San Diego Unified School Board candidates came together on October 11 at Marston Middle School in Clairemont. The event was hosted by the League of Women Voters and the San Diego Unified PTA. Several topics were covered in the ninety-minute school board debate. Among the many questions asked, budgetary decisions were brought up most often. The following is a quick overview of what the candidates said that night.
There are potential budget cuts to face after the election. If this is the case, the next board will have to find ways to work with a smaller budget.
Dr. John Lee Evans stated that the only offered solution as of now is to cut fourteen days out of the school year. He also referenced the cost-saving agreement that he was a part of to keep 1,500 teachers and staff members just before the school year began. The agreement was entered into to save jobs for staff stability and keep class sizes small. Dr. Evans says that the board and teacher’s union will have to work together after the elections, if necessary. His approach is evident when he stated:
You can see the trend over the last few years as more cuts were coming. We continue to cut in the administration, transportation, and outside contracts. The classroom is the last thing we touch. When it came down to the classroom, we said: ‘What can we do together?’ That’s when we came to a compromise with teachers and other employees to continue quality education for this year.
Mark Powell is in agreement with cutting administration before classroom resources. Powell is highly critical of the shortened school year of 175 days in San Diego Unified. Five furlough days are included as part of the cost-saving agreement Dr. Evans helped work on. As with previous debates, Powell includes a chart with a comparison of school days around the world. Powell stated his position:
One way to ensure that schools will continue to under-perform is to cut the school year. The board decided they would cut the school year to 161 days [if there’s more budget cuts] rather than having larger class sizes. I can guarantee you that if a child is not in a class the child won’t learn.
Powell places a priority in school days over small class sizes. Dr. Evans differs and believes teacher engagement and collaboration makes for more effective learning.
Marne Foster has stated in the past that she believes: “What is key is making the budget absolutely transparent. Making sure that everyone has an opportunity to clearly understand what the budget looks like.”
The idea is that it builds trust for all the stakeholders when discussing budget solutions. She is sticking to her word in advocating this position.
Foster is also in agreement with keeping cuts away from the classroom. She also says: “Beyond that, we have to do some creative and innovative things.”
When asked how to improve the quality of schools in sub-district E without using other sub-district resources, Foster stated:
Our sub-district E cluster is working on developing our own foundation to build the capacity for schools to receive money and apply for grants. It’s also really important to hire a grant writer. That’s a powerful investment that’s proven to pay off.
We are also building a capacity to partner with assistant programs that provide resources we need. For example, the YMCA, Boys to Men leadership program, and Reality Changers that have proven to be extremely successful.
William Ponder agrees with reworking the budget and working on middle-ground solution. However, Ponder is concerned with the district’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA). He believes in reworking the CBA and health benefits, saying the latter has not been revised in twenty years. Mr. Ponder also says to look at the $1.1 billion SDUSD budget and consider anything to be trimmed. Since both Foster and Ponder are looking represent sub-district E, a generally lower-income area, he agrees with looking at outside organizations for help:
Equity does not have to be money. It could be sharing of resources. It could be identifying other organizations outside the south east to help us with what we need to do.
The school board debate at Marston Middle was one of many debates the candidates have had. Previous debates took place at Malcolm X Library in south east San Diego and at Central Elementary in City Heights. Several questions and topics highlight the similarities between candidates. However, the differences between candidates can be seen in their approach. All candidates want schools to go in the right direction but have a few differing solutions for the same goal.