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San Diego Unified School Board Election: Two Races to Watch

by Michael Higham, published

The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) will have three board seats up for election this November.

Incumbent Dr. John Lee Evans will face Mark Powell for sub-district A. Marne Foster and William Ponder will face each other for sub-district E, since current board member Shelia Jackson will be retiring. Incumbent Richard Barrera does not have an opponent in this election for sub-district D and will be running uncontested. The San Diego Unified School Board election will have incredible implications for the future direction of our city's education.

During the June primary, school board candidates were selected by voters in their respective sub-districts. The top-two vote-getters moved on to the general election. However, the entire district will be voting on all school board candidates in November. Candidates are now reaching out to all of San Diego.

John Lee Evans v. Mark Powell - Sub-District A

Credit: Mike Foster

Dr. John Lee Evans is the current Board President of SDUSD. He was elected in the 2008 election cycle and became board president in December 2011 after Richard Barrera. Dr. Evans recently reversed around 1,500 teacher layoffs that were scheduled before the start of the 2012-2013 academic year. He was able to compromise with the teachers union on a cost-saving agreement to keep the teachers in the classroom resulting smaller class sizes. Another policy implementation by Dr. Evans is his Vision 2020 plan for San Diego Unified which reforms the way the district is evaluated. It places an emphasis on creative thinking for students, parent-teacher collaboration, and effective teaching methods for schools. Dr. Evans cites that since coming onto the board in 2008, standardized test scores have also been on the rise.

Mark Powell is looking unseat John Lee Evans. Powell continually shows dissatisfaction with the cost-saving deal that was struck by Evans. He is highly critical of the shortened school year. Powell compares the SDUSD total days of instruction, 175 days, to other countries to express his discontent. He points out the United States average of 180 days and China's 200 days of instruction. He was born and raised in San Diego and attended SDUSD schools growing up. Mr. Powell was previously an elementary school teacher, vice principle, and dean of students. He currently teaches as an adjunct professor at National University. He stresses three points in his campaign: 1) Repair the budget, 2) Promote teacher effectiveness, 3) Restore parent confidence.

Sub-District A encompasses the areas of City Heights, Clairemont and Mira Mesa, accounting for 38 different schools.

Marne Foster v. William Ponder - Sub-District E

Credit: / Mike Foster

Marne Foster is teacher of 14 years at San Diego community colleges. She emphasizes her parent involvement of 20 years of work in the San Diego Unified School Board. Marne Foster took on the district herself when she fought for Individualized Education Program (IEP) rights for one of her children. She eventually went to the California Department of Education before the IEP rights were given. She grew up in southeast San Diego and attended Encanto Elementary and Gompers Jr./Sr. High School. She wishes to model the SDUSD budget similar to that of San Diego community colleges and stresses financial transparency.

William Ponder has been active in education for 30 years. He worked in public schools, community college, and is a retired Vice President of Eastern Washington University. Mr. Ponder is also a product of southeast San Diego, and is a graduate of Lincoln High School. Mr. Ponder states that every decision he make will be for the benefit of students. He also makes a point that every actor in the education system will be held equally accountable for decisions made. Mr. Ponder wants students and teachers to be held to global standards in order to compete in a worldwide market. For financial issues, Mr. Ponder believes in talking with unions and staff to find a middle ground for budget structures.

Sub-District E covers areas of southeast San Diego. This includes Paradise Hills, Skyline, and Encanto, and encompasses 46 different schools.

Richard Barrera Uncontested - Sub-District D

Credit: Mike Foster


Richard Barrera does not have a challenger in this election cycle and is guaranteed his seat on the board. He is a long time community organizer for low-income areas of San Diego. Mr. Barrera has been serving the San Diego Unified School board since 2008 and served as its President up until December 2011. Mr. Barrera believes that students succeed through the cooperation and collaboration of teachers within each school.

Sub-District D covers parts of central and downtown San Diego and accounts 36 different schools.

The San Diego Unified School Board Election at a Glance

The San Diego Unified School Board election does not garner as much attention as national or state elections. On the surface, it is tough to distinguish the policy positions of each candidate. Every candidate for school board wants to put students first and get parents involved. However, candidates differ on that status and outlook of the SDUSD. Both Powell and Ponder are not backed by teachers' unions and sport fiscally conservative approaches. Foster, Evans, and Barrera hope to stabilize schools in the district with funding from California's Proposition 30 and the city's Proposition Z. This is only a brief overview of the San Diego Unified School Board election. Candidates' approaches require in-depth, independent research to understand the implications of their positions.

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