Dublin down to three school board members after Cunningham resigns

Board to decide soon how to fill new vacancy, with Area 4 special election already set for June 4

Dublin Unified School District Trustee Dan Cunningham abruptly resigned in the middle of his third term last week, leaving the Board of Trustees with two of its five seats vacant.

Cunningham, who had sat on the board since 2008 and was the target of a failed recall attempt soon after his re-election in November 2016, made the surprise announcement during the school board meeting last Tuesday, saying his resignation would take effect that Friday.

"I have enjoyed being active in the community and working to make where I live a better place for everyone. My family has been extremely understanding during this time and have sacrificed so that I could serve. That said, I believe that the time has come for me to pursue other endeavors," Cunningham said during a statement at the Feb. 26 meeting.

The school board is set to hold a public discussion soon about how the district will go about filling Cunningham's seat during its next regular meeting, on March 12.

With only three trustees currently on the dais, the board must vote unanimously in order for any item of business to pass, according to DUSD spokesman Chip Dehnert.

Cunningham's midterm resignation is the latest blow to the school board, which was already down one trustee after a citizens' petition nullified the board's provisional appointment of Nini Natarajan to fill the Area 4 seat vacated when former trustee Joe Giannini stepped down last fall. A special election for the Trustee Area 4 seat is scheduled for June 4.

The board's options to fill Cunningham's seat include appointing a provisional trustee from resident applicants -- as the district tried to do with Giannini's position, unsuccessfully -- or calling a special election to allow voters to pick the candidate who will complete Cunningham's term through November 2020.

Cunningham, who actually lives in Area 1 like Board President Amy Miller, was elected as an at-large trustee for the third time in November 2016, the final election before DUSD converted to district-based elections.

No current trustees live in Area 3, so one talking point for the board next week will be whether Cunningham's vacancy should be filled at-large or assigned to otherwise-open Area 3. The board made a similar decision last fall in delegating Giannini's seat to Area 4 when he had been elected at-large -- though Giannini lived in Area 4.

Trustee Area 3 in south-central Dublin runs generally between Dougherty and Tassajara roads from west to east and from Camp Parks to Interstate 580 from north to south. It includes neighborhoods around Dougherty Elementary School and the eastern Dublin-Pleasanton BART station.

It is not clear whether DUSD would have enough time to consolidate a potential special election for Cunningham's seat with the already scheduled Area 4 special election on June 4.

DUSD officials last week lauded Cunningham for his decade of elected service, pointing to his leadership amid a time of tremendous change for the district as Dublin's population expanded with new residential developments before and after the Great Recession.

They cited specifically his efforts on topics such as addressing student growth, prioritizing student and staff wellness, supporting athletics and music programs, the addition of three new schools, securing land at Camp Parks for a future school site, the selection of a new high school site and the changes at Dublin High School.

"Throughout his years of service, Dan never lost sight of why he was doing this work," Miller said in a statement. "He truly made a difference for students and always based his decisions on what he thought was in their best interests. I am saddened to see Dan leave and his leadership will certainly be missed."

"We are so incredibly thankful to Mr. Cunningham for his more than a decade of service to our students and community. We will miss his leadership and wish him well in his next steps," Superintendent Leslie Boozer added.

For his part, Cunningham called out Dublin High's evolution among his proudest accomplishments for the district during his time on the board.

"I have witnessed the transformation of Dublin High School, both physically and academically. Dublin High School is now one of the best high schools not only in the Tri-Valley but also in the state of California," he said.

Cunningham also drew the ire of some residents during his tenure, becoming the target of a recall effort in late 2017 and early 2018 from the citizen group Dubliners United, criticizing his behavior with stakeholders and a lack of transparency. The group submitted a completed petition but Alameda County election officials determined it fell 43 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot.

If DUSD pursues a special election for Cunningham's seat, it could be the district's third special election this year.

In January, the school board scheduled a mail-only special election for 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. The ballot measure needs approval from two-thirds of voters to pass.

Less than two weeks later, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe canceled Natarajan's appointment to the Area 4 seat and called a special election for June 4 after being petitioned to do so.

The board had voted 3-1 in December after public recruitment to appoint Natarajan, a finance professional and parent volunteer, to complete Giannini's unexpired term through November 2020. The first Indian-American woman to serve on the DUSD board, Natarajan was selected over the lone other applicant, 2016 school board candidate Gabrielle Blackman.

The petition to remove Natarajan, which has not been released publicly and the proponents declining to reveal themselves, received 126 valid signatures, well above the 74 signatures required to force the special election (1.5% of Area 4 voters).

Residents interested in running for the Area 4 special election have until this Friday (March 8) to file candidacy paperwork with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters' Office. Election officials have not yet revealed how many candidates, if any, have filed to date.

Correction: A previous version of this story listed an incorrect signature count for the recall petition aimed at unseating Cunningham in 2017/2018. The petition was determined to be 43 signatures short of the threshold to force a recall election (5,266 of the 6,813 signatures were deemed valid). The Pleasanton Weekly regrets the error.

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Like this comment
Posted by Bobby Khullar
a resident of Dublin
on Mar 5, 2019 at 6:34 pm

The recall you speak about was 43 signatures short and is pending litagation. Just to make sure you have the correct facts.

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Dublin
on Mar 5, 2019 at 7:01 pm

[Post removed: This comment has been removed for falsely alleging that a Dublin school board member provided a copy of the Trustee Area 4 petition (deemed a confidential document under state law) to the Pleasanton Weekly. That said, we encourage the anonymous poster or anyone with information, including the proponents, to speak with the Weekly regarding the petition that nullified Natarajan's appointment, which to this point has remained secretive.]

Like this comment
Posted by Jeremy Walsh, editor
associate editor
on Mar 5, 2019 at 7:12 pm

Jeremy Walsh, editor is a registered user.

Thank you for following up, Bobby. The story has been updated with the correct signature count for the recall effort that came up short last year. We regret the error.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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