Voters may experience a case of deja vu next Tuesday when the two candidates for Dublin Unified School District Trustee Area 4 position face off with each other again, this time in a special election.
Niranjana "Nini" Natarajan and Gabrielle Blackman are vying to fill one of the vacant spots on the school board, ending a months-long struggle for the empty seat that Natarajan briefly occupied until a secretive petition forced her to step down.
A finance professional and local volunteer, Natarajan was appointed by the Board of Trustees in a 3-1 vote in December to complete the remainder of the term left vacant by former trustee Joe Giannini, who resigned in October for personal reasons. Natarajan was one of two residents living in Area 4 who applied for the open position back in the fall -- the other was Blackman.
Natarajan was removed from the post on Feb. 1 after serving for just four board meetings after a group of residents successfully petitioned Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe to nullify Natarajan's appointment and call a special election instead.
It is not known what motivated the unidentified proponents to pursue the petition, which garnered 126 signatures from Area 4 voters (well above the 1.5% threshold needed to challenge the appointment). County officials have not released the petition, stating it is a confidential document under the law that they cannot share publicly.
That set the stage for a special election on June 4.
Now it remains to be seen whether voters in Area 4, a wide swath of land in the northeastern part of Dublin, will agree with the school board's original choice in Natarajan or decide to go with Blackman.
Both women share some commonalities, including having children enrolled in DUSD and a history of community service, but their backgrounds might also be different enough for constituents to consider when casting their ballots next Tuesday.
A resident of Dublin for the past five years, Natarajan is a native of eastern India and became a U.S. citizen in 2013, almost a decade after moving to America with her husband. She was the first Indian-American woman to serve on the DUSD board during her brief appointment.
Natarajan graduated with a degree in commerce and accounting from Madras University, then earned her public accountant certification after arriving in the U.S. She currently works as the head of finance for a growth-stage startup in San Mateo, has two daughters enrolled at Cottonwood Creek K-8 School and volunteered with Destination Imagination as a parent mentor to teams for several years.
In her candidate statement, Natarajan said she has a "passion for public education" and promised to use her 18 years of experience in strategic financial planning and analysis to guide her decisions about district planning and growth management.
"I will bring change within DUSD to focus on what is important -- our children, our teachers, our community," Natarajan said. "I ask for your vote because I believe I can affect change we need."
The mother of three school-age children at DUSD, Blackman has been a resident of Dublin for the past 13 years and a former member of the DUSD Community Review Committee. She ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat in 2016.
Growing up in a creative household, Blackman studied ballet at the School of American Ballet in New York City and later pursued an architecture degree at Cornell University.
Now a senior designer in the architectural industry, Blackman has led a number of award-winning building projects around the country using her "expertise in educational programming and long-term campus planning," including the new Student Services Facility at Chabot College in Hayward.
A longtime backer of solving problems caused by local population growth, Blackman has declared that she's "deeply invested in Dublin's success" and "concerned with the impact exponential growth is having on our schools and community."
"Without effective solutions to our growth and funding issues, the district will struggle to continue to provide equitable access to a quality education," Blackman said. "Dublin needs new leadership now."
The winner between Blackman and Natarajan will serve the remainder of Giannini's elected term, which is scheduled to expire in December 2020.
It will also move the school board closer to a full dais.
DUSD has been operating with only three trustees since March 1, when third-term trustee Dan Cunningham resigned for personal reasons -- a move that came almost four weeks before the remaining trustees and then-superintendent Leslie Boozer agreed to mutually part ways. Cunningham's open seat will remain empty until a special election in November.
In-person voting for the DUSD Trustee Area 4 special election will be held on Tuesday, with vote-by-mail balloting already underway. Polling locations will be open that day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For more information about polling locations, early voting or mail-in ballot dropoff locations, visit the Alameda County Registrar of Voters' Office website at acvote.org.