Even though the first batch of voting results showed Mitz Lee with a slim lead for her San Diego Unified school board seat, Lee knew she had lost. She turned off the television and went to bed early Tuesday night, long before the final result showed that challenger John Lee Evans had unseated her, and began to plan her next steps.
In an interview this morning, Lee reiterated the points in her written statement on the defeat: That heavy spending by the teachers union and an outpouring of Democratic voters benefited Evans, who ran a partisan campaign and got the backing of the teachers union. She expressed concern that the school board majority is now union-backed as the district heads into another budget crisis.
But she believes there is still a place for her in San Diego Unified, the same place that she held before being elected to the board: An advocate for parents and community members. Lee once led a group called the Alliance for Quality Education that pushed for changes in curriculum, such as reinstituting phonics in elementary schools, and said she would like to revive something similar, possibly extending its efforts not only to San Diego Unified but statewide.
“Sitting on the board for four years, I know that was a missing element. Information is being muddled by who is pushing information,” Lee said. “Our taxpayers and community members need to know what is true and how they can help. Sometimes teachers do not get the big picture of what is happening in their leadership.”
“But in the meantime, it does not happen tomorrow!” Lee added. She plans a December vacation to decompress after the campaign.
Lee supporters such as Cynthia Conger, a real estate broker, were worried by her loss and angry that ads by the teachers union, which used selected figures from the school district budget, had hurt her at the ballot box. The ads blamed Lee for the loss of teacher jobs, and Evans stated that Lee fired 900 teachers.
Lee voted to notify more than 900 teachers of potential layoffs, which were reduced after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger revised his cuts to schools, and roughly 200 probationary teachers were ultimately laid off, some of whom were later rehired.
“Everything that John Evans said was a lie,” Conger said. “She did not cut out 900 teachers. … They lied to suit their own self-serving agenda.”