Polling on a Bigger School Board

A private group of educators, philanthropists, business leaders and others are polling San Diegans about whether they want to see appointed members added to the San Diego Unified school board, according to parents who have gotten phone calls about the new proposal.

The survey asks parents whether they would want to see four appointed members join the five existing elected trustees to make up a bigger school board with nine trustees. The new members would be appointed by a community committee that could include university leaders, labor union representatives and other local leaders. Phone pollers asked parents about who they’d want on the committee.

The idea emerged from an informal group of people who were upset by former Superintendent Terry Grier’s departure months ago for Houston. Ever since, the group has been meeting privately at the University of San Diego and discussing ways to improve the school system, largely through changing the way it is governed.

The group earlier reviewed a report commissioned by businessman Rod Dammeyer, which explored how San Diego might put schools under mayoral control or expand its school board. Creating a larger school board was one idea touted by Grier to change the balance of power in the school district.

Why would someone want a bigger school board with appointees? Smaller boards can tilt more easily after a single election. Grier lost much of his sway after new, less sympathetic school board members were elected a-year-and-a-half ago with strong backing from the teachers union. Advocates say appointed boards are less vulnerable to political pressure — which is exactly why opponents call them undemocratic.

Scott Himelstein, director of the Center for Education Policy and Law at the University of San Diego, has helped convene the group. He didn’t want to comment on the survey’s contents, but read a prepared statement saying the group had commissioned the poll “to better understand the concerns and preferences of citizens.” Himelstein said he would discuss the plans further once the survey was completed and the group had an opportunity to go over the results.

– EMILY ALPERT

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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