Scott Himelstein is the president of San Diegans 4 Great Schools, a group that is campaigning to change how the San Diego Unified school board is selected. He is guest blogging about its initiative and why he believes it would reform the school district.

These are his views, not mine, so if you have comments, questions or counterarguments, please post them directly to the blog or email Scott himself at He’ll be posting responses and updates later in the day. We’ll also have a blogger with an opposing viewpoint tomorrow. — EMILY ALPERT

San Diegans 4 Great Schools is supporting an initiative to reform the San Diego school board so student achievement, not politics, is the top priority.

• The board would be required to prepare a plan to increase student achievement at every school and to prepare an annual report on progress at each site.

• Board members would be elected by and accountable to voters in their local districts rather than citywide, giving local communities more control over the selection of members and reducing special interest influences.

• Board members would be limited to three four-year terms, 12 years in total, to foster continuity but discourage career politicians.

• The five-member elected board would be expanded, with four independent members appointed by a nominating commission comprised of educational leaders and parents.

Special interest opponents to these common-sense reforms have already launched a campaign of misinformation to resist any change that would increase accountability and reduce special interest influence. We encourage voters to go directly to our website,, for the facts about the Great Schools initiative. In the meantime, here is some of the misinformation being peddled by opponents, and the truth they are trying to cover up:

CLAIM: Appointing board members is anti-democratic.

The initiative keeps in place all five elected board member (the board majority) and makes them more accountable to their constituents with district elections. Further, voters will get to choose through the initiative process whether to establish these reforms. The four appointed members will strengthen the board’s expertise and reduce the influence of special interests that often spend significant amounts of money to elect their chosen candidates. Appointed boards in other major cities have engineered successful reforms despite special interest opposition. The current board structure with a five-member board was established in the city charter adopted in 1931 when San Diego’s population was less than one-tenth of today’s.

CLAIM: San Diegans 4 Great Schools is controlled by “business elites.”

If by “business elites” this means Dr. Irwin Jacobs, whose contributions to the San Diego community are legendary, or Rod Dammeyer, who has a deep, abiding interest in education, then we plead guilty. However, both have expressed their public commitment to the group and the cause. Simply look at the list of names of supporters on our website. The great majority are not what anyone could reasonably consider the “business elite.”

CLAIM: This is an attack on teachers.

The opposite is true. Teachers have been the victims of school board politics that shift course every two or four years and produced a revolving door of superintendents. Teachers deserve stable, forward-looking leadership that provides clear, consistent direction and works to provide the resources teachers need to succeed — exactly the intent of the Great Schools Initiative.

CLAIM: There’s nothing wrong with the schools. Test scores are going up.

When half of our students are not proficient in English and math — and 80 percent of students of color and low income are not — there is definitely something wrong. Latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), widely considered the “Nation’s Report Card,” reported such scant progress in reading and mathematics in San Diego that the change is considered statistically insignificant.

CLAIM: San Diegans 4 Great Schools would appoint four new board members.

False. This group will have no power to appoint and will not be part of the nomination commission that does. That commission will be comprised of four parents who chair the four district parent committees, the presidents and chancellors of San Diego’s major institutions of higher learning, and the chair of the education committee of either the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce or the San Diego Economic Development Corporation.

School reform is difficult. Criticizing school reform is easy. We urge people to study the issues in what will be a long debate. Note who is behind the criticism. Challenge them to explain what’s wrong with accountability and stable leadership. And ask them why voters should not be allowed to voice their opinion about a change in board structure that can provide better outcomes for students.

Scott Himelstein is the president of San Diegans 4 Great Schools. You can contact Scott directly at

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.