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Camille Zombro, widely considered the architect of the San Diego Education Association’s shift towards a more hard-line, isolationist philosophy and a long-respected power broker in local education, has lost her bid for re-election as the teachers union’s vice president.

The result comes just two weeks after Zombro’s key ally, Craig Leedham, was placed on administrative leave. The removal of the two divisive, high-ranking officials comes at a crucial time for negotiations with the San Diego Unified School District.

According to the SDEA website, Zombro lost the election by more than 100 votes. Her challenger, elementary school teacher Lindsay Burningham, received 381 votes to Zombro’s 279. Union President Bill Freeman was unchallenged in the election and remains in his post.

Burningham said she’s looking forward to working with Freeman.

“I’m really excited to start working with Bill to move the union in a more positive direction,” she said.

Zombro will continue to work for the union under a grant-funded position. Burningham wasn’t sure what capacity Zombro would continue in.

The removal of the two people who are widely considered to have soured relations between the union and the school district comes with San Diego Unified facing an estimated $80 million to $120 million deficit next year. Though those numbers are preliminary and represent a worst-case scenario, Superintendent Bill Kowba has warned that at least 1,000 teachers will likely lose their jobs unless the district can make a deal with its labor unions.

Kowba and the school board have asked the union to negotiate concessions to their pay and benefits, in return for a promise that no teachers will be laid off. So far, the union has refused to sit down and negotiate with the school board.

Former SDEA president Don Crawford said he was “ecstatic” at the news of Burningham’s election. He said Burningham has shown a willingness to reopen relations with the school district and at least talk about forging a solution to the current fiscal crisis with the school board.

“The SDEA went into a period of stagnation under Zombro,” Crawford said. “I think Bill Freeman has faced obstruction from both her and the executive director and now he’ll be able to fully take the reins with his new partner and move the union forwards.”

Zombro was elected president of the union in 2006. During her tenure, the SDEA severed relations with a group representing retired teachers, dropped out of committees it once served on with other unions, canceled regular meetings with district leaders and barred its staff from meeting regularly and informally with district staff.

Former SDEA officials decried that isolationist approach recently and chided Zombro and Leedham for their divisive and often brusque or unprofessional attitude.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at voiceofsandiego.org currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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