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Dumanis Unveils ‘Bold Reform’ Plan for City Schools


The district attorney, who is running for mayor of San Diego, wants the mayor's office to be far more involved in running the San Diego Unified School District.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis today said that - if she is elected mayor later this year - she will propose fundamental changes in the administration of San Diego schools.

Dumanis' main reform would be to expand the current school board to nine members, by adding four new trustees appointed by the mayor to the five already elected by the voters.

The four appointees would be nominated by a panel of parents and academics appointed by the mayor. However, their recommendations would not be binding.

“The future of our schools is threatened by the possibility of financial insolvency, a lack of stability in top management positions, and a structure that puts too much distance between parents and decision-makers,” said Dumanis. “Leadership is required to provide a vision for first-class schools in San Diego, and transforming that vision into reality.”

Saying school board decisions must be far more transparent, Dumanis also proposed appointing an independent financial advisory board to weigh in on union contract negotiations, and to analyze the financial decisions by school trustees.

Dumanis, a Republican, was emphatic that there should be no new taxes -- particularly the parcel-tax idea that's been floated -- put before voters in order to bail out local schools.

Her other proposals include bringing parents into labor negotiations, forming a task force to advocate for state legislative changes and placing an educational liaison on the mayor's staff. Echoing current board members, Dumanis also said employee concessions are needed to solve ongoing budget problems.

Many of the initiatives Dumanis is proposing, including increasing student access to technology and independent financial reviews already exist within San Diego Unified schools, according to Board of Education President John Lee Evans.

“I think a lot of people are just not – including probably Bonnie Dumanis are just not informed about this and would be really surprised, delighted to see what we’re actually doing,” he said.

But Evans added that all community input on how to make city schools better is welcome.

Mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher has also made school reform a priority – also calling for state laws to support digital innovation and increased mayoral involvement in city schools.

Mayors in New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. have gained control over those cities' schools. Some researchers say that consistent leadership has led to student achievement and financial management improvements in those districts, while other say no conclusive connection can be drawn between mayoral control and those kinds of outcomes.

Tying the mayor's office to city schools is also a political gamble. Observers agree former Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his reelection campaign because of voter dissatisfaction with sweeping education reforms.

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