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Registrar Certifies Write-In Candidates For San Diego Unified Board Races

Kevin Beiser, Tom Keliinoi, Michael McQuary and Marcia Nordstrom.

Photo by Courtesy photo, Kris Arciaga and Milan Kovacevic

Above: Kevin Beiser, Tom Keliinoi, Michael McQuary and Marcia Nordstrom.

Re-election was all but guaranteed for San Diego Unified Trustees Kevin Beiser and Michael McQuary. But now, two challengers have qualified as write-in candidates for school board.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters has certified Tom Keliinoi and Marcia Nordstrom as write-in candidates for next week’s election. The Republican-backed competitors had to collect 200 signatures each to qualify.

RELATED: Uncontested San Diego Unified Elections May Be Contested After All

Because the top two vote-getters in school board elections must go to a citywide runoff in November, Keliinoi and Nordstrom are likely to gain five more months to campaign. Even a single vote from the candidates themselves would put them in the top two, since each race has just two candidates.

“It’s humbling to have that many people want to support you and ask you to be a voice for kids and teachers,” Keliinoi said as he was dropping his signatures off at the registrar last week. “So I stepped up to that challenge and believe that with sound fiscal responsibility, we can put students and teachers first.”

“I’ve been talking to a lot of parents. I’m a parent myself and have had questions with the school board and what’s been going on in the schools,” said Nordstrom, who’s sent her children to district, charter and private schools. “One of the biggest issues we’ve had is we’re not getting answers or we’re getting answers after the fact.”

Nordstrom is a managing partner of Engel & Völkers, a real estate company, and has served on the Pacific Beach Town Council and planning committee.

Keliinoi is president and co-founder of San Terra Properties, a property management and real estate company. He’s also a board chair of Elevate Elementary Charter School in Serra Mesa.

There was almost a third challenger. Loxie Gant was five signatures short of qualifying as a write-in candidate against McQuary in sub-district C. A registered Independent, Gant said she submitted 232 signatures from friends, family and others in her network, but fell short because some had not updated their addresses with the registrar or wrote illegibly.

Nordstrom said she submitted more than 400 signatures because such problems are common. Both she and Keliinoi received help collecting their signatures from the Republican Party of San Diego County.

“It’s very hard when you have the labor union backing the Democratic candidate and the Republican party backing another candidate, because it’s not supposed to be a partisan race,” said Gant, who was in the news last year for blowing the whistle on alleged sexual harassment at La Jolla High School. “I think our world is so divided right now that the school board is someplace politics should stay out of, so I was running on what I called ‘The Mom Party.’”

Gant said partisan backing of school board candidates is one reason she didn’t run as a traditional candidate. She said she decided three weeks ago to run as a write-in candidate, and was “devastated” to learn she couldn’t.

RELATED: Group Is Challenging San Diego Unified’s Elections Instead Of Its Incumbents

The last-minute siege comes as some call into question election rules that favor board incumbents, including the signature requirement. But Beiser and McQuary say the rules favor results.

“We have the highest graduation rate in the state of California — No. 1 Latino graduation rate, No. 1 African-American graduation rate,” Beiser told KPBS earlier this month. “We were just recognized in Washington, D.C., as the No. 1 school district in the United States of America with the highest academic growth when you compare San Diego Unified with other like school districts.”

Still, Beiser voted with his colleagues Tuesday to move forward with a potential ballot measure to impose term limits on trustees — something those speaking out against elections all agree on. McQuary was absent from the meeting.

McQuary said in an email he welcomes the challenge. "I entered the race in 2014 to have a public discussion about schools and education in San Diego," he said.

"While we have much more to do and greater challenges ahead, I will use my experience as a community leader and my professional training as an instructional leader to expand trust, fairness, equity, excellence, accountability and continuous improvement so all children in our schools can develop a well rounded education, master essential emotional and social skills, establish global cultural and environmental competencies, and be prepared for a life that fulfills their dreams," McQuary said.

McQuary and been on the board for more than three years. Beiser has served on the board for more than seven.

It’s official. There are now challengers in the races for two seats on the San Diego Unified School Board.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment from Michael McQuary.

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