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John de Beck Discusses Time On School Board, Challenges District Faces In Future

John de Beck has served on the San Diego Unified School Board for 20 years.
San Diego Unified School District
John de Beck has served on the San Diego Unified School Board for 20 years.
John de Beck Discusses Time On School Board, Challenges District Faces In Future
What are the most significant changes that have happened in the San Diego Unified School District over the last two decades? What are the biggest challenges currently facing the district? We speak to outgoing trustee John de Beck about his time on the school board, and his defeat in the last election.

What are the most significant changes that have happened in the San Diego Unified School District over the last two decades? What are the biggest challenges currently facing the district? We speak to outgoing trustee John de Beck about his time on the school board, and his defeat in the last election. Plus, find out why Mr. de Beck disagrees with some of the strategies the board is taking in its efforts to fix the district's ongoing budget problems.


John de Beck, 20 year veteran trustee for the San Diego Unified School District. Mr. de Beck's time on San Diego Unified's board of education will come to an end on December 31.


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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. San Diego unified school board member John de Beck recently lost a close reelection battle, he's been a member of the school board for 20 years, and next year, his cease will be occupied by I new school board member, [CHECK AUDIO]. To evaluate the district's current budget problems and he's been quoted as saying he now feels free to talk frankly about his opinions of we'll hear what he has to say. I'd like to welcome my guest, San Diego school board member John de Beck. John, good morning and welcome.

JOHN DE BECK: Oh, well, thank you, it's a pleasure to be on.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, you've always been known for speaking rather frankly. What do you think you can say now about San Diego unified that you haven't been able to say before?

JOHN DE BECK: Well, you know, it's pretty obvious that they're in very deep trouble. And of course I'm relieved of the pain of watching what I believe is a -- the falling apart of San Diego city schools. And even with all the kind of reforms that people are talking about, I think the missing ingredient is that this is like a parallel with the auto industry, the unions are busy fighting for their side, and the business interests are fighting for their side. It's just a big battle for normal street, which by the way is the title of a book I'm writing. Of but the issue is really everybody, everybody has to give in and realize it's a public interest to save what we've got and we're not gonna do that. What happened last year was we agreed to a contract that put us in a very bad position and that will probably require a loss of police services for making the school safe, the loss of gifted programs, lay off of many teachers, and basically what happens is you got surviving teachers with pay raises and a lot fewer teachers around who are the young ones who have the stimulating way of reaching kids.



JOHN DE BECK: So it's a serious time. Of for me, it's a relief, but, you know, I think I had a lot of ideas that would contribute. But apparently people didn't think so.

JOHN DE BECK: Let me remind our listeners that they're invited to join the conversation if they'd like at 1-888-895-5727. Now, John, in one of your final votes on the board earlier this month, you voted against all the other members on the board. Of you did not approve a large list of proposed cuts to try to cover a huge $120 million kev sit for the 2010, 2011 budget. Why not? Why did you cast your vote against that?

JOHN DE BECK: Basically what the deal is is in a laundry list of all the cuts were basically because the board wasn't willing to do across the board cuts with potentially vouchers or something that would provide the opportunity to keep all of these programs open. So not even having the discussion about what the consequences of would be when I proposed a pay cut across the board basically put them in a position where they're forced to now cut programs. And I was trying to save the programs and also save layoffs. In this case they backed themselves into a corner. Now they're gonna have to lay people off and close program and damage safety at schools because they're gonna have to cut into the police -- the school police and other safety issues.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, as I mentioned in the opening, you you have been on the San Diego unified school board for 20 years. What are some of the most significant changes you've seen in that time.

JOHN DE BECK: Well, the most significant change is the lack of public confidence and public schools and declining enroll am. The rise of charter schools and basically even though they're not anymore effective than public schools, basically the public attitude has slung away from the public education, which I think is unfortunate.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you think -- what was your take on this revolving door of school attend apts that the school board had in recent years?

JOHN DE BECK: Well, we were searching for a fit. We basically kept finding situations where the people weren't willing to compromise. And that's what part of the battle is. If there isn't any compromise, basically, you still have to dig in and fight your war. I did that. . I admit it, I'm not saying I've been, like, this peace maker on the board. But when you're back to the wall, you have to fight for what you believe in. And I did that. Of I may have lost this election, close enough, I have to thank the people that had faith in me. I did lose some confidence in the teachers, the teachers lost confidence in me, rather. Of and you know, my interest was to product them not to hurt them. But that's -- that's not the way they looked at it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with out going San Diego unified school board member, John de Beck. And if you'd like to comment, we're taking your cawls at 1-888-895-5727. Barbara is on the line from Vista, good morning, Barbara, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Retired for quite a while now, but I will -- just want to make this comment to you. In the days before the screens, students, as far as I was concerned and all the teachers with whom I taught, noticed that students read for enjoyment, we did as children. And we -- we live in a society which respected education, educators, and promoted learning, promoted and encouraged it. I feel that's missing today in our society, and I think we have to look at it. No one ever mentions it, we blame the teachers, the unions, the administrators, it is curriculum. But how about the society itself of what it promotes and what it doesn't? And when we provide our young people with larger and larger screens which do nothing in my opinion but distract from what we want them -- we say we want them to read at a higher level, to write at a more proficient level, to communicate verbally and have manners and know our history and be literate, and yet it seems we do everything we can in this society to make sure that never happens.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Barbara, let me get a response. Of let me get a response from school member John de Beck. What do you think about the culture, the whied that Barbara is raiding that the actual culture of our society has sort of been antieducation over the last generation?

