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City Council President Tony Young told parents and teachers in Scripps Ranch that he wants education to be on the front burner in the race for mayor, arguing the city should use its soapbox to help schools.

But how? “I don’t have the answer for that,” Young told the crowd at a Wednesday forum at the Scripps Miramar Ranch Library. “I’m not sure.”

Young plans to launch a listening tour with Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher throughout the coming year to seek ideas. Young, a former teacher, also offered a few ideas of his own on Wednesday night, from urging parents to unionize for change to giving principals more control over their schools. But Young said his chief aim was to open up a conversation about how the city could better its local schools.

Longtime Scripps Ranch volunteer and retired colonel Bob Dingeman applauded him for it. “You are the first city official that has stood before us and said the city ought to be involved in education,” he said.

Young also made it clear that he didn’t like one major idea now being floated to improve schools: San Diegans 4 Great Schools’ plan to expand the school board to include four new members who are appointed rather than elected. Young said he had concerns about appointees.

Nonetheless, Young said he would bring the San Diegans 4 Great Schools idea before City Council, which could vote to put it on the ballot. The teachers union might not be happy about that, Young said, but the backers of the plan might not like what was said about it in City Council either.

The question of how — or whether — the city should be more involved in the schools is a hot one. San Diego Unified and the city have sometimes tangled, sometimes teamed up. The school district helped prod the downtown library towards reality by chipping in money to lease space for a charter school there.

But the city has been cold so far to the idea of speeding up the flow of redevelopment money to schools to help plug their budget holes; Young said Wednesday night it wasn’t the right use for the money.

Cities have played a growing role in school reform across the country, most strikingly with mayoral control. California has deemed that unconstitutional, but the Sacramento mayor has sought unofficial ways to get involved, launching an education nonprofit.

Asked whether he was implicitly endorsing Fletcher, long rumored as a candidate for mayor, by teaming up with him on a listening tour, Young said he wasn’t endorsing anyone and would encourage other people to come along as well.

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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