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San Diegans 4 Great Schools, a newly formed group that is seeking changes to how San Diego Unified is governed, brought its message to a tough crowd at the Ocean Beach Town Council Wednesday night.

A retired teacher called it an overly vague “dog and pony show” that didn’t address real problems in schools. “Governance is a minor issue,” said Mike Berrill, who used to teach in East County. “You’ve got a problem that’s way bigger than how many board members are squabbling.”

Scott Himelstein, who organizes the group of philanthropists, business leaders, parents and other community members, said he respectfully disagreed. “Governance plays a big role,” Himelstein said. In light of those other problems, he said, “What have we been doing all these years?”

The meeting is part of a longer road show as the group airs its concerns about the schools and shares findings from a University of San Diego report on school finances and achievement.

Himelstein has repeatedly said the group has no specific plan yet, but it has already been polling voters and talking to key school leaders about adding four appointed members to the school board. It argues the board needs greater stability to foster reform.

That message was viewed with suspicion by many in the Ocean Beach audience of more than two dozen last night, including OBRag blogger Doug Porter, who wrote that it would “rein in the democratic nature of the school board.”

School district spokesman Bernie Rhinerson came too, despite being told by San Diegans 4 Great Schools that showing up and “monitoring” the meetings would quash open discussion.

“The level of achievement, nobody can say it’s where it needs to be. But we have made progress,” Rhinerson told the audience. “Talking about governance — our board doesn’t really understand how that focuses on student achievement.”

San Diegans 4 Great Schools plans to continue visiting community groups over the coming weeks. For another take on the meeting, check out this OBRag post.

— EMILY ALPERT

Rob Davis

Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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