JOHN DE BECK: Well, to Barbara, I want to say thanks for your service. And I think we could be really good friends. But I think the screens, one --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The screens being this testing is that what you're talking about.

JOHN DE BECK: Well, not only that, but you know, right now, there's a movement in California, we're offering on line public education, AT credit through the Internet. Now, that's the screen. You know.


JOHN DE BECK: So basically what we have thought, and of course Barbara knows that the interaction between a teacher and a student is a real important motivating factor. Now, it's true that I can remember in my career when the time when I called up a parent said, yeah, I need help with your kid, and they say, well, it's all your fault, when the year before, people were saying, how can I help? So yeah, that's a change in attitude about teachers and I've been in on that. And I know Barbara has too. Basically, we're free at last, both of us, we're out of the picture. But I have to agree that the support for public education, and motivating kids to learn has declined in recent years.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take a call from David calling from down town San Diego. Good morning, David, welcome to These Days 6789.

NEW SPEAKER: Well, thank you very much for taking the call, and for taking this message to John. John, I've noted you many different times from the audience, and you have been a little prickly at times, but over all you've contributed in such a great 20 years that we take the poor aspects that a lot of people get a little hot about, and weigh it with all the good things that you have done. And I just wanted to know from you, what do you believe was the political climate that brought in your departure and such a great contribution that you have made?


JOHN DE BECK: Well, I think of it as being out spoken on issues like I'll say the Arizona immigration issue which really wasn't an issue for San Diego city schools but never the less I still had to express my opinions that I thought it was a bad law of also I had to take a position which maybe looked like a contrarian against unions on the project labor agreement. But I was basically -- and I think I'll be vindicated that that agreement has not helped local employees. So all in all, I have this -- you know, I have to say I'm my own worst enemy by having opinions and raising issues, I could have maid it safe. But I didn't, but you know, at 80, I have things to live with, I shave every morning and look at my face and say okay, well, I believe in what I believe in. Of and other people have lost that faith in me, I'm sorry, but this time for somebody also.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: John, I just wanted to say recently you've been quoted as saying this, this is the most depressing year that you think you've ever had on the school board. And I know -- I don't believe you said that because you lost the election. What was so depressing about it?

JOHN DE BECK: Well, it's basically that the fact is everybody, everybody and I call them the grass hoppers and the ants, I consider myself an ant, but all the people on the school board were looking to Sacramento to save themselves, they're looking to the federal government to save themselves, and they basically didn't look at themselves to save the local institution, which I have -- you know be I've been involved in San Diego schools for over 50 years and I love this place. But I think the new ladders are not looking for the preservation of the organization so much as they are just following dogmatic views that don't want get them anywhere and will not save the institution.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of our callers wants to know, do you think that prop 13 should be reversed?

JOHN DE BECK: Oh, no, I think prop 13 has provisions in it that, you know, do protect old folks like me. But never the less, there are provisions in it that guarantee, for example, commercial property is exchanged -- that isn't exchanged but is basically in holding companies retains its old prop 13 value. So the business side of it that seems to be examined. Well, you know, we've got locals for example, and I do not want to pick on them, but local, let's say commercial enters, where the property hasn't changed hands, but the business has 3 or 4 times and so the business, the owner of the property is not the person that's really managing that hotel. And so the taxes are considerably lower than they should be.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And if they made those changes do you think that would help the school budget.

JOHN DE BECK: Oh, yeah, because that would increase the tax base. Every time a business that leased a property basically was reassessed the value of the property, that would be a different issue. But tweaking prop 13 is not doing away with it. Prop 13 was sold on the idea that it would save old folks, and it did. And you know, any time you can make the people feel like they're being saved and it's also saving the commercial interests, that's the way you sell things. And so it's America, but the truth is right now, the advantage in prop 13 is all to the business interests.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So now, John de Beck, you sort of see the -- amazingly budget problems that the unified school board district is going through to a new crop of people. You say that you don't have to worry about it anymore. What are you --

JOHN DE BECK: Well, I do worry about it, but I mean as a person I don't have to wake up in the middle of the night saying how can I convince these people that they ought to be saving for the future or can I convince these people that they ought to share in the pain so that the institution can survive? If you look at the auto industry for example, the auto industrial made concessions, now there's been a full turn around in the auto industrial. We can be pretty provide of General Motors, even though it did get I bail out. [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: People on the board to steer the district in a certain direction?

JOHN DE BECK: Well, I'm not gonna quit talking or thinking about it, I'm certainly participating in being a part of the public dialogue. It's frustrating when you're not listened to. But, you know, I could be not listened to from down below and talk to the board anyway. So I guess that's probably where I'll have to be.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Any other plans for John de Beck after the school board.

JOHN DE BECK: Well, I'm actually financially better off being not on the board because I set up my life to make sure that my life and income is better than it is now, and I have certainly a lot more peace of mind knowing that I'm not responsible. But you know, that will probably extend my life a bit. So survival is important. But I got people to tell me, what are you killing yourself all these years if are? And the answer is, I care about public education. I don't think people that are in the school board care that much of they've got slogans like kids first, but when you go see them cutting programs for kids you wonder what that means. Kids are not first, if you're committing gifted programs if you're cutting nurses and counselors. As a liberal, which I consider myself to be, I know that it takings fiscal responsibility to maintain liberal causes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I know. We have to end it. We're coming against the clock.

JOHN DE BECK: Fair enough.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for speaking with us.

JOHN DE BECK: Sure. My pleasure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with outgoing San Diego school board member, John de Beck. And if you would like to comment, please go on line, KPBS.ORG/These Days. Stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.