Richard Barrera will get another year as the San Diego Unified school board president, a job with little if any extra power technically but a political cachet that visible and vocal leaders can play up.

Sticking with Barrera was a bit of a surprise. The school board usually changes its president each year, and the obvious move would be to choose John Lee Evans, who has served as long as Barrera but has not been president yet.

Board member Shelia Jackson, who served as president the year before Barrera, argued that the presidency should be rotated instead of appointed by school board members. But Evans said it would be better to wait a year before changing presidents, since San Diego Unified has already undergone so much change. It got a new superintendent this year, new staff and now has two new board members.

While Barrera has been a controversial figure with critics from the business world, who see the labor organizer as the embodiment of how San Diego Unified has tilted towards unions, he has been a diplomatic personality on the school board, able to bring people together on causes from lobbying Sacramento and reassessing science education to getting more kids signed up for food stamps.

Picking a new president was also the first action taken by new school board members Scott Barnett and Kevin Beiser, who were sworn in on the school board today. The only trustee to vote against the move was Jackson, who voted for Evans. Evans, in turn, was chosen unanimously as vice president.

This all might seem like a lot of fuss over a job with no remarkable powers, but as I wrote a few years ago, choosing the president symbolizes where the board is going:

The annual election of the board president by his or her peers — a seemingly small matter far removed from classrooms — is a barometer of how the new board will function or dysfunction in the future, revealing the alliances and clashes within the historically fractious body. Picking the annual president is the first decision posed to the new board. It will indicate who sides with whom on the most basic of political questions — who should have power — and that could be crucial for Grier and his planned reforms.

When I wrote that, Superintendent Terry Grier was at the helm. Now Bill Kowba is in charge, and another thumbs up for Barrera means the school board is still solidly behind him and his model of slow-but-steady school reform.

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

Emily Alpert

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

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