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Candidates Debate How To Serve SE San Diego On School Board

— The candidates for the only open seat on San Diego Unified’s Board of Education outlined their visions for the school district at Knox Middle School Wednesday night.

Marne Foster and William Ponder are vying to replace Sheila Jackson as the board’s representative for Sub District E, which covers the southeastern region of the city, including Skyline, Paradise Hills, Encanto and parts of City Heights.

Aired 4/19/12 on KPBS News.

Candidates vying to represent the city’s southeastern neighborhoods on San Diego Unified’s Board of Education debated at Knox Middle School Wednesday night.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

The two took audience questions for an hour and a half. Topics including charter schools, student busing, bullying and improving board members’ working relationship.

Foster is an administrator and instructor for the San Diego Community College District’s Continuing Education programs. And Ponder is a former teacher, college instructor and college administrator.

Despite the broad range of issues, Foster said she sees two critical issues she would focus on if elected.

“Student achievement is key," she said, "making sure that every school is a quality school. Making sure that we close that achievement gap, while seeking funding and truly funding education in away that we have not done in so long.”

She touted her work targeting resources to serve students and returned many times through the evening to the theme of making decisions or supporting polices based on community input.

Topping Ponder’s list of concerns are the looming budget gap and the new phase of federally mandated reforms to close the achievement gap.

“Solving the fiscal issue – $122 million dollars," he said. "This year we may be able to pay our bills but the next two or three years we’re not able to. Program improvement, we’re going into year three so that’s the second piece, because under No Child Left Behind the district has to focus specifically on interventions and programs to get us out of program improvement.”

Ponder pointed to his administrative experience as an indication that he knows how to bring unions to the negotiating table – one cost cutting measure San Diego’s teachers’ union has yet to agree to.

The district has issued notices of possible layoffs to more than 1,600 certificated staff, which includes teachers, counselors and nurses. Hundreds more notices will likely go out later this month to classified staff like cafeteria workers, bus drivers, janitors and office clerks.

Each candidate said they support ballot initiatives to increase education funding. When they were asked for other solutions to the district's financial problems Foster said she is excited to see community members engaging in the issue of education funding and they need to work together to realign the state's spending priorities in favor of public schools. Ponder pointed to excess property the district owns, which he believes should be used to generate revenue locally.

Both candidates also agreed that changes should be made to the teacher evaluation and firing process should be changed to take performance into consideration. Each acknowledged making changes would be a difficult process that should include parents, teachers and administrators.

Candidates for the Sub District A seat, which represents neighborhoods including University City, Mira Mesa and Clairemont will debate at 6 p.m. Thursday at Marston Middle School.

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