UPDATE: Todd Collins has won the third seat on the school board, with a 1,817 vote lead over Katie Causey and 99% of the county's ballots counted as of Thursday, Nov. 19, at 4:15 p.m. This will be Collins' second term on the board. "I appreciate the community continuing to place its trust in me and I look forward to serving our kids and community," Collins said. "We have a lot of work to get through this year, after which we'll still have the issues that we faced before, plus some additional ones, including larger achievement gaps and increased financial pressure."
Causey said she didn't expect to the results to change this week but as ballots continued to be counted she felt a sense of "underlying anticipation, as nothing has happened normally in 2020." She's not sure yet whether she'll run again for local office in 2024. "I want our students to know that running is so fun and rewarding and it is such an honor to help your community," Causey said.
As of Nov. 19, Jennifer DiBrienza maintained her first-place finish with 20,567 votes, or 24.4% of the votes counted; Jesse Ladomirak remained in second place with 17,694 votes, or 21%.
Incumbent Jennifer DiBrienza appears headed toward reelection and challenger Jesse Ladomirak toward winning a second seat on the school board, while the third seat is still too close to call, according to unofficial election results.
The preliminary results, with 67% of ballots counted in Santa Clara County as of Thursday evening, show DiBrienza with 25% of the vote, holding a more than 2,000 vote lead over Ladomirak.
Ladomirak, a parent and remodeling company co-owner who ran to bring a parent perspective to the school board, trails with 21%, or 13,654 votes. Board President Todd Collins is in third place with 17% of the vote, about 1,500 votes ahead of challenger Katie Causey. Causey has won about 15% of the vote so far.
Attorney and parent Karna Nisewaner has won about 13% of the vote and former district principal Matt Nagle 8%.
The six candidates are vying for three open seats on the board during an unprecedented time for public education. The campaign was largely focused on the district's response to the pandemic and how and when to reopen schools. Causey, a Palo Alto High School graduate and community advocate, and Nagle were the only two candidates to oppose bringing students and teachers back to school in person this fall.
DiBrienza, a former teacher who is seeking a second term on the board, led by about 2,000 votes as of midnight on Tuesday evening. She remained cautiously optimistic about the early results.
The defining issue of the campaign, DiBrienza said, was the coronavirus. This was underscored by the fact that two candidates — Ladomirak and Nisewaner — ran expressly because of their own families' frustration with school closures in the spring.
"I think that while it's always been important that people on the board have kids in the district or had kids in the district, right now uniquely it matters that those of us going through it have a voice with the district," said DiBrienza, who is the only current board member with children in district schools.
Ladomirak, who raised more campaign funds than all of her competitors, described the school board race as "competitive."
"There was a number of high-quality candidates in the race. Honestly, at this point, it's been an honor to run and to earn the votes of so many people, and I feel comfortable that our district's going to be in good hands regardless of the outcome," she said.
Collins declined to make himself available for comments on the results.
Causey, the youngest candidate, who ran a campaign focused on youth voice and civic engagement, said she hopes her campaign set an example for young people in the community.
"I got to spend the last months helping students, educators and community members be heard — that is everything I've wanted to do since I was 15," she wrote in an email. "The number one thing I want to come out of tonight is that I hope our students feel like they can run for office after they graduate."
Nisewaner said running for a seat as a newcomer was more challenging during a pandemic.
"It makes it a lot harder if you're not an incumbent, if you don't already have a structure in place. It's difficult to connect" with voters, she said.
If she loses, Nisewnaer said she's not sure whether she will run again in 2022 but feels more prepared to do so.
"I now have at least the infrastructure of a set of people who are supportive, and I know what's necessary. I understand now how important endorsements are from parties, even in nonpartisan elections, and I also understand how much is driven by revenue and how much money you bring in," she said. "That's definitely something that I now better understand in terms of how local politics here work and that this is a more aggressive local political scene than you might find in other areas."
Nagle, a longtime educator and former principal of Juana Briones Elementary School, said he wasn't surprised by the early results. He focused his campaign on improving outcomes for minority and low-income students. He has been a vocal critic of the current board's efforts to close the achievement gap and also of the district's response to the pandemic.
"That's the question you have to ask: Do you trust the school board to get these classrooms open safely? I'll be frank with you: I don't think they have it in them, from what I've seen," Nagle said Tuesday night.
This story will be updated as more results come in.