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Board Appointee Appears To Have Won San Diego School Board Seat

Photo credit: Courtesy photos

LaShae Collins, left, and Sharon Whitehurst-Payne are vying to represent the San Diego Unified School District in District E, which includes Southeastern San Diego.

UPDATE: 1:06 p.m., Nov. 9, 2016:

With all precincts reporting, Sharon Whitehurst-Payne appears to have successfully defended her seat on the San Diego Unified School Board from competitor LaShae Collins. She has 55.7 percent of the votes. Some provisional and mail-in ballots remain uncounted.

Whitehurst-Payne's 96,127 votes were cast citywide, giving her an edge in the November runoff despite a lackluster performance in the June primary. School board races go first before constituents in San Diego Unified's subdistricts. In June, Collins won support from nearly 60 percent of voters in Area E, the subdistrict for southeastern San Diego neighborhoods.

Collins had high-profile supporters, including her boss, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, Assemblywoman Toni Atkins and the San Diego County Democratic Party. But it appears the incumbent advantage may also hold true for appointed incumbents.

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

San Diego Unified School Board District E candidate La Shae Collins speaks at the Westin Hotel in downtown San Diego, June 7, 2016. Collins will face Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne in November.

As the board appointee to replace Marne Foster, who resigned following a highly publicized scandal, Whitehurst-Payne perhaps had greater name recognition among voters citywide. Whitehurst-Payne was the face of district's efforts to expand college course offerings at San Diego high schools and came into leadership as long-awaited construction projects broke ground. She also became the lead spokeswoman on the board's annual review of Superintendent Cindy Marten.

The review gave Whitehurst-Payne a platform to highlight the district's successes during her eight months in office, most notably its astounding 92 percent graduation rate for a class faced with new, more rigorous graduation requirements.

With a four-decade-long career in education, first as a teacher then as an administrator, Whitehurst-Payne also boasted the support of the teachers' and classified employees' unions.

Voters citywide were similarly kind to two other school board incumbents. John Lee Evans bested newcomer Stephen Groce in Area A with 69 percent of the votes. And Richard Barrera, who ran uncontested in Area D, had 100 percent of the votes.

UPDATE: 5:45 a.m., Nov. 9, 2016:

San Diego Unified School Board appointee, Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, was leading her competitor, Lashae Collins on Wednesday morning 56 percent to 44 percent, with 91 percent of the precincts reporting.

UPDATE: 11:30 p.m., Nov. 8, 2016:

Sharon Whitehurst-Payne is slowly gaining ground in the race to represent schools in San Diego Unified School District's Area E. With 27 percent of precincts reporting, she has 56.1 percent of the votes and leads by more than 11,000 votes.

UPDATE: 8 p.m., Nov. 8, 2016:

Despite a primary win for San Diego school board candidate LaShae Collins, her competitor in Area E and board appointee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne took the lead in early returns. As of 8 p.m. Whitehurst-Payne had 55.5 percent of the vote. Collins had 44.5 percent.

In Area A, early results mirrored those from the June primary. Incumbent and former board president John Lee Evans had 71.9 percent of the votes; Stephen Groce had 28.2 percent.

Original post:

Two spots are up for grabs on the San Diego Unified School Board this general election — Area A trustee, who represents schools in Clairemont, University City and Mira Mesa, and Area E trustee, who represents schools in southeastern San Diego.

The seat representing San Diego and Hoover high schools is also up for election, but current Trustee Richard Barrera is running for it unopposed.

Who is running?

John Lee Evans, an eight-year veteran on the board, is competing against Clairemont parent Stephen Groce to represent Area A schools. Evans, whose children went to San Diego Unified schools, is a practicing psychologist and has been a classroom teacher. He served as school board president from 2011 to 2013.

Stephen Groce is a father of three who serves on the Clairemont Town Council; an advisory committee to his neighborhood's city council district office; and on the San Diego Police Department's Captain's Advisory, Recruitment, and Training Board. He works as an asset protection professional, most recently for Sports Chalet.

In Area E, LaShae Collins and Sharon Whitehurst-Payne are vying to fill a seat left vacant by Marne Foster. The former trustee resigned after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for receiving financial gifts above the legal limit.

Collins is an adjunct professor of Africana Studies at San Diego State University and district director for Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. She attended San Diego Unified schools herself, graduating from Lincoln High School, and currently sends her kids to schools in the district. Collins has served on the Parent Teacher Association and is co-chair of a council that represents Lincoln and its feeder schools.

Whitehurst-Payne was appointed in February to replace Foster on an interim basis. Whitehurst-Payne is retired. She was previously a classroom teacher in San Diego Unified, worked in human resources for the district, and taught in the School of Education at Cal State San Marcos.

Who is supporting whom?

Evans received more than 72 percent of the vote in the June primary election, when only residents in Area A boundaries could vote on the race. School board elections go to a citywide vote in the general election.

Evans has endorsements from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson; the union representing teachers, counselors and nurses; the San Diego Unified Police Officers Association; and the San Diego Taxpayers Advocate.

Groce does not list endorsements on his campaign website. The Clairemont Democratic Club listed him an "acceptable" candidate.

Collins received nearly 60 percent of her area's vote in June. She has endorsements from Democratic assemblywomen Toni Atkins and Shirley Weber; San Diego councilmembers Myrtle Cole and David Alvarez; the San Diego County Democratic Party; and the California Charter Schools Association.

Whitehurst-Payne has endorsements from several labor organizations, including the San Diego Education Association representing teachers, counselors and nurses; the statewide union for classified school employees; the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council; and the electrical workers and building trades unions. Whitehurst-Payne also lists several of the community's religious leaders as her supporters.

What are the issues?

Both Groce and Collins stressed the need for better transparency and parent engagement, while Evans and Whitehurst-Payne touted their experience working on some of the district's recent successes.

Last school year, San Diego Unified announced it's on track to reach a 92 percent graduation rate despite significantly increasing graduation requirements. The state has not yet certified the graduation rate, and Voice of San Diego found some students were excluded from the calculation. But the district is billing it as a sign it is well on its way to restoring quality schools in every neighborhood — many parents opt to bus their children to a school outside their neighborhood or have enrolled their students at charter schools. Both Evans and Whitehurst-Payne say they want to continue that work.

The challenge comes as the state radically changes the way it grades schools, focusing on more qualitative measures like school climate and suspension rates in addition to test scores.

San Diego Unified is also trying to improve college readiness among its students by offering more community college courses for free on its campuses. But the district has struggled to boost enrollment in the courses at schools in historically disenfranchised neighborhoods, particularly in Area E.

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