School board candidate Scott Barnett enjoyed an early lead as voting results started rolling in for the coastal areas of San Diego Unified, winning 52 percent of the first returns. John de Beck, a veteran school board member who has spent nearly two decades on the board, had 48 percent.

If Barnett wins, it would be a remarkable feat for the budget consultant. Barnett spent relatively little money in this campaign but capitalized on voters’ frustration with longtime incumbent de Beck.

The race became a referendum on de Beck, a retired teacher and longtime school board member who is known for his loose lips and long memory at San Diego Unified. De Beck gained his political footing as a fierce opponent of former Superintendent Alan Bersin and a teachers union ally. He has since become a wild card on the school board and lost support from the union he once helped lead. Barnett argued that de Beck has become little more than a distraction on the school board, flinging ideas that don’t stick.

But Barnett was reluctant to crow too much about the early results, with only 18 percent of precincts reporting so far. “It looks good at the moment, but it’s tough to say,” Barnett said. Unseating a sitting school board member is usually difficult to do; John Lee Evans was the first to do so in decades.

If the results turn around and de Beck keeps his seat, the veteran school board member will have proved that he has political staying power, despite losing the support of the teachers union. His independent streak has long earned him fans who like him for his straight talk, even when it stings.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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