The San Diego Unified school board spared jobs for arts and music teachers Tuesday night, winning cheers from the crowd. It also voted to save more workers if it got more state money in the budget. But alas, the thing that everyone will probably remember is Scott Barnett putting on his jacket and just walking out.

The quick exit came after an ugly faceoff between Barnett and Kevin Beiser. Early in the meeting, Barnett was quizzing their financial advisors about whether pledging to save jobs with added money would hurt San Diego Unified when it went to borrow money.

Beiser tried to call the question, a parliamentary tactic often used to end debate. Barnett said he wanted to ask more questions. Beiser insisted on calling the question. Barnett asked if he really wanted to squash advice from the financial advisor. Everyone else rejected the idea of going straight to a vote (Beiser was the only one who voted for it) and let Barnett keep asking his questions. The pledge to spare the teachers if the money comes through passed 3 to 2 anyway, with Barnett and John Lee Evans against it.

That means that if state lawmakers get around to passing a budget that includes another $36 million in day-to-day revenue for San Diego Unified, the school district has already committed to using it to clamp down on class sizes and save some other staff for a year, instead of banking it against the next deficit.

Then Barnett put forward another idea: Keep class sizes from ballooning at some schools by cutting workers who don’t teach. The idea immediately upset the labor unions that represent custodians, secretaries and other employees, which often feel they play second fiddle to the teachers union.

Beiser opposed it, saying he valued small classes, but thought that simply saying they would cut “classified staff” was too vague. Barnett started to ask him about how they could make it more specific. But Beiser called the question. Barnett scoffed that Beiser didn’t really want an answer.

I had to listen to the recording a few times because they start to talk over each other. “Thank you for being polite. I really appreciate you being polite and courteous and professional,” Beiser said.

“Thank you for being political on 99.9 percent of every vote this board takes,” Barnett said, complaining that Beiser was “playing to the crowd every single bloody meeting instead of making a tough decision once in a while.” Barnett was the only person who voted for his plan.

Barnett began to say, “The difference between getting things done and –” but school board President Richard Barrera broke out the gavel. A few minutes later, Barnett put on his jacket and walked out.

The spat was the latest sign of a strange saga. When Barnett and Beiser were elected, they seemed likely to fall in line with the board. It was an election that didn’t so much reshape the school board as reaffirm it. But the uncertainty over the state budget has fractured the board and brought tensions to a boil.

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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