OAKLAND -- Two weeks after voters elected her challenger to the Oakland school board, Alice Spearman is still fighting to keep her seat, this time in court.

Spearman's opponent, James Harris, won by a 14-point margin with nearly 57 percent of the vote, supported by a groundswell of financial and volunteer support marshaled by Great Oakland Public Schools, a relatively new coalition of reform-minded parents, teachers and others in the Oakland school system.

On Tuesday, however, Spearman's attorney filed a motion in Alameda County Superior Court, arguing Harris has no right to sit on the Oakland school board because of where he lives. Harris lives in Oakland, but his neighborhood -- Sheffield Village -- broke away from the school district decades ago, joining neighboring San Leandro Unified.

Oakland map

Residents on Harris' street have a say in who represents them on the Oakland City Council District 7 seat but not on the Oakland school board. They elect a representative on the San Leandro board of education instead.

In other words, Harris wasn't able to vote in his own race.

"They didn't vote for themselves, but they want to represent District 7 on the school board," Spearman said, referring to Harris. "It's asinine."

But the case is complicated. The Oakland City Charter -- which governs election rules -- states that the City Council boundaries must be identical to the school district boundaries. In addition, Harris' children, who attend a private school, had the option of attending one of two so-called "neighborhood schools," one in San Leandro Unified and one in Oakland Unified.


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Since Harris lives in City Council District 7, Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker has determined he is eligible to represent the same district on the school board. Parker's testimony was presented in late August in response to an earlier effort by Spearman to keep Harris' name off the ballot. Judge William A. McKinstry denied that motion. He ruled that even if Harris did live in the San Leandro school district, "it is unclear whether that fact would render him legally ineligible to run for the Oakland School Board Director for District 7, given the text of the City Charter."

Spearman's attorney, Marc Guillory, filed another challenge in September, but later dropped it, saying his client would wait until after the election to decide how to proceed.

Harris and his attorney, Rod Divelbiss, have said they aren't too concerned about the latest disqualification effort, given the city's charter and the judge's August ruling. Still, Harris said it was disappointing Spearman hadn't conceded.

"I really feel like she's picking on me because she didn't get the outcome she wants," Harris said.

Spearman, who did not attend the school board meeting after the election, has represented District 7 on the school board since 2005. An Oakland Unified School District graduate whose children and grandchildren have gone through the system, she is known for her tough demeanor and frank, seemingly unfiltered remarks to staff members, board colleagues, and even members of the audience.

Guillory, Spearman's attorney, said he issued subpoenas to the San Leandro school district, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, and the Alameda County Treasury. A hearing has been set for Dec. 19.

Oakland's elected officials take office in early January.

In an email, Guillory wrote, "While this is admittedly a complicated issue, it does appear that Ms. Spearman has the truth and facts on her side, and we look forward to the hearing and discussion on December 19, 2012."

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.IBAbuzz.com/education. Follow her at Twitter.com/katymurphy.