San Diego Unified – Time for a Change – San Diego County Grand Jury, May 2017
San Diego Unified (SDUSD), California’s 2nd largest school district, is composed of five geographic sub-districts. Every two years, voters choose two to three candidates to serve four-year terms as Trustees. The City Charter (Charter) governs the rules for elections that include SDUSD as defined by Article VI, Section 66.
In 2016, voters passed Measure K, which was touted to promote “greater voter participation, more representation… more diversity – people of color, LGBT, women – being able to serve in public office” according to then Councilman and now Mayor of San Diego Todd Gloria.
Measure K required a runoff election for the offices of Mayor, City Attorney, and Councilmember. The top two candidates in the primary election advanced to the November general election.
But the City Council failed to include language specific to San Diego Unified elections when they advanced Measure K to the ballot by a 5-4 split. The City Council of 2015 ensured a problem would occur in future school board elections beginning in 2016. And it did.
In the 2016 District E contest, LaShae Collins overwhelmingly defeated board appointee Dr. Sharon Whitehurst-Payne in the primary. Collins then lost in the city-wide general election that permitted voters from every sub-district to cast a ballot in each sub-district’s general election.
District E voters were stunned to see their choice overshadowed in a city-wide race that, according to the Grand Jury, gave incumbents and well-funded special interest backed candidates a significant advantage in SDUSD elections. Complaints were filed and the Grand Jury took up the matter in early 2017 following the election.
In an unanticipated twist, Whitehurst-Payne was appointed to the board in February of 2016, just a few short months before the primary election was to be held after a judge ordered then District E Trustee Marne Foster to resign after pleading guilty to illegally accepting gifts while serving as Trustee.
With passage of Measure C in 2020, the upcoming 2022 school board elections will be exclusively determined by District B and District C voters. Measure C amended the Charter after a lawsuit was filed by community members and spearheaded by Parents for Quality Education (PQE) that advanced the district-only matter to the 2020 ballot.
The 2016 election of Dr. Sharon Whitehurst-Payne was a catalyst for change resulting in three ballot measures since that impact the future of San Diego Unified Trustees. With Dr. Michael McQuary set to retire, a new Trustee will be seated to serve District C in 2022. And with the highly publicized sexual lawsuit against District B Trustee Kevin Beiser, San Diego may see two new faces on the board beginning in 2022.