Statement: “In Oakland, the trustee had two bodyguards following him around,” school board member Scott Barnett during an Oct. 31 press conference announcing his financial recovery plan.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: Barnett this week unveiled a plan he said would save San Diego Unified from insolvency. He wants to cancel scheduled employee pay raises, cut pay by another 10 percent across the district and put a tax increase on the November 2012 budget.

Barnett warned that his drastic measures would be tame compared to what would happen without them — a state takeover. He said the choice is clear: disaster or insolvency, and insolvency would be worse.

If the district goes insolvent, the district’s leadership would be replaced with a state-appointed trustee with unilateral control over its finances, including teacher pay, land sales and school closures. Barnett made the point that things can get very ugly once that state trustee starts making decisions:

The trustee can make arbitrary decisions to close schools, 10, 20, 30, just by pointing at them. In Oakland, the trustee had two bodyguards following him around.

Oakland is the last major school district to go insolvent.

Randy Ward, who today is the San Diego County Office of Education superintendent, was the trustee appointed in Oakland. He began using a California Highway Patrol bodyguard after feeling threatened during an impassioned hearing on school closures.

“The bullets are going to fly, and they’re going to fly high, and I hope there’s one for people like you,” the parent said, according to a 2004 article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The paper said:

Several of Ward’s four state predecessors in Compton were threatened, and one, Stan Oswald, was fired upon after a meeting but not injured, Ward said. … Ward is aware of the 1973 assassination of Oakland schools superintendent Marcus Foster by members of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army.

Oakland wasn’t Ward’s only stint as a state-appointed trustee. He served a similar role in Compton previously, and he also used a bodyguard there, too.

In 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported:

When Randolph Ward arrives at his job running the Compton schools, he comes with a bodyguard who picks him up every morning and drives him home at night.

The bodyguard, a beefy man from a special California Highway Patrol division in charge of protecting state officials, sits patiently outside Ward’s modest office and accompanies him on all school business.

Ward’s need for protection is stark evidence of the raw emotions laid bare in Compton over who should be in charge of the city’s beleaguered schools.

We’ve labeled Barnett’s statement Mostly True. He claimed Ward had two bodyguards, when in fact Ward only employed one. He’s off by one, but that doesn’t significantly alter the statement’s impression. Ward did indeed require a bodyguard because of how tense the political process got as he faced unpopular decisions around the school district.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

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I’m the editor of VOSD. If you want more on Ward’s background, I found this 2006 Union-Tribune story to be a good read. You can reach me at andrew.donohue@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526.

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