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Ballot Measure Would Establish Term Limits For San Diego Unified Trustees

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in this photo, Sept. 15, 2017.

Should San Diego Unified School Board trustees be limited to three, four-year terms? Voters will get to weigh in on the question next month when they vote on Measure H.

The literature is mixed on whether term limits are good for governance. Studies suggest they do lead to more diverse boards, but also boards with more inexperienced members who are more likely to lean on staff recommendations. (In San Diego Unified’s case, staff would be the superintendent and her central office.)

One thing is clear: a majority of people who responded to a district survey this spring want term limits, so Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne submitted Measure H.

“You get in, you make your contribution and you move on. And that’s the way life is: There’s a time and a season for everything,” she said.

It came about after a Grand Jury report and a year of public debate pushed the board to put some kind of election reform on the ballot.

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San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate is against Measure H because he says it isn’t what the public wanted. Survey respondents favored two terms, not three, and they wanted the district to move away from citywide voting for trustees, which isn’t included in the measure. The omission has since spurred a lawsuit.

“It’s three terms. It doesn’t apply retroactively, so everyone gets to reset and everyone who has been in office for a long time gets three additional terms,” he said. “And, again, I think it comes to having the district-only election as part of it, as well.”

The board’s longest-serving trustees, Richard Barrera and John Lee Evans, have been in office for a decade. Under Measure H, they could stay on the board until 2032.

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Whitehurst-Payne defended the decision to hold off on eliminating citywide voting for school board elections, saying that 60 percent of the district’s students live south of Interstate-8 but have just 40 percent of the board members, so citywide voting gives them a stronger voice in district matters.

The board agreed to revisit that proposal in 2020.

Meanwhile, voters in the Southwestern Community College District will also see a term limit measure on their ballot this year. Measure CC would establish three, four-year terms beginning in 2019 for district trustees, exclusive of past terms served.

Measure H would limit San Diego Unified School District trustees to three terms, starting in 2020. Opponents say it’s a watered-down version of what constituents actually want.

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