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Local Politics 101: Running For School Board

Editor's note: A previous version of this story had incorrect information about the number of signatures needed to run for the Coronado School Board. No signatures are required. We regret the error.

San Ysidro School District board members listen to speakers during a Nov. 9, ...

Photo by Leo Castañeda / inewsource

Above: San Ysidro School District board members listen to speakers during a Nov. 9, 2017 meeting.

Every election season the focus is on the horse race — who is ahead in the polls, who has raised the most money, or who just made the biggest mistake on the campaign trail. But, that kind of coverage misses a lot of basic facts about elections that many Americans simply don’t know.

On a new series on KPBS Midday Edition, San Diego Mesa College and University of San Diego political science professor Carl Luna will answer questions about local civics and election rules submitted by members of the KPBS audience. The hope is that the information provided during this San Diego Politics 101 series can help listeners better understand other political reporting throughout the year.

In the first episode, Luna answered questions about school board elections. The answers below have been edited for clarity and brevity. To hear the full interview listen to the Midday Edition podcast.

Local Politics 101: Running For School Board


Carl Luna, political science professor, San Diego Mesa College and University of San Diego


Q: Samantha Moran of San Diego asked: How do I run for the local school board?

A: It depends on what school district you're in, there are over 40 school districts in the county. Each one has slightly different processes. It usually involves pulling papers from the County Registrar of Voters office and filing a nomination petition with some degree of signatures that you need and sometimes you have to pay money. In the city of San Diego, you would need either 200 signatures within the district you are running in and you pay $200 or if you get 800 signatures, you don't have to pay any money.

Q: Samantha Moran of San Diego also asked: How do I campaign or raise the appropriate funds?

A: (How much you need to raise) depends on the district you are in and the number of people who are running. For the smaller cities it can be $500, $1,000. For the bigger ones, like San Diego, $350,000 have been spent on some of these races. Now the new cap (for contributions) is $750 per individual. So you have to get lots of individual contributions from businesses, labor unions, partisan donors who have an ideological position they want to advance, your local neighbors.

Q: Prospective candidates might be concerned they are not qualified — do school board members need to have children in school in that district or do they have to have some sort of degree, a degree in education?

A: All you have to do is be a registered voter of legal age (and live) within the school district you're running in. And if they have district-only elections or district-based elections, (live) within that particular geographic district. The theory is, any voter has a vested interest in what is going on in our school system, so anybody can be in, you don't have to have a particular degree or any connection. Most districts do some sort of school board training for members though there's a complaint there's not enough of it given how much technical stuff you have to learn over time.

Q: What do school board members do?

A: They are basically the managing board representing the citizens, like a board of directors of a corporation. They OK major hiring decisions, school superintendents, school principals. They look at budget, that's a big one. The city schools of San Diego have about a billion dollar budget, some of it is restricted, some they have discretion on. How they're going to negotiate employee relations, labor union contracts, assignments, teaching contracts.

Q: Some political organizers say advocates should concentrate on elections from school board on up, how much influence do school board members have on the community?

A: School board members are very influential because in the United States, we like to see local control of schools... They decide how the money is going to be spent. This tends to be seen as an entry level job, you start there and then you run for city council, state assembly and on up.

Q: Specifically to Samantha’s question, part of what she’s asking, I think, is how do you run for any type of office? Is there any kind of information available for the novice candidate on fundraising, publicity, etc.?

A: The first thing you need to do is figure out how you're going to qualify for the ballot and you can go to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters and look for candidate links, filing links, or within the city you're in you can go to the city clerks office and often find those. The California Political Fair Practices website will have links on how to get onto the ballot. There after, the fundraising, if you type into Google, run for local office, you'll find a variety of different nonprofit and partisan sites that can give you ideas on how to get started, but ultimately you need to find somebody that knows how to run campaigns, if you're running in a large city you probably want to find a consultant that can give you some ideas.

Do you have a burning question about local politics, local elections or why the process works the way it does? If so, ask us here: San Diego Politics 101 — the KPBS Midday Edition segment where your questions get answered

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