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Local Politics 101: Running For School Board

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

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. 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
Local Politics 101: Running For School Board GUEST:Carl Luna, political science professor, San Diego Mesa College and University of San Diego

>>> Every election season, there is so much focus on the horserace. Who is ahead in the polls. Who's raised the most money. Who made the biggest mistake on the campaign trail. That kind of coverage misses a lot of basic facts about elections that many Americans simply do not know. We are starting a series to help answer some of those questions about Civics and election roles with the hope that the information can become a basis for the other political reporting you will hear throughout the year. It is sort of a San Diego politics 101 and who better to ask then San Diego Mesa College political science professor and frequent political commentator Carl Luna. Welcome back, Carl. We started the series of the premise that many well-informed citizens actually do not know some important things about how the election process works. Do you find that to be true? >> I don't just find that to be true but the average citizens who have a day life, I teach this and talk about it, but to prepare for some of the questions we will ask across the series, I have to do a deep dive. There's a lot of nitty-gritty in the county that has 3 million residents and a bunch of elected offices and different cities and jurisdictions. It is fascinating to find out how things actually work once you open the hood. >>> We sent out an initial request for questions for Marlys and his. We received one from Samantha Maranda SAN DIEGO. She asked how do I run to the local school board and how I campaign or raise the appropriate funds? >> The first part of the question is how to run from the local school board depending on your school district, there are 40 school districts in the county. Everyone has a different process. It usually involves pulling papers from the county registrar or voters office and filing a nominating petition with some degree of signatures that you need. Sometimes you have to pay money. In the city of Coronado you get 30 signatures to qualify for their ballot for school board. In the city of San Diego you need to hundred signatures and you pay $200 within the district to run and we can get 800 signatures, you don't have to pay money. It does not seem like a huge threshold but a couple of hundred bucks here and there and the signatures can take time to get. >>> How do I campaign and raise the appropriate funds? >> You do that carefully. It depends on the district are in and a number of people that are running, for smaller cities it could be a couple of hundred bucks 500 bucks, the bigger one San Diego, it could be up to $350,000. You raise your money in 500 or the new Is $750 per individual. Have to get a lot of individual contributions. When you get those from Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, partisan donors who have an ideological position they want to advance, local neighbors. >>> Prospective candidates might be concerned they are unqualified. School board members need to have children in school in the district or do they have to have some sort of a degree or a degree in education? >> All you have to do is be a look registered voter of legal age in the school district to running in. And when they have school district elections they are district based elections within that particular district. The theory is any voter has a vested interest in what is going on in our school system. Anyone can be in. You don't have to a degree or a particular connection. Most districts do some sort of a school board training for members. There is a complaint that there is probably not enough given how much technical stuff you have to learn over time. >>> What to school board members do? They do everything. They are the managing board representing the citizens like the board of a corporation the okay major hiring decisions, school superintendents, half, principles are on the schools, they look at budget, that's a big one, the schools in San Diego have a billion-dollar budget. Some of it is restricted and have to spend money in certain ways. How they will negotiate employer relations and labor union contracts, science teaching contracts, pretty much anything you do as a senior administrator is a major corporation, you do as a school board. >>> Some organizers say advocates should concentrate on elections from the school board up. How much influence the school board members have a community? >> School board members are very influential. The United States would like see local control of schools. Your school board has a tickler partisan, ideological, pro-open workplace environment, you can have very different policies that come out of it. They decide how the money is spent. There are influential. But since most people will have a lot of contact with their public schools, this tends to be seen as an entry level job. You start there and then you run for city Council, state assembly, on. When given the magnitude of the impact they have, you would think this would be a mid or later career position. >>> Listening to you, Carl, it becomes clear that this can be quite complicated. Specifically to submit this question, a part of what I think she is asking us how to run for any type of office. Is there any kind of information available for the novice candidate on fundraising, publicity, etc.? >> The first thing you'll do is how do you qualify for the ballot. You look for candidate filing lakes are within the city are in or with the County, you can go to the city clerk's office and find those. Also if you go to a one shot fits all, the California political fair practices website will have links on how to get onto the pallet. After the fundraising, if you type into your Google, run for a local office, you will find a variety of different nonprofit and partisan sites that can give you ideas on how to get started. Ultimately, you need to find somebody who needs to run -- knows how to run a campaign. If you're in a large city you probably need a consultant who can give you ideas. >>> Do you need to belong to a particular local political party ? >> local elections are nonpartisan. The parties do not directly get involved in elections. They are an indirect resource. >>> I've been speaking with Santego Mesa College political science professional -- professor Carl Luna. This is the first in the series of what we are learning about politics in San Diego 101. Is there anything you were wondering about the politics elections and why things work the way they do, email us at KPBS Midday Edition that KPBS.org. Will be talking again, Carl. >> Sounds good, Maureen.

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