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Second Night Of School Debates Focuses On North Inland Communities

— Candidates for the District A seat on San Diego Unified's Board of Education debated at Marston Middle School Thursday night.

The San Diego Unified Board of Education.
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Above: The San Diego Unified Board of Education.

The candidates are seeking to represent San Diego’s north-inland neighborhoods including University City, Mira Mesa and Clairemont.

John Lee Evans has held the seat since 2008. Evans is a psychologist and former community college instructor.

He is being challenged by Jared Hamilton, a small business owner, and Mark Powell, a real estate broker who also worked as a teacher, school administrator and police officer.

Much of the discussion focused on staving off teacher layoffs and drawing families back to their neighborhood schools.

Powell said poor decisions by the board of education drew him into the race.

“Specifically the way this board promised the unions a 7-percent raise without ever verifying that they’re going to have the funds to do so,” he said

Powell believes his business experience and understanding of school operations will make him a more effective negotiator for the district.

Hamilton runs a clothing store in La Jolla. He said preserving programs like theater and music is one of his top priorities, along with attracting private money to ease the district’s budget woes.

‘Seeing all the pink slips that are going on out there," he said, "I think it’s important to keep teachers around."

Evans argued that the board has made the best financial decisions they could through years of state funding cuts.

“The best example we have are cutting millions from administration and sending that money to the classroom, and also cutting millions from busing and sending it to neighborhood schools, eliminating outside contracts and consultants,” he said.

Evans pointed to steady gains on state tests as evidence that he knows how to support improved academic achievement even in a tough financial climate.

It was the second debate hosted by the San Diego Unified Council of PTA's. The first was between candidates for the seat representing neighborhoods in southeastern San Diego.

The election comes at a time when the district is facing a fifth straight year of budget cuts. Officials must close a projected $122 million deficit for the fall. In its last budget report to the San Diego County Office of Education, the district gave itself a qualified rating, which means officials anticipate having insufficient funds to meet operating costs at some point in the next three years.

The district is also entering the third year of Program Improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Program Improvement is a series of mandates for districts or schools where targets are not met for closing the achievement gap between different ethnic and socio-economic groups.

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