The San Diego Unified school board voted to avoid a controversial change in the way it picks people to serve on an oversight committee for its $2.1 billion school construction and renovation bond.

The committee serves as a watchdog ensuring the money is spent legally. It also gives advice to the school board. That means the issue of who sits on the committee is not a bureaucratic detail but an important question: Who should be the watchdogs?

The existing system allows each school board member to choose people for the committee, who are then approved by the whole board. They must include people that fall under specific categories required by California law, including a parent, a taxpayer advocate and someone active in a senior citizens group.

The changes proposed by San Diego Unified staff would have called on specific professional organizations to nominate eight of the 11 people on the oversight committee before the school board reviewed and voted to approve them. The groups included the Construction Managers Association of America, the regional Chamber of Commerce and the American Institute of Architects. The committee would still need to include people who fit the other categories, such as a parent and senior citizen.

While the school district attorney said the plan would not limit the school board to choosing people from the chosen organizations, critics such as the Sierra Club argued that the plan favored developers over other groups. Members of the existing oversight committee were divided on the idea.

Scott Barnett, Richard Barrera and Shelia Jackson voted to keep the existing selection process largely the same as before; John Lee Evans and Kevin Beiser voted against it. The only change is that the committee does not need to include someone who was on the oversight committee for the previous bond; instead the superintendent will tap the 11th person for the school board to approve.

Evans said he would prefer that the school board work together to choose the entire committee, instead of letting each member make their picks to be approved by the board. Beiser said he voted no because the proposal was unclear.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

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

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