Friday, June 8, 2018
[San Diego County] Editorial: Why some are increasingly upset with the San Diego school board
Blog note: this editorial references the grand jury’s criticism of the election process for school board members.
Re-election seemed to be a shoo-in for two San Diego school board incumbents seeking new terms when the formal deadline to announce a challenge came and went with no one deciding it was worth the time or money to target the labor-friendly pair. Then a duo boosted by the county Republican Party qualified as last-minute write-in candidates just last week, meaning they each only needed a single vote — their own — on Tuesday to advance to a November runoff election. It’s the latest sign that a chorus of people are increasingly upset about the San Diego Unified School District’s arrogance.
Two recent major missteps illustrate the extent of it. First, school officials suddenly announced that a much-maligned plan to destroy email communications after only a year, which they approved a year ago, would go into effect on June 1. Then, they essentially shrugged off the results of a massive survey that they had commissioned of 1,243 people, a majority of whom are the latest group to call for an end to the anachronistic way school board elections are held. In so doing, that majority joined the San Diego County Grand Jury, four Republican City Council members and others who have criticized an election process that stipulates school board candidates first run for office in one of five subdistricts and then has the top two vote-getters in each run again in a citywide election, which costs far more money and favors candidates endorsed by the teachers union.
How unusual is that kind of election? It’s unique among K-12 school districts in San Diego County. But it’s also how San Diego voters elected City Council members from 1939, when it was spelled out in the City Charter, until 1988 when residents approved a charter change to require district elections in all City Council races. That’s led to more diverse representation among council members as well as council members with different priorities from different areas of the city, better reflecting their communities. It’s also meant council members who are responsible to more defined constituencies.
It’s past time to make that change in the San Diego Unified School District. Sixty percent of the 1,243 people school officials surveyed about school board elections agree that there should be subdistrict elections in both the primary and general elections, nearly double the 32 percent who said no. Yet the school board decided to back only a proposal to ask voters to adopt term limits.
In the school survey, 81 percent supported term limits for school board trustees. Asked how long term limits should last if adopted, 54 percent said two four-year terms, 23 percent said a single four-year term and 12 percent said three four-year terms. That last option is what the school board asked the San Diego City Council to put before voters, a decision that is up to the council because language governing school board elections is in the City Charter.
It’s ridiculous that the proposal put forth by the school board included nothing about district-only elections because other school districts have been adopting that governance model statewide after being threatened with lawsuits that argue citywide elections dilute the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice. Will it take a lawsuit for San Diego city schools to do the right thing? Maybe.
It may also take a lawsuit for city schools to do the right thing and store emails, which are public records by law, for longer than a year. Voice of San Diego sued the school district last week to prevent it from purging thousands of emails. A judge set a June 22 hearing in the case, and to its credit, the school district won’t delete any emails before then.
But should San Diegans have to file lawsuits to ensure San Diego schools are being run in the most open, transparent and efficient way?
Of course not. That’s what elections are for.
June 7, 2018
The San Diego Union-Tribune
By The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board