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Mayoral Candidates Debate How to Improve San Diego Schools

San Diego's leading mayoral candidates debated what role the next mayor should play in reforming city schools at the University of San Diego on Tuesday.

— There are a lot of things San Diego’s leading mayoral candidates see eye to eye on when it comes to city schools. Like the need to boost test scores, offer families school choice and not increase city taxes to ease the schools’ budget woes.

Their disagreements came to light at the University of San Diego's mayoral education forum Tuesday night when the evening's moderator, Juan Williams of Fox News, turned the conversation to the specifics of how to actually achieve reform.

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City Councilman Carl DeMaio said as mayor he would lead by example, aiding schools through reforming the city’s pension system to free up resources for things like libraries and recreation centers.

“These same reforms we’re using in the city of San Diego, will be used in our schools to ensure that we have financial stability and can create innovation, choice and performance accountability,” he said.

DeMaio called for an end to teacher tenure and the creation of a merit-based pay system. He also labeled unions as anti-reform.

Those ideas were rejected by Congessman Bob Filner, who once served as president of the San Diego Unified Board of Education, said a mayor should stay out of school governance but be a leader in lobbying Sacramento.

“He or she can be part of the coalition that increases funding for schools,” he said. "Y'know, we've lost in the last few years 20 percent of educational funding."

Filner is the only candidate who supports Gov. Jerry Brown’s November ballot initiative to increase taxes for schools. He is also the only candidate -- he said this several times -- to have sent children to San Diego public schools and who now has grandchildren in the system

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher disagreed with the idea that the mayor has too much to worry about to get involved in the schools.

“I’ve watched this city have debates for months on end about harbor seals and fireworks – we have time to talk about schools,” Fletcher said.

He would spend that time creating a foundation to support classroom technology and pushing for experimental academies in low-performing schools.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has the most detailed plan to change school governance. It includes adding four appointed members to the school board and an educational liaison to the mayor’s office as well as creating an independent financial oversight committee.

“It calls for greater transparency and has parents involved,” she said.

While DeMaio presented the most negative characterizations of unions, all of the candidates agreed the San Diego Education Association should negotiate contract concessions to prevent the layoff of more than 1,600 teachers this fall.

In closing remarks Dumanis made the evening's most audacious promise. She said she will not only to reform the city’s schools, but to do it by the end of her first term.

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