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New DUSD Trustee Blackman ready to get to work after special election win

Decisive victory for district volunteer to serve remainder of vacant Area 4 term

The Dublin Unified School District is one step closer to returning to a full Board of Trustees, with Gabrielle Blackman winning the open Trustee Area 4 seat by a large margin in a low turnout special election on June 4.

A longtime DUSD volunteer and former two-time board candidate, Blackman is due to be sworn in later in the summer after Alameda County election officials certify the results but she plans to participate in board discussions in the meantime to provide a representative voice to northeastern Dublin's Area 4.

"I'm pleased with the election," Blackman told the Weekly by phone Monday. "70% is a nice, round number, but I'm especially pleased because the community had fought so hard for the right to have a vote for an elected position."

In the special ballot open only to Area 4 voters, Blackman was competing against Niranjana "Nini" Natarajan to complete the unexpired term left vacant after elected trustee Joe Giannini resigned for personal reasons in October.

Natarajan briefly held the Area 4 seat after the Board of Trustees voted 3-1 to select her over Blackman when the district attempted a direct appointment in lieu of a special election, citing in part a desire to fill the seat efficiently and avoid election costs the two women were the only residents to apply for the appointment during open recruitment.

But a group of Area 4 voters successfully petitioned Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe to nullify Natarajan's appointment on Feb. 1 and call a special election in June instead.

Blackman and Natarajan were again the only Area 4 residents to come forward as candidates, and Blackman would go on to flip the script decisively at the polls last week.

Holding a clear lead since the first wave of results came out on Election Night, Blackman stood with 587 votes (70.05%) compared to Natarajan's 251 votes (29.95%) as of the county's latest tally released Friday afternoon. The Registrar of Voters' Office still has some additional vote-by-mail and provisional ballots to process, but the current tally represents a vast majority of ballots cast.

So far, voter turnout is reported as only 15.7% of the 5,368 residents registered to vote in Area 4. The splits included 815 voters using mail-in ballots and 28 visiting the four Area 4 precincts on Election Day.

That vote came just weeks after the district-wide Measure E special election on May 7 in which DUSD's $96 annual parcel tax was renewed with support from 74.53% of voters a mail-only ballot that saw 23.3% voter participation.

Blackman said she considered the Area 4 election voter turnout "fantastic" while criticizing district and election officials for inadequate voter outreach for the Area 4 ballot and adding that she heard from constituents that some voters were confused about another single-item DUSD ballot just one month after the parcel tax election.

"(It was) a community that basically had to bring themselves to the polls," she added.

Blackman is set to serve out the remainder of Giannini's original term, which runs through December 2020. She would be eligible to seek re-election in fall 2020.

DUSD officials expect Blackman will be formally sworn in to office during a board meeting in July or August, depending on when county officials complete their certification -- which is due by July 4.

"The selection of Gabi lends another unique perspective to the makeup of the board," Board President Amy Miller said in a statement after the election. "We are one step closer to a fully seated board, which will help the district navigate the many major projects and decisions in front of us. We look forward to working with Gabi as we move towards the 2019-20 school year."

DUSD officials say they don't have a final price-tag for the Area 4 special election, having not received an invoice from the county yet, but they estimate the costs between $37,576 and $48,312.

Once Blackman takes the oath of office this summer, DUSD will have four of its five trustee seats filled. A special election for Area 3 is scheduled for Nov. 5 to decide who will fill the vacancy created after third-term trustee Dan Cunningham resigned for personal reasons effective March 1.

"I'm looking forward to working with the other board members," Blackman added. "We have a lot of hot issues to address ... And I'm looking forward to when we have a new trustee for Area 3 and finally have a full board of five again."

Blackman said her top priority once officially seated will be helping the district hire its next superintendent. DUSD has been recruiting for its next permanent leader since then-superintendent Leslie Boozer and the school board agreed to mutually part ways on March 26 -- retired administrator Dave Marken has been on board as interim superintendent in the meantime.

She also eyes helping the district focus on long-range planning. "I'm a big advocate of strengthening a long-term plan for the district. We tend to do a lot of fire drill decision-making, which is not healthy."

Blackman cited as other initial goals improving DUSD's financial management, enhancing the district's communication with Area 4 residents and the rest of the public, and addressing the apparent rising price-tag of the proposed second comprehensive high school -- something she called the "elephant in the room."

A senior designer in the architectural industry and the mother of three school-aged children, Blackman has held various volunteer roles in Dublin schools and the community, including serving on the DUSD Community Review Committee. She previously ran for a school board seat in 2016, losing her bid during the general election contested at-large before DUSD switched to district-based elections.

Natarajan, who was the first Indian-American woman to serve on the DUSD board during her brief appointment, is a financial professional with two school-aged daughters who volunteered with Destination Imagination as a parent mentor to teams for several years.

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