Woodside school board race: Challenger criticizes incumbent's attendance record

Moderator warns "the personalization of some of these issues is not appropriate in this forum"

A challenger for a seat on the Woodside Elementary School District board is accusing an incumbent of poor board meeting attendance.

During an Oct. 1 League of Women Voters election forum, challenger Joel Hornstein brought up incumbent Kevin Johnson's attendance record in response to a question from the audience about how the candidates saw their board roles.

"Frankly, Kevin hasn't been a part of a lot of board meetings," Mr. Hornstein said. "He has missed just about one in three board meetings over the entire term and is running at just over 50 percent this year." Those figures, however, appear to be exaggerated.

Mr. Johnson denied that he had missed that many meetings, and sought his attendance record from the district office the following day. Board attendance records supplied by Mr. Hornstein, and separately by the district, show Mr. Johnson has been absent on nine meeting dates in his four years on the board, or a little more than 16 percent of the 54 meetings over that period.

In the 2014-15 school year, Mr. Johnson missed two meetings out of 13, or 15 percent. Since January 2015, Mr. Johnson has missed two board meetings out of 10, or 20 percent.

The discrepancies in the two sets of records appear to be in how Mr. Hornstein counted "missed." Both sets of records say Mr. Johnson attended three meetings via conference call, which Mr. Hornstein counted as missed meetings. Mr. Hornstein says Mr. Johnson also left three meetings and two phone meetings early and "missed multiple votes," and he included those meetings as "missed" as well.

Mr. Hornstein's figures also did not include four meetings that the district said Mr. Johnson attended, and he counted him absent twice on one day with two meetings.

A few questions later in the forum, after the candidates were asked if Woodside's middle school is comparable to other area middle schools, Mr. Hornstein said: "As many of you know, Kevin sent his elder two children to private school for sixth grade," adding that Mr. Johnson's middle child is "now back with us."

At that point Mr. Johnson interrupted Mr. Hornstein, saying that his oldest child, in fact, attended Woodside Elementary from the third grade, when the family moved to Woodside, through eighth grade. He also emotionally denied Mr. Hornstein's comments about his middle child, a son.

Mr. Johnson said his son had stayed at Nueva School when the family moved from San Mateo. But this year, his son chose to attend Woodside for eighth grade, Mr. Johnson said, so he could go to school with his fourth-grade brother and friends at the school, and to prepare for high school in a more traditional middle school environment.

Mr. Hornstein later called the Almanac and said: "I made an error in judgment," in singling out Mr. Johnson's son and repeating incorrect information. He said, and Mr. Johnson confirmed, that he called him and apologized.

Following the exchange about the middle school, League of Women Voters moderator Ellen Kitamura made her own interruption. "I want to stress that we are trying to inform the audience about your positions on the issues, and the personalization of some of these issues is not appropriate in this forum," she said. "These are the league's rules."

Three candidates

There are three candidates running for two seats on the board of the one-school district.

All the candidates have children at the school, and all said they have unique skills to bring to the board.

Silvia Edwards, who was appointed to the board in May, said her background in construction is valuable as the district completes several major construction projects. She serves on the Woodside board's facilities committee and its collective bargaining committee.

Like the other two candidates, she has a law degree. She worked as a special assistant U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2003; she is not currently practicing law.

Mr. Johnson is a practicing attorney with Quinn Emanuel in Redwood Shores and is completing his first four-year term on the board. He said his experience as a litigator has come in handy during his term because the district has had legal issues on almost every board agenda.

Mr. Johnson also has a degree in electrical engineering. "I'm a critical thinker and a strategic thinker," he said. "What I think I bring to the board is pragmatic, practical risk assessment."

Mr. Hornstein said his background in finance could fill a board gap. He also has experience on other boards, both nonprofit and for-profit. He serves on the school's site council and technology committee and is often on the campus and available, he said.

He has "a great deal of flexibility in how I manage my hours, which is really important to me," he said.

Read more about the candidates and the Almanac's endorsements in the Oct. 14 Voters' Guide.

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Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Oct 9, 2015 at 9:04 am

I am concerned with the specific results of incumbents, and in their positions on what they will try to achieve during a very long 4 year term. What are those positions, and what's the evidence that they may be successful in achieving them?

Missing some meetings, calling into others, and repeatedly leaving early isn't great. If that person has accomplished a lot over their 4 year term, maybe it can be taken with a grain of salt, but on the surface it looks like a person that is not committed.

Like this comment
Posted by WES Community Member
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 9, 2015 at 5:50 pm

It would be helpful if more people who are familiar with the candidates and their track records weigh in. My children attended WES, I have served on the foundation board and local education is a life-long passion for me so I continue to monitor our school and it's progress.

Kevin Johnson is a resourceful and dedicated board member. Yes, he has a full time job that sometimes takes precedent but I regard the rigor of his background and his "leading edge" Silicon Valley technology practice as contributing critical complimentary strengths to our mix of board members rather than any sort of weakness (and worth noting that Kevin's attendance record at scheduled board meetings is quite good; it is the special meetings scheduled on short notice that sometimes have required him to call in). Kevin's skill set as a strategic thinker and negotiator make him a very valuable resource for our school board. The board has been particularly productive these past four years, not only in terms of strengthening the education platform for our children but also in creating a thoughtful five year strategic plan. Kevin has certainly been a key contributor to, and a positive influence in, this work. We are fortunate that he has offered to serve another four-year term.

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