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On Heels Of Measure K, San Diego Republicans Look To Change School Board Elections

Above: The outside of the Board of Education building for the San Diego Unified School District is shown in this photo, March 24, 2016.

Aired 3/7/17 on KPBS News.

Republicans on the San Diego City Council are pushing for a 2018 ballot measure that would impose term limits on San Diego Unified School Board trustees and change the way they are elected to office.

Republicans on the San Diego City Council are pushing for a 2018 ballot measure that would impose term limits on San Diego Unified School Board trustees and change the way they are elected to office.

The city has little say over how the school district does business, but its charter does set election rules for the board.

Currently, communities whittle down the candidates running to represent their area on the school board during the primary. The candidates then go to a citywide runoff in the general election. Councilmembers Chris Cate, Mark Kersey, Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf want to keep the runoff local.

And they want to limit those candidates to two four-year terms.

The move comes as the district looks to cut $124 million from its budget, potentially eliminating 1,500 jobs in the process. But Cate said discussions about the effort began during last year's election, well before the district announced the shortfall.

"One of the main things we heard last year was (about) consistency with how elections are conducted," Cate said, referring to Measure K, which required November runoffs for city elections. Previously, candidates could win outright in the June primary.

"One of the last outstanding elements that remains inconsistent with the city and the state, even the federal government, was our school board," he continued. "And we wanted to piggyback off of what happened last year."

Measure K was largely seen as a Democratic windfall because Democrats turn out to vote in higher numbers during general elections. Republicans, including Cate, opposed the measure, while labor and other progressive groups backed it.

Richard Barrera, who has nine years on the board and is currently serving as its president, has deep ties with both the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135.

"It seems like a clearly partisan, political move," Barrera said. "I think they or whoever is asking them to put forward a resolution probably doesn't like the fact that there are five Democrats on the school board."

Cate said the proposal is about fair representation and accountability. Under the current system, voters citywide could overshadow a particular community's choice.

"(When) you are elected by your residents of your individual district, you are held accountable by those who directly elect you," Cate said. "I think that just fits into what we all stand for."

Barrera argued the current system actually preserves equity.

"If you create a system where you've got three school board districts north of (Interstate) 8 and two school board districts south of 8, and the people who are running for the districts north of 8 never have to be accountable to the voters south of 8, it really creates a threat to the district's emphasis on equity," Barrera said.

He said he is confident Democrats on the City Council will vote down the idea.

A memo issued Friday asks council President Myrtle Cole to bring the ballot measure proposal to the full council for a vote. The charter amendment would appear on the 2018 ballot and need a simple majority to pass.

Voters traditionally like term limits. Most recently, voters in the South Bay approved term limits for trustees in the Sweetwater Union High School District.

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