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Tuomy's campaign emphasized his fiscal expertise and his achievements as a co-chairman of the district's recent successful bond election. But, in the words of HOLD steering committee member Bill Evers, Tuomy was "clearly and unequivocally" for classroom choice in core subjects in the middle schools--"precisely," according to Evers, "where it is most needed in Palo Alto." HOLD has been publicly calling since early April for choice in teaching methods in mathematics to accommodate those who are dissatisfied with the new-new math.
At the same time that Tuomy won, challengers Kate Feinstein and Jim Maples, both also endorsed by HOLD, gathered a substantial minority of the vote, but lost to the incumbents, Don Way and Susie Richardson. Feinstein's and Maples's campaigns stressed establishing classroom choice in math instruction, curricular rigor, fiscal responsibility, and increased parental decision-making power.
Approximately 40 percent of school district voters voted for Feinstein and Maples. "With turnout numbers of 16,500, a shift of 1800 voters would have led to a sweep for the challengers. Such a shift is difficult, but it's doable in the future," said Evers. Feinstein and Maples did comparatively best in Los Altos Hills and in lower-middle income parts of south Palo Alto.
Evers pointed to three factors in the defeat of Feinstein and Maples. First, he pointed to the inherent advantages of incumbency and "voter deference" to the community's established political leadership. No challengers have unseated incumbents in Palo Alto school board races in recent decades.
Palo Alto residents chose to live in Palo Alto in part because of its reputation for excellent schools, Evers said. "To vote for a shake-up in the school board is to cast doubt on the basis of that reputation. Even when a shake-up is needed, such a vote is a psychologically difficult one for a resident to cast."
Second, a local anti-growth measure preempted attention that would have otherwise gone to the school board race. "The school board race was contested; the city council was not--so if not for the fight over growth, news media coverage and voter interest would have focused on the schools." Because of the distraction of the growth issue, Evers says Feinstein and Maples received "mostly the votes of informed schoolparents," while "less-informed voters interested in the growth controversy" voted for the board incumbents.
Lastly, Evers maintained, "to be a successful constructive critic of suburban schools is a difficult role--too often, even in Palo Alto, you are seen as either a booster or a divisive nay-sayer." Tuomy, Evers says, was in a position--because of his recent leadership on the high-profile bond vote--to be a "safe, reforming booster." Despite Feinstein's past service with the districtwide PTA and Maples's service with a district curriculum committee, they were never accepted by some voters as "well-meaning constructive critics."
Evers is a political scientist at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He also teaches political science and public policy at Santa Clara University.
Election Results (Nov. 7, 1995) 36 out 36 precincts reporting Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education (three seats up for election) * John Tuomy 9,994 [elected] Susie Richardson (incumbent) 9,612 [re-elected] Don Way (incumbent) 9,502 [re-elected] * Jim Maples 6,130 [defeated] * Kate Feinstein 6,051 [defeated] * endorsed by HOLD