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Upping the ante in a tense school board race, the teachers union has a new television commercial that urges voters to pick incumbent Shelia Jackson and challenger John Lee Evans for the two contested spots on the San Diego Unified school board.

The ad slams incumbent Mitz Lee, whose seat is being sought by Evans, saying that she “added 86 administrators,” “cut 300 teachers,” and “refuses to meet with teachers.” Lee argues that those claims are wrong. Here’s the ad:

Where are those numbers from? Earlier this week, teachers union president Camille Zombro pointed to the user-friendly budget that San Diego Unified published this summer, which compares the number of employees in different categories year by year since 2005. The number of “Central Office Technical/Professional” employees increased from about 331 to 417 between 2005 and 2007, Zombro explained — a difference of 86 positions.

But the same table shows that San Diego Unified cut the number of those employees in 2008, making the overall increase from 2005 to 2008 about 59 employees. And all other “Central Office” categories of employees declined in the same time period, adding up to an overall drop in 72 central office jobs between 2005 and 2008. Jackson, who has been endorsed by the teachers union, was also on the school board during that time.

I haven’t been able to reach Zombro or San Diego Unified human resources staff yet today to discuss the basis for the claim that Lee cut 300 teachers. We have repeatedly published that roughly 200 teachers were ultimately laid off due to the budget crisis last year, and Lee disputes the higher number.

As for the claim that Lee refuses to meet with teachers, Lee has refused to meet independently with the teachers union while its contract is being negotiated, arguing that it could set up a conflict of interest during bargaining. She did not seek its endorsement, explaining in a letter that “it is in the best interests of the schools and the community not to be beholden to any organization … that have or may have business dealings with the district.” Her donors include individual teachers.

The teachers union has spent more than $280,000 on television and radio advertisements between July and the end of September, plugging for Evans and Jackson, according to campaign disclosures. Lee said she will not air radio or television ads; Jackson’s opponent is Xeng Yang.

EMILY ALPERT

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