One thing is clear from the early returns in the San Diego Unified school board race: Unless the numbers change in a big way, school board veteran John de Beck will face off with Scott Barnett, a budget consultant with backing from the teachers union, and not Michelle Crisci.

Crisci, a school psychologist who liked de Beck, was hoping to knock Barnett out of the primary. That looks unlikely, even with only 18 percent of precincts tallied. Crisci, who spent barely any money on the race and campaigned little, had only 16 percent of the vote.

Barnett had 41 percent, de Beck 42 percent.

The strong showing from Barnett is even more remarkable because he trailed de Beck in fundraising. And though the teachers union endorsed Barnett, it hasn’t been heavily involved in the race yet.

“The bottom line is people want change,” Barnett said. “They want to clean up San Diego Unified.” He said he was happy to be neck-and-neck with de Beck, who has spent nearly two decades on the board.

Even de Beck said he was impressed with how Barnett had done.

“It’s probably the best anyone has done in the primary,” he said. “I was a little lazy. I’ll have to work harder in the general election. I think I’ll come out on top – but I have more of a challenge than I realized.”

— EMILY ALPERT

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