In the embattled Sweetwater district, six candidates are striving for two seats on a South County high school district board that manages a $320 million budget and 41,000 students.
The board has been under siege in recent years, plagued by controversy and allegations of corruption.
Last year, the trustees voted to oust Superintendent Jesus Gandara. Two current and two former officials were indicted by the District Attorney’s office, accused of receiving thousands in unreported gifts in exchange for dolling out multi-million dollar construction contracts.
They have pleaded not guilty. One defendant, incumbent Pearl Quiñones, is running for re-election.
Money is trickling into the two races – a sharp contrast from the hundreds of thousands of dollars imbibed by candidates from contractors during the 2010 school board races.
For seat 2, candidates include: businesswoman Jesseca Saenz-Gonzalez, business manager John Vogel, a former superintendent, George Cameron, and Quiñones.
Another incumbent, teacher Bertha Lopez, is running against former Chargers player Burt Grossman for seat 4. Grossman originally said he planned to run against Quiñones, but changed his mind to battle for a seat against Lopez in a smaller field.
In the final days of the election season, Quiñones has the most cash on hand for seat 2. The former student adviser has raised $14,397, including $8,000 she already had, and spent about $6,050, according to the latest campaign forms available. That includes two last-minute contributions totaling $2,600 from PACE of California School Employees Association, and a $1,000 donation from the Latino Political Action Committee of San Diego County, run by San Ysidro school district employee Jimmy Delgado.
Quiñones also has the support of San Diego mayoral candidate Bob Filner.
Saenz-Gonzalez has raised $16,554, including $12,000 she loaned to her campaign, and spent $14,279.
The founder of the San Diego Learning Center enjoys support from several Southwestern College teachers and union leaders.
Cameron raised $9,874, including a $3,000 loan from himself and a late $1,500 from the Sweetwater teacher’s union. He’s spent $7,958 and is supported by former educator Karen Janney, National City City Clerk Mike Dalla and former Sweetwater trustee Jaime Mercado. Vogel has raised about $400 and spent $292, according to the latest documents available.
For seat 4, Lopez has raised about $6,420 compared to the approximately $931 Grossman has raised, according to the latest filings available.
In both races, the largest single donation tops out at about $1,500 compared to the $20,000 windfall bestowed in 2010 on then-candidate and current trustee Jim Cartmill from a contractor.
Similar to 2010, the campaigns have certainly been heated.
Last week, Saenz-Gonzalez told NBC7 she believes Quiñones is behind a string of harassing antics. Saenz-Gonzalez said she’s hired private security guards to escort her and her family because she fears for their safety. Quiñones has dismissed the notion that she would be involved.
That’s not the first allegation of danger in challenging a placeholder on the Sweetwater board. In 2010, then-candidate Andrew Valencia accused his opponent Arlie Ricasa of having him assaulted outside an Imperial Beach Jack-in-the-Box. Ricasa, who now faces felony corruption charges, said that allegation was absurd.
Trustees earn $759 a month.