Secretive petition removes Natarajan from Dublin school board; special election to follow

Candidacy period now open for Trustee Area 4 residents to qualify for June 4 ballot

A group of Dublin voters successfully petitioned to cancel the school district’s provisional appointment of Nini Natarajan to the Board of Trustees, setting the stage for a special election for Trustee Area 4 residents in June.

The board selected Natarajan in December, following open recruitment that yielded only one other applicant, to fill the remainder of the term left vacant when elected trustee Joe Giannini resigned for personal reasons two months earlier.

But Natarajan was removed from the position on Friday after four meetings on the board when Alameda County election officials confirmed sufficient signatures had been submitted in a citizens’ petition demanding county Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe terminate the appointment and call a special election instead.

“We thank Ms. Natarajan for her commitment to the community and desire to serve as a trustee,” Dublin Unified School District Superintendent Leslie Boozer said in a statement late Friday.

The reasons for the petition are not known.

Monroe’s Office of Education has declined to release the petition -- saying under the law it is a confidential document and therefore cannot be shared with the public. Petition proponents have not revealed themselves publicly, and their motivation is unclear.

Natarajan had not responded to requests for comment as of Monday afternoon. She would be eligible to register as a candidate to appear on the ballot for the June 4 special election.

DUSD Board President Amy Miller expressed disappointment in the petition proponents pursuing a special election.

“While I respect the process and the right of our community to pursue this course of action, we have a successful history of appointing board members in Dublin,” Miller said in a statement. “Regardless of the outcome, this challenge, and the associated special election, will cost the district tens of thousands of dollars that would be better spent on our students.”

The Dublin board had appointed Natarajan in a 3-1 vote on Dec. 11 to fill the board vacancy following a public recruitment and consideration process that drew two applicants and little public intrigue at the time.

The board opted for direct appointment, rather than call a special election at the time, to serve as a provisional trustee until December 2020, when Giannini’s elected term was due to expire. Giannini had resigned abruptly Oct. 22 after just under two years on the board, citing the time commitment and fractious Dublin politics creating a hostile service environment.

Natarajan, a finance professional and parent volunteer focused on helping provide a balanced approach to educating Dublin students, beat out 2016 school board candidate Gabrielle Blackman to earn the provisional appointment representing Area 4, a wide swath of land in the northeastern part of Dublin.

An India native who became a U.S. citizen in 2013, Natarajan was the first Indian-American woman to serve on the DUSD board.

However, state law provided residents 30 days after Natarajan’s appointment to challenge the board’s decision, and a petition was filed with Monroe’s office on Jan. 2.

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters’ Office was then tasked with confirming the petition contained the requisite amount of signatures to force the special election -- 1.5% of eligible voters in Area 4, which has 4,877 registered voters.

The count came back last Friday, with election officials finding 126 signatures of the 139 names were valid, well above the 74 signatures required.

As a result, Monroe officially terminated Natarajan’s appointment effective Friday and scheduled the special election for June 4. The DUSD board will proceed with four trustees until the election winner takes their seat.

Area 4 residents interested in running for the open seat must submit their completed candidacy papers to county election officials by 5 p.m. March 8 at the registrar’s office at the René C. Davidson Courthouse, 1225 Fallon St. Room G-1, in Oakland.

Candidates must be adults who live in DUSD Area 4, are registered to vote and are not legally precluded from holding civil office.

The June 4 ballot will be the first election for Area 4 residents since the district switched from at-large voting to district-based elections for trustee seats. Giannini was elected at-large and his seat later delegated to Area 4 when election boundaries were drawn.

At this point, it will also be the second special election in less than a month for DUSD.

The school board last month called for a mail-only special election May 7 for all DUSD residents to decide whether to renew the existing $96 parcel tax that is set to expire at the end of June. District officials have not clarified whether the parcel tax election could be consolidated with the new Area 4 trustee election.

Editor’s note: The Alameda County Office of Education cited California Government Code Section 6253.5 in denying the Weekly’s request for a copy of the petition. The code section states: “petitions circulated pursuant to Section 5091 of the Education Code ... and all memoranda prepared by the county elections officials in the examination of the petitions indicating which registered voters have signed particular petitions shall not be deemed to be public records and shall not be open to inspection except by the public officer or public employees who have the duty of receiving, examining or preserving the petitions or who are responsible for the preparation of that memoranda.”

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