Four of five San Diego Unified School District candidates at this year's Politifest debate. From left to right, John Lee Evans, Richard Barrera, Bill Ponder and Mark Powell. Marne Foster did not attend.
Two races in the San Diego Unified School District will test the strength of board members in the state’s second-largest school district.
In the past few years, the district has shifted into reverse after heading toward “the brink of insolvency,” as one trustee put it. In June, board members negotiated with the teachers union to prevent more than 1,400 teacher layoffs.
Much of the agreement came under the hope that Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30, would pass come Election Day.
However, polls show the measure losing ground, and the candidates in SDUSD could inherit unsettling consequences of the potential failure. If Prop. 30 doesn’t receive enough support, the district could be in for a potentially crippling round of teacher pay cuts and up to 14 additional furlough days.
Trustees represent five districts throughout San Diego. Districts A, D and E all have open seats, but District D’s incumbent trustee Richard Barerra is running unopposed.
In District A, current board member and psychologist John Lee Evans and realtor Mark Powell are running against each other. Schools in District A run through the middle of San Diego from Mira Mesa to Clairemont.
Powell received the most votes in the primary, despite being relatively new to district politics. An educator-turned businessman, Powell promises to get SDUSD on sounder financial footing and to negotiate a uniform teacher evaluation system. He hopes to avoid shortened school years.
Evans won the endorsement of the local teachers union, and has the backing of his colleagues on the board. Yet his lack of overwhelming support in the primary suggests some dissatisfaction with the way trustees are managing the district. Nevertheless, he saw the district through improved test scores and helped to keep class sizes low, he said.
Administrator Bill Ponder is running against educator Marne Foster in District E. The boundaries include schools in the southeastern corner of San Diego County from La Mesa to National City. The area struggles with a wide achievement gap between its minority and white students, according to recent Academic Performance Index scores.
Ponder aims to reform the district and restore public trust in board members. He said at a recent debate that he opposes the district’s $2.8 million bond measure, Prop. Z, which will fund school construction and technology.
Foster is also backed by the teachers union and is an elected board member with the American Federation of Teachers, Local 1931. She plans on harnessing better partnerships and grants. She also says as a mother of four, she will work on a personal-level to improve student achievement.