Tri-Valley voters will decide their representative on the Alameda County Board of Education for Trustee Area 7, an open contest for three new candidates with longtime incumbent Trustee Yvonne Cerrato not running.
The ballot features Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a former Pleasanton City Council member and retired teacher; DiemHa “Kate” Dao, a Pleasanton resident and founder of Action Academy East Bay; and Eric Dillie, formerly principal of the now-closed Livermore Valley Charter Preparatory school.
A winner will be declared outright in the primary, regardless of whether the top finisher receives better than 50% of the overall vote. Unlike countywide elections, which can advance to a runoff, the local Area 7 seat will be determined based on whoever earns the highest percentage of the vote in June.
The Area 7 position on the county board has been embroiled in some controversy in the past year.
Cerrato, who has served on the board since 2002, was investigated and ultimately cleared by her colleagues on the dais on allegations that she was no longer a permanent resident in her trustee area and actually resided in Oregon, where she operates a 40-acre farm in honor of her late son.
She denied wrongdoing. As the investigation and public deliberations were winding down, Cerrato confirmed she would not be seeking re-election. “I am not going to run again because it’s time for me to move on and do different things,” she said at the time.
One of the candidates is no stranger to controversy as well.
Dillie, who is listed on the ballot as a public school teacher, is best known in local education circles as the former principal of Livermore Valley Charter Prep, which folded in early 2017 after its parent company filed for bankruptcy.
While working at the school, Dillie was charged with misdemeanor failure to report child abuse in 2016, stemming from a tutor at the campus aggressively grabbing and picking up a teen student. The criminal case resolved with no conviction on Dillie’s record after he initially pleaded no contest to the charge and then a judge dismissed the misdemeanor conviction after he completed 30 hours of volunteer work and mandatory reporter training, according to the DA’s office.
Dillie did not respond to questions from the Weekly about his charter school tenure, the criminal case and his election campaign.
Cook-Kallio did offer thoughts on the Livermore charter school dissolution when asked.
“The county board is one of oversight,” she told the Weekly. “It is of the greatest importance that board members are well informed and use this oversight function to ensure the best use of tax dollars. A prime example of what happens when this is not done well is the now defunct charter in Livermore.”
“It is the county board’s responsibility to be transparent, accountable and fiscally responsible. That debacle left the county, city of Livermore, LVJUSD, the Community College District and investors with an estimated $68 million of debt,” Cook-Kallio added.
A familiar voice in Pleasanton, Cook-Kallio served on the City Council from 2006 to 2014 before reaching the city’s temporary term limit. She later ran for State Assembly as a Democratic challenger but lost to Republican incumbent Catharine Baker in 2016.
A retired public school teacher at Fremont Unified for 40 years, Cook-Kallio told the Weekly, “I have the experience and the education necessary to do the job well. I have spent my career as a leader advocating for good schools that serve students well. I understand good ethical government and how to achieve that end.”
“I am a fierce advocate for all children, from all backgrounds and want to make sure that our children get the best opportunities we can offer them,” she said. “I understand the interaction between the county office and their oversight duties with local school districts and public charter schools. This is my home and where I have chosen to serve.”
“I believe in a well-educated citizenry,” Cook-Kallio added. “That is what I tried to teach the thousands of students who passed through my classroom. Please do the research and look at all the candidates. My record speaks for itself.”
Vying for his first elected office, Dillie cites priorities on his campaign website including putting families and students first, addressing parent frustrations with public education, early childhood and elementary education, a focus on leadership and declining enrollment.
“I am a first-generation college graduate, raised in a blue-collar labor union home, by parents who earned their GED. My parents instilled in me the importance of education, and the attention, care and love shown to me by public school teachers are what influenced me to become a public school educator, administrator, nonprofit leader and Rotarian,” he said in his campaign statement.
“My career experience includes a variety of educational communities, which has allowed me to understand the myriad of challenges faced by schools and the families they serve. My knowledge and understanding of the issues will prove invaluable as a Board Trustee,” he added.
“I love serving my community,” Dillie said. “Allow me to use my experience to faithfully serve and support educational services for the people of Livermore, Dublin, Pleasanton and Sunol as the Area 7 Trustee.”
Also a new candidate, Dao describes on her website a 16-year career in education focused on “developing individualized programs for K-12 students that emphasize critical-thinking and problem-solving” in which she “has helped countless students succeed academically and realize their full potential.”
Her campaign priorities include “a focus on high-quality instruction and individualized learning, redirecting funding back into the classroom, educational equality and preparing students for the workforce, standing behind our teachers, and supporting our parents and keeping them engaged in our schools.”
“As an immigrant, educator, entrepreneur and mother, I understand the importance of hard work and a good education,” Dao, who did not respond to the Weekly’s request for an interview, said in her candidate statement. “My life mission is to advocate for children and give them opportunities for equitable education, regardless of where they come from.”
“Our children deserve, and can, receive a quality education with taxpayer dollars spent right,” she added. “My leadership in education and in business has proven to be ethical, effective, inclusive and productive.”