously sticking to, "it's still early," Dauber said he was encouraged by his lead.

"I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude and camaraderie and hope ... look at all of us together here," he told the house full of supporters, gathered in Dalma's living room. "We're all here for our students. We're all here for our community.

"We have suffered a loss today and it's a loss that we are too familiar with," he added. "I think our hearts and our thoughts are with the student, the parents, the staff, the teachers of Gunn, and they're going to continue to be with them."

Dalma and Dauber thanked lists of people who made their campaigns possible, from spouses and children to friends and volunteers – and even each other.

"Back in February, I decided to write an article that was published in the Palo Alto Weekly because something had happened in a high school that I did not agree with," Dalma said, referring to a guest opinion piece she wrote on de-laning at Paly. "I received this random call from a guy who said, 'Let's go have coffee.'"

"It's been a campaign of issues. It's been a campaign of ideas," Dauber said, "and the first person I want to honor in that is Gina Dalma. ... Gina has really elevated the tone of this campaign. She's elevated the content of this campaign. For me, she's given me an example of someone to aspire to in terms of commitment and intelligence, and thinking about what we need in our schools."

Dauber told the Weekly he felt like the community conversation has shifted since he first ran for a board seat in 2012.

"I think that all of the candidates are talking about the importance of social and emotional well-being for students," he said. "We're all talking about ... the importance of consistency. I think some of the things that two years ago were not really in the center of the conversation (are now)."

Later in the evening, four of the five candidates -- Dalma, Dauber, Foster and Cabrera -- gathered at City Hall for an interview with former Palo Alto mayor Peter Drekmeier and Councilwoman Liz Kniss.

Kniss called Cabrera the "dark horse" of the campaign.

"I certainly was running an alternative campaign," he said. "I felt like my goal of being a valid choice, but not necessarily people's first choice, was fully successful."

Dauber and the second new board member will join Camille Townsend, Heidi Emberling and Melissa Baten Caswell at the dais, serving four-year terms starting Dec. 9.

Board President Barb Mitchell and member Dana Tom, who both won their seats in 2005, did not run for re-election.

The two new board members will also join new Superintendent Max McGee, who within the first 100 days on the job has taken a fresh tack on communication, created a committee to address the district's achievement gap and resolved in less than two weeks the most recent complaint filed with the federal Office for Civil Rights against Palo Alto Unified.

Throughout the election season, it became clear that the candidates shared common ground when it came to key issues looming on the district's horizon – a need for strong, data-driven decision-making; the expansion of foreign language instruction; continued commitment to students' social-emotional well-being; and enthusiasm for the Common Core State Standards – though personal and professional experiences lent different tilts to each candidate.

Godfrey brought hours of school-volunteer experience and a background in finance and human resources. Foster, a trained lawyer, has spent her entire career working in the overlapping realms of social justice and education. Dalma's work as senior education program officer for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation has taken her to school districts around the country, observing and evaluating programs, including Common Core implementation. Google engineer Dauber, the only candidate who has previously run for a board seat, champions data, transparency and efficiency as among his top priorities. Cabrera, the only non-parent candidate, brought an alternative voice to the election, pushing for technology to be put to use more in Palo Alto's classrooms and in board decision-making.

The candidates also found common ground in their view of recent school leadership, often pointing to a lack of transparent communication with the public and flawed decision-making as the cause for many problems facing the district.

But where the five candidates have most visibly split -- a reflection of the community that they hope to represent -- is on the district's handling of Office for Civil Rights cases. Dauber, Dalma and Cabrera established themselves as staunch critics who firmly oppose the board's commitment, outlined in a resolution adopted this June, to criticizing the federal agency's investigative practices.

Foster set herself apart early in the election season with a nuanced position on the board's resolution: She said she would have, albeit reluctantly, voted to adopt the resolution if the allegations the board has made about the federal agency's investigative practices are true.

Godfrey, critical of what she's called the district's "defensive stance" on civil rights cases, has not said if she would repeal the resolution but instead has suggested the district propose participating in a post-mortem with the federal agency to evaluate and learn from both of their processes.

Dauber's prior run for a board seat occurred in 2012. He fell short to then-challenger Emberling and incumbents Caswell and Townsend with 22.07 percent of the vote, 916 votes behind Emberling.

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