Backers of a campaign to remake and expand the San Diego Unified school board plan to turn in roughly 133,000 signatures to the city clerk today, the first step toward letting voters weigh in on their plan.

San Diegans 4 Great Schools, the group of philanthropists, parents, business leaders and others behind the campaign, says it needs more than 93,000 valid signatures to move ahead. The city clerk needs to get the signatures verified with the registrar before the City Council could act to put it on the ballot.

Under the plan, the five elected school board members would be joined by four new ones, who would be appointed by a new committee of parent leaders, university chiefs and a business representative.

Besides expanding the school board, the plan would change the election system so that board members are elected exclusively by voters in the smaller subdistricts they represent, instead of voters across the district. And it would restrict how long school board members can serve, limiting them to twelve years.

But bringing appointees onto the board is by far the most controversial part of the plan and the focus of most of the debate. San Diegans 4 Great Schools argues that a bigger board would be less likely to swing in direction from one election to the next, stabilizing a school district that has suffered a revolving door of superintendents. They contend that appointees would also help depoliticize the school board.

Opponents, including current school board members and the teachers union, counter that appointing board members is undemocratic and elitist and wouldn’t solve their problems. Labor leaders peg it as a power grab against the teachers union, which backed many of the current board members.

While some other urban school districts have opted for appointed boards, the San Diegans 4 Great Schools plan is relatively rare in setting up a hybrid system. And most school systems that have appointed boards have given the power to appoint them to the mayor; this plan sets up a whole new committee with the power to choose nearly half of the school board.

Changing how the school board is chosen means changing the city charter, which sets out how the school board is elected. More than half of San Diego voters would need to agree. That includes voters who live in the city but are outside of the school district, which has slightly different boundaries.

The group is bringing in some star power to announce the step: Mayor Jerry Sanders, who endorsed the plan, is joining the group as it turns in the signatures, along with Gloria Romero, a former state senator who backed Race to the Top plans in California last year and ran unsuccessfully for state superintendent. (You can watch a live webcast of them turning in the signatures at 11:30 a.m. today here.)

If the proposal has snagged enough signatures, it is unclear when voters will have a chance to decide on it. San Diegans 4 Great Schools originally hoped to get its proposal onto the same June ballot as tax extensions backed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

But since state budget talks broke down, it looks like there won’t be a June ballot to put them on. Erica Holloway, the group’s spokeswoman, said they guess that the next citywide election would be this November.

For more on the campaign, read our past articles about the kickoff and what the measure entails, who would sit on the committee that would pick the new school board members, the guy at the helm of the campaign, who was funding it last year and how school board elections work now. You can also check out our guest bloggers weighing in for and against the plan, one from San Diegans 4 Great Schools president Scott Himelstein, one from OBRag blogger and parent Doug Porter.

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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