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 71 votes behind Terry Godfrey.
Two years 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 29.53 percent of the vote, with 6,629 of a now 22,445 votes counted as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
"I'm pleased about the results," Dauber said Wednesday morning. "I'm really looking forward to working with other board members to get to work on the important issues that are facing the district."
Though Godfrey and Foster were neck and neck for much of Tuesday evening, Godfrey eventually pulled slightly ahead with 6,026 votes counted (26.85 percent of the vote). Foster has pulled in 26.53 percent with 5,955 votes counted.
But with thousands of mail-in and provisional ballots still to be counted, the second board seat is too close to call.
Candidate Gina Dalma received 14.22 percent of the vote, or 3,191 counted.
Jay Blas Cabrera has a reported 644 votes, or 2.87 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 Wednesday morning.
"It's a close race. I guess I knew it was going to be ... but having never been in a campaign before, I didn't quite think that I wouldn't know yet," she said.
A group of more than 30 supporters for Dauber and Dalma gathered at Dalma's house Tuesday evening, many crowding around a large flat-screen TV, analyzing the early batch of results from the registrar.
"I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude and camaraderie and hope ... look at all of us together here," Dauber told the 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, referencing the early morning death by suicide of a Gunn junior. "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."
Dalma told the Weekly that despite the loss -- she later joked that she had been telling her children she was "winning fourth place" -- she was excited to have participated in what's been an "incredible race."
"I came into the race late and i came in (without) a built-in network in the community, so i'm incredibly proud of the campaign I ran," she said.
"The level of debate was incredibly high," Dalma added. "I think there was an overlap in most of the candidates' views on key issues. Now it's just a matter of making sure that the candidates that win really implement and take it on."
Dauber told the Weekly that he felt like the community conversation has shifted since he first ran for a board seat in 2012, and he commended all the candidates for running campaigns that kept the election focused on key issues.
"I think the voters clearly responded to this message that I brought to put students first," he said Wednesday. "I think they want a school board that's focused on the issues that really matter to students well-being and to their learning and to their social and emotional health. I also think that it was a campaign that let the voters focus on the issues that really matter. I really want to compliment all the candidates in the race for very well-run campaigns that I think gave voters a clear sense about what their options were and how people felt about the direction of the district."
Later Tuesday 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.