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San Diego City Council Rejects School Board Term Limits, District Elections

The outside of the Board of Education building for the San Diego Unified School District is shown in this photo, March 24, 2016.
Katie Schoolov
The outside of the Board of Education building for the San Diego Unified School District is shown in this photo, March 24, 2016.
San Diego City Council Rejects School Board Term Limits, District Elections
San Diego City Council Rejects School Board Term Limits, District Elections GUEST: Megan Burks, education reporter, KPBS

This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The president of the San Diego unified school board said he was confident that Democrats on the city Council would vote down a proposal to impose term limits on the school board trustees and that is just what they did. On a strictly partyline vote council members defeated a proposal to introduce term limits and district elections to the school board. That kind of strict split between Democrats and Republicans on city Council does not happen often. 20 me to explain why it happened is KPBS education reporter Megan Burks. The Republicans on the city Council introduced the idea of term limits and voted in favor of the proposal. Why did they say the change was needed? They said it was all about consistency. We have term limits for local state national positions why not for the school board. How did members of the school board get elected now. The first go to a vote in their subdistrict. There are five districtwide. We had an election in southeastern San Diego this year so during the primary that community votes and then it goes to a citywide right off -- runoff in November. So the way this would have changed it is that only the district would vote on the school district members. In addition to imposing term limits they also wanted to have it so that the election stays local. It stays in southeastern San Diego or stays in the La Jolla area. The same way we elect city Council. Why does the city Council have any authority over how the school board manages it elections. It is in their charter. There is one section in their charter that says he set the rules for these elections but that is only the say that -- the only say they have over what happens in the district. Who were some of the people who testified at this city Council hearing in favor of the measure? There were community members and former district employees. We also heard from a mother. Let's hear from her. District for was robbed of the representative that we asked for. My daughter one by 59% we worked hard in our district to pick a person that we thought would represent our area and we were proud of that and we got them out there and it was fine and money came in and we elected her to be on the board. Because the other board members had constituents when it went out to citywide they were able to override anything that we say so they are overwriting our district. We say what want this person may want that person. What she is saying that putting this out to a citywide vote sort of Kennedy and the desires of the people in the district that she would've represented. The change from the June to the general was pretty drastic. She won by huge margins in June and then lost to Sharon Whitehurst pain in November. I spoke to a board member about this and he said that districtwide elections are necessary in part because there could be a legal problem if you have kids in southeastern San Diego who are going to school and tear center or are going to a magnet school somewhere else should their parents have a say on what is happening in the schools that they actually attend. He also mentioned that there are five board members. There are only two for the South of the eight and only 34 North of the eight. So he said in order to counterbalance that people south of the eight should be able to weigh in districtwide and have a say and holders three North of the eight accountable there was some discussion at last night's meeting of why don't you just add some board members so it's a little bit more even so that didn't really gain a lot of traction. There was kind of a give-and-take between the councilmember and Richard Pereira. As constituents and residents of the city of San Diego do you think that the city of San Diego should adopt the same electoral system that the produces I think that's a question that should really be taken up by the school board and education community. I do not think you are capable of engaging in conversations about what is best for the school system. So has that been the school board's response during this whole process as this idea of term limits and district elections was being promoted. He was really saying it is apples and oranges when I talk with him and that there are different considerations for the school board. To Pereira's point possibly she was saying that we keep city Council district elections local one at school board district elections. One kind of wrinkle I would throw into the mix is that yes we vote for our individual district members just because I go shopping in Hillcrest does not mean I should get to vote for who represents the area. But at the same time we have measures and propositions that are citywide that actually do impact pockets of the community is so the decision of whether or not there should be a Stadium in the downtown area went citywide. I think there is again kind of wrinkle to both arguments. Ultimately the city Council did not approve the changes to report Elector system. I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter Megan Burks. Thank you. Thank you.

A proposal to bring the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education elections process into alignment with city procedures was rejected by the City Council Tuesday on a rare party-line vote.

The plan to impose term limits and district elections on SDUSD trustees was backed by Republican council members Chris Cate, Mark Kersey, Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf, but they were outvoted by the panel's five Democrats.

Supporters of the plan said it was similar to revisions to the city's electoral process approved by voters in November—which now requires candidates to win office in the November general election, instead of the primary if they win a majority—and was an issue of fairness.

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The opponents said it was best to leave governing the school board to district officials.

Councilman Chris Ward said he ran for elective office to work on city issues like homelessness.

"We got out of the business of governing school boards 50 years ago,'' Ward said.

As the system currently works, San Diego Unified trustees can serve an unlimited number of four-year terms, and while primary elections are district-only, they have to win office in the general election via a citywide vote.

By contrast, City Council members are limited to two terms and are chosen only by registered voters in the neighborhoods they represent.

Trustee John Lee Evans, one of two board members who recently embarked on their third terms, said the proposal was "a solution in search of a problem.''

Evans said he defeated an incumbent to win office in 2008, and several new trustees have come and gone since then. As far as district-wide voting goes, trustees have to be accountable to parents and students at all of the SDUSD schools, he said.

If the proposal had gone forward, it would have led to a public vote next year to amend the City Charter—which is the city's primary governing document and also sets the overall terms of the school district's governance.