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We teamed with NBC7 San Diego to do a television version of our story about questions swirling over where San Diego Unified school board member Shelia Jackson lives. Here it is:
View more videos at: http://www.nbcsandiego.com.
Reporter Rory Devine did a good job breaking down this complicated story. She explained that there are three possible problems here:
• Whether or not Jackson lives in the area of the school district she was elected to represent.
We saw Jackson coming to a Kearny Mesa apartment complex late at night or leaving in the morning four times in a week, raising questions about whether she lives there. Jackson says she does not. The apartment belongs to her daughter and Jackson says she stays there a few nights a week. The schools trustee, however, also used that address as hers when registering a business in August last year.
• Whether it is appropriate for her to accept free rent from a San Diego Unified employee.
Jackson says she lives rent-free in her district at a home owned by Gwendolyn Kirkland. Jackson voted with the rest of the board to approve choosing Kirkland as an interim principal last year.
Jackson and Kirkland both argue that she was not swayed by the free rent; Jackson also said she had no role in the selection process that led up to Kirkland being presented to the school board.
• Whether she should have reported the free rent as a gift.
Public officials in California are allowed to accept gifts, but they have to publicly report what they are given and who gives it to them. (There are some exceptions, like gifts from family members.) Jackson said she didn’t consider the free rent a gift.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission also sets a limit on the gifts that public officials can accept, generally limiting them to $420 in gifts from a single source in a calendar year.
The only thing I would add is that there are two more possible problems that this story touches on, broader ones. NBC mentions one of these issues as well:
• Whether school board members should be paid more.
School board members are only paid $18,000 a year. The job is supposed to be part-time — but it can end up consuming much more time in meetings and community events.
The low paycheck can make it difficult for working people to take the job. The other board members include a teacher who works in another school district, a child psychologist, a labor organizer and a political and financial consultant. Some have spouses or partners whose incomes help them survive.
Jackson, who used to be a San Diego Unified teacher, gave up her job since employees aren’t supposed to serve on the school board. She gets a Navy pension and her school board pay.
She took another job with a San Diego State math program but lost it when California cut its funding. Jackson says those financial woes led her to bunk with Kirkland.
• Whether her financial troubles should reflect on her leadership of the school district.
San Diego Unified has a roughly $1 billion operating budget. Jackson says her personal finances do not have anything to do with her ability to make good decisions for the school district.
This issue has also come up a lot in the comments on our article, with readers weighing in on both sides. Reader Allan Hemphill argued that if she couldn’t manage her finances, she couldn’t manage the district. Democratic activist Pat Washington countered her troubles just show Jackson is like anyone else.
Emily Alpert is the education reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. What should she write about next? Please contact her directly at email@example.com. Follow @emilyschoolsyou