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With votes still out, here’s how San Diego Unified races, bond measure are shaping up

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Courtesy of Shana Hazan and Cody Petterson
Undated photos of Shana Hazan and Cody Petterson.

Two union-backed candidates for the San Diego Unified school board are leading their races, but their opponents aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.

Shana Hazan, an organizational consultant and former teacher, and Cody Petterson, an environmental aide to a county supervisor, are currently leading Godwin Higa, a longtime San Diego educator, and Becca Williams, a Texas charter school founder, respectively.

Measure U, which proposes billions of dollars to improve school facilities, also appears headed for approval with what is so far a wide margin of victory.

Countywide after Tuesday night, more than half-a-million ballots had been counted and about 500,000 were outstanding, according to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters. The county will update election results again by 5 p.m. Thursday.

For the first time on Tuesday, San Diego Unified voters living in smaller sub-districts cast ballots instead of voters across the district deciding the races. The move, approved by district voters in a 2020 ballot measure, is meant to increase diverse representation on the board and improve campaigning for candidates with less funding and name recognition.

As of Wednesday, Hazan had a commanding 18-percentage point lead in the eastern Sub-District B over Higa, an adjunct social psychology professor at Alliant International University and former San Diego Unified principal and teacher.

Hazan told inewsource Wednesday that she hasn’t declared victory yet but said she’s optimistic about winning as the results of the election roll in.

“There are a lot more ballots left to be counted, and while I am ahead by a significant margin, there’s still a possibility that either of us could win,” she said.

Although Higa hasn’t conceded, he said if Hazan wins he hopes she will advocate for trauma-informed restorative justice practices in schools, an issue they both ran on. Higa claims credit for starting San Diego’s first trauma-informed school at Cherokee Point Elementary School while he was principal there.

“We recognize that imitation is the most excellent form of flattery as (Hazan) started using these practices as her platform,” he said, adding that he hopes “her endorsements and contributors will not derail these objectives with their need for her support in other areas.”

The competition in San Diego Unified’s coastal Sub-District C was closer for Petterson and Williams. Petterson, an anthropology lecturer at UC San Diego and a senior environmental policy adviser to San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, led Williams by less than 2,000 votes, or about 6 percentage points.

Williams, who manages curriculum for the charter schools she founded, was the only San Diego Unified school board candidate backed by the county Republican Party.

Petterson said William’s campaign – running on a narrative that the district failed students when it closed due to the pandemic – resonated with some voters in his district.

While the vote tally has Petterson in the lead, Williams said she’s hopeful the numbers may look different Thursday once more mail-in ballots are counted.

“This is hilarious because there’s so many people that think I lost,” she said.

If Hazan and Petterson are declared winners, they will replace outgoing board members Kevin Beiser and Michael McQuary, whose terms expire in December. The pair were both backed by the San Diego Education Association, a union of more than 7,000 educators. San Diego Unified’s five-member board of education represents California’s second-largest school district.

Measure U likely to be approved

Of the nearly 160,000 votes tallied as of Wednesday for the district’s bond referendum, nearly 100,000 — or 63% — were in approval.

More than 200 educational facilities across the district were built 30 to 60 years ago, and the deterioration rate of these facilities is estimated at $240 million annually, according to the district.

The bond measure, which requires a majority vote of at least 55%, would provide more than $3.2 billion to improve San Diego Unified school facilities. Of the $3.2 billion, $296 million will pay for security and safety improvements, a big selling point for the proposal.

It’s the district’s fourth bond on the ballot since 2008, totaling $11.5 billion in borrowing that voters will have approved if Tuesday’s measure passes.

San Diego Unified trustee Richard Barrera said that with the “economic anxiety” some voters are feeling, he knew it would be a challenge to convince voters the funding is critical. But he held out hope.

“We were confident that if we could just make the case … San Diegans would step up again and that’s exactly what they did,” Barrera said Wednesday, confident the bond measure would be approved once final results are in.

Haney Hong, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, said high prices and inflation for consumers made it hard to predict whether voters would approve a bond measure. But San Diego Unified voters showed up.

“I think the support shows … people very much care about school safety and making sure that our kids and the facilities they have are good,” he said, adding that the district “is generally well run,” but his organization will continue to monitor the district’s performance.

Outgoing trustee McQuary celebrated Wednesday, saying San Diego Unified residents know that the district can be trusted with school bond funding. He said the district is working “to make schools not only attractive but safer and better places for students to learn.”

“The bond is absolutely essential, just like taking care of a home. You’ve got to do the work every day. You’ve got to maintain the water, the pipes, the sewers and facilities as well as staying up to date on technology,” he said.

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