The San Diego City Council rules committee had a special meeting at city hall Wednesday (June 13) to conduct an initial review of proposals to place measures on the November 6 general election ballot.
Eight proposals were measures seeking to reform school board elections for San Diego Unified School District. People have been calling for this reform for years.
The 2016/17 San Diego County Grand Jury investigated complaints against the current election process. In May 2017 “San Diego Unified School District School Board Elections - Time for a Change” was published.
The grand jury concluded the current election process does not properly serve students or represent San Diego’s diverse communities. It causes undue financial burden on school board candidates and allows too much influence by “unions, business groups and other special-interest organizations.”
The grand jury recommended term limits and sub-district only elections.
Currently each of San Diego Unified’s five sub-districts nominates the top two candidates for their board representative in the primary election, but the entire district (which covers most of the city) chooses the representative for each sub-district in the general election.
In October 2017 the San Diego City Council responded to the grand jury findings and agreed with sub-district elections and term limits.
In January the school board established an Advisory Elections Committee which conducted a stakeholder survey.
Despite 77 percent of the community wanting no more than two four-year term limits and only 12 percent wanting three four-year term limits, the advisory committee recommended to the school board having three four-year term limits.
Despite 60 percent of the community wanting sub-district-only elections the advisory committee recommended not pursuing that change at this time. On May 29 the school board adopted the committee’s recommendations.
During public comments Tamara Hurley told councilmembers, “I want to remind you that board members appointed 15 of 24 members of the advisory committee. Their recommendations are the personal sentiments of the San Diego Unified Board. They are trying to invalidate 1,300 [survey respondents] in favor of their own ideas.”
Former San Diego Unified Board member Mitz Lee says, “Sub-district-only election is a threat to the board status quo. There are three incumbents running for re-election in 2020 so to delay the placing of the sub-district-only election is beneficial to Barrera, Evans and Payne.”
Councilmember Barbara Bry criticized the survey results and said she did not think people had enough information.
“It’s really interesting that the people who designed and implemented the survey are now saying it’s not valid,” education advocate John Stump told councilmembers.
He says, “They had the resources of a two billion dollar organization, a professional facilitator and they established a special survey design committee. Now they are unhappy with the results. So they criticize their own tool!”
Francine Maxwell made the point that the school board votes unanimously on almost everything and said there is puppeteering involved.
The rules committee voted 3-2 to continue the school board’s proposal for three four-year term limits without any change to the election process. It will gain further consideration at their next meeting on July 11. Councilmembers Bry, Ward and Cole voted in favor; Councilmembers Cate and Kersey voted against.
Bret Caslavka of Community Voices for Education spoke for his proposal for two four-year term limits and sub-district only elections: “We’ve been here for 18 months. Why are we still here? Politics, special interests, self-preservation, all at the children’s expense. I ask you to check your moral compass. If you want to tie your name and face to an item that has 12 percent support and to kill something that has 60 percent approval you are not representing your districts.”
It was defeated 2-3, with Councilmembers Cate and Kersey in favor; Bry, Ward and Cole opposed. None of the other six election reform proposals were motioned for a vote.
Despite the city council’s stated agreement with sub-district only elections, the rules committee rejected each measure that would make that happen.
It's unclear whether community leaders will attempt a signature gathering effort to go around the city council. They are encouraging people to ask their city council representative to take up the issue with the full city council.