Does It Matter Who Is School Board President?

Does It Matter Who Is School Board President?

Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

John Lee Evans gives the State of the School District address in October.

At the end of a five-hour San Diego Unified School District board meeting Tuesday, John Lee Evans handed over the gavel to Kevin Beiser. In a 3-2 vote, Evans came up short in the vote for board president. He’d told his colleagues that he’d be willing to continue to serve as president. He said he’d had a perfect attendance record, never missed a meeting.

While four trustees wrote down their vote in a few seconds, Marne Foster visibly struggled over her decision, spending three and a half minutes while the others waited and wondered – before handing in her ballot. When the votes were read aloud, Foster – and Evans, who voted for himself – were in the minority. Richard Barrera and Scott Barnett – along with Beiser, who also cast a vote for himself, were in the majority.

Christie Ritter on SchoolsA second vote followed to decide vice president, which Foster won unanimously.

So, what does it matter? Is being president of the school board a much more powerful job than just being a trustee? Or is it just a political bragging right that might help a candidate get re-elected?

The Board President’s Role

One thing is different: Board officers – the president and vice president – are expected to attend agenda-setting meetings that other trustees are not. These meetings, held every other week, last two or three hours and give the board officers time to meet with Superintendent Cindy Marten and her staff to go over potential agenda items. So, there’s more face time and advance knowledge on what issues will be coming.

Board members are paid $1,488 monthly and those elected as officers don’t earn any extra, despite the increased time commitment. Any trustee can ask to put an item on the agenda, as long as he or she gets another board member to co-sponsor the item.

The board president acts as spokesperson, responsible for turning up to ribbon-cuttings, parades, giving the state of the district address and speaking to the media on behalf of the board.

Evans said the job involves dedication. He told the board he took lots of extra time off, “much to my wife’s chagrin, for five years, I’ve had 100 percent attendance.” It’s not just board meetings that trustees are expected to attend, there are also workshops and planning meetings. Board services director Cheryl Ward confirmed Evans’ perfect attendance claim. Beiser has missed 13 meetings since he began his board service in December 2008, Ward said.

“We as a board have been working on a lot of big-picture items that I’m proud to be a part of,” Beiser said. “Whether you’re a trustee or a board officer, it doesn’t matter, we will all still continue to advocate for things like music and arts in the school. We’ll all continue to value the things that we know help kids to learn more and be more successful.”

What Next Year Brings

Beiser might find himself in an especially bright spotlight this coming year, with so many changes newly under way or coming soon.

Marten, unanimously appointed by this board, has been leading the district through a re-organization with dozens of top leaders – including principals – coming and going. Then there’s the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula, which determines how much money each school district gets. It’s being rolled out soon. There’s a new curriculum – the Common Core – being introduced, along with a new standardized test to measure its effectiveness.

Re-Election

The school board members are elected in even years. Barnett and Beiser will be up for re-election in 2014. Candidates must file for office by March 7, said San Diego Registrar of Voters Michael Vu. The primary will be in June, followed by a general election in November. Evans, Barrera and Foster have terms expiring in 2016.

Barnett said he plans to run again, although he hasn’t actively started campaigning. Beiser’s fundraising is already in high gear. It won’t hurt Beiser to be able to be able to call himself the school board president during his re-election campaign.

The teachers contract ends next June, so the bargaining process for a new contract will begin soon. Beiser, a math teacher at Castle Park Middle School in the Sweetwater Union High School District, got the endorsement of San Diego’s teacher’s union during his first campaign.

“I think that my perspective being an educator only adds to the rich diversity of conversations we have on the board,” Beiser said.

Recently, the position of board vice president has been a stepping stone to the role of president. Beiser has been the vice president of the school board for the past year. Evans was vice president before serving as president for the past two years.

Barrera noted that before he and Evans were elected in 2008, the vote for board officers could go as many as 23 rounds before the board came to a majority decision.

“There’s different times for different people to take on leadership roles” Barrera said. “I think our ability to share leadership is the mark of a mature group of people. I have confidence that we are going to be able to move forward with this board in a way that we can share leadership and allows people to step up and grow into leadership roles.”

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Christie Ritter

Christie Ritter
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4 comments
John Kennett
John Kennett

Very nice young man. He also has 100% parade attendance. We will be hearing his name for years to come.

John Kennett
John Kennett subscriber

Very nice young man. He also has 100% parade attendance. We will be hearing his name for years to come.

Brian Peterson
Brian Peterson

Does being school board president matter? I think it does, especially for Kevin Beiser.

In 2008 my wife, my daughter and I volunteered for Stephen Whitburn’s D-3 city council campaign. There we met Kevin. I don’t think he was campaign manager, but he certainly ran the show. We crossed paths again in other council campaigns and when he was running for school board. To date, he is the best politician I have been around. He is capable and willing to work all the angles. I say this in a good way. He is not averse to raising money and he is willing to show up everywhere. He also seems to have an affinity for remembering names and faces, which is quite a strength for a politician.

I also saw him at Serra Mesa Planning Group meetings, shortly after he moved to Serra Mesa and when I was an SMPG board member. I believe he still lives in Serra Mesa.

So, the school board presidency is important for Kevin, because I believe he is shooting for higher office. I will not be surprised if he runs in 2016 for D-7 city council against Scott Sherman. If that happens, Tony Krvaric, the Republican Party of San Diego County, The Lincoln Club and all the other usual D-7 players will have their hands full.

Brian Peterson
Brian Peterson subscriber

Does being school board president matter? I think it does, especially for Kevin Beiser.

In 2008 my wife, my daughter and I volunteered for Stephen Whitburn’s D-3 city council campaign. There we met Kevin. I don’t think he was campaign manager, but he certainly ran the show. We crossed paths again in other council campaigns and when he was running for school board. To date, he is the best politician I have been around. He is capable and willing to work all the angles. I say this in a good way. He is not averse to raising money and he is willing to show up everywhere. He also seems to have an affinity for remembering names and faces, which is quite a strength for a politician.

I also saw him at Serra Mesa Planning Group meetings, shortly after he moved to Serra Mesa and when I was an SMPG board member. I believe he still lives in Serra Mesa.

So, the school board presidency is important for Kevin, because I believe he is shooting for higher office. I will not be surprised if he runs in 2016 for D-7 city council against Scott Sherman. If that happens, Tony Krvaric, the Republican Party of San Diego County, The Lincoln Club and all the other usual D-7 players will have their hands full.