Whatever is going on in San Diego Unified right now, voters don’t seem to like it.

Challengers usually don’t make sitting school board members sweat. Yet as poll results roll in, Scott Barnett is neck and neck with incumbent John de Beck and Kevin Beiser is actually ahead of board member Katherine Nakamura.

Incumbents are getting stung.

The results are especially interesting because while school district critics often complain about the board majority of Richard Barrera, John Lee Evans and Shelia Jackson, saying they give in too much to the teachers union, it is the two minority board members who now find themselves in jeopardy. If voters cast their ballots for change, that change is aimed at the minority bloc.

“The surprise finish, honestly, is Beiser,” said John Gordon of the San Diego Democratic Club, which endorsed Beiser. “A lot stronger than anyone would have realized.”

So what, if anything, links these two upstarts? Barnett is a Republican politico with a renegade streak who got the teachers union endorsement. Beiser is a middle school math teacher who didn’t get the union nod, but is favored by Democratic groups over Nakamura for his labor stands.

Beiser recently joked at a public forum that the school board member he agreed with most was Barnett. Both favor smaller classes and oppose teacher layoffs. Both stress their financial or business savvy as a way to get more funding into classrooms. And both have tagged their opponents as the status quo.

It looks like de Beck and Nakamura are going to have to work harder than any sitting school board members in recent memory to fend off their competitors. De Beck has already said as much.

And it’ll be interesting to see whether the apparent disdain for incumbents translates to the district’s bid to pass a parcel tax in November. Is this about the track records of de Beck and Nakamura? The promise of new blood on the school board? Or are voters just fed up with all things San Diego Unified?

— EMILY ALPERT

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