City Council candidate Stephen Whitburn touted plans to get the school district and the city talking today at a joint press conference with soon-to-be school board member Richard Barrera outside Wilson Middle School in City Heights. Whitburn also threw his support to Proposition S, the $2.1 billion San Diego Unified facilities bond slated for the November ballot.

The announcement echoed a similar bid by former mayoral candidate Steve Francis, who had plans to create an education liaison and a $1.5 million fund for schools countywide. Francis had even suggested that he could spend “three or four hours” at a school to mediate conflicts between parents. Political consultants were skeptical of whether education really fell under the mayor’s duties. Unlike in some cities, the mayor and City Council have no authority over the school district; it runs as its own separate entity and has its own elected board.

Whitburn’s plans were more modest than the initiatives Francis had described. His goal was to get the city and the school district talking more often and more generally — instead of just meeting to collaborate on specific, limited projects. Whitburn also wants to expand joint-use facilities such as playing fields, which can be used by students during the days and neighborhood residents in the evenings and weekends, and to link students to community service projects sponsored by the city. Schools could offer job training for adults and become “neighborhood centers,” his press release stated.

“People choose to live in the suburbs instead of the city because they perceive that the schools are better there,” Whitburn said, and families send children to private schools when they believe the neighborhoods surrounding their public schools are unsafe.

Community coalitions could take on issues such as the redevelopment of City Heights, Barrera explained, including the schools in their efforts. Barrera cited the discussion of whether to close Central Elementary, which is adjacent to a freeway, and how that location could be best used to help City Heights residents who have complained about public transit access in their area.

Whitburn said a more formal intervention, such as in Los Angeles where there is limited mayoral control of schools, was not on the table, and didn’t think the efforts would be expensive.

“This is not, fundamentally, about spending a lot of money,” he said. “This is about working together.”


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