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Jared Hamilton may only have just graduated college, but the 26-year-old has been getting involved in politics and walking precincts just about since he began to walk.
The Clairemont native says his grandmother introduced him to politics at a very young age. He’s knocked on doors for candidates such as Brian Bilbray and Lorie Zapf and, this year, he’s decided to walk those precincts for himself.
Hamilton says he decided to run for school board President John Lee Evans’ seat after friends and colleagues started asking him to join the race. He said the school board needs someone young and enthusiastic, who has only recently come out of the education system.
With San Diego Unified facing a financial mess that the district says is only going to get worse in the next couple of years, the coming election will be closely watched. Whoever ends up on the board will have to oversee a district struggling with manifold problems, from swelling healthcare costs to a labor contract it says it can’t afford.
Hamilton just opened a small shop in La Jolla that sells American-made clothing made with natural materials like bamboo. He’s using that business experience to pitch himself as the one to fix the district’s financial woes.
The Republican says he has no interest in seeking the endorsement of the powerful teachers union, which was instrumental in putting Evans in power. Indeed, in our interview he barely fell short of calling for the union’s disbandment. “We’re not going to get rid of the union overnight,” he said.
The school district’s going broke. The school board’s going to have to make some horrible decisions over the coming months and years, from making layoffs to closing schools. Plus it’s a poorly paid, part-time position. Why on Earth would you want this job?
It comes back to my passion for children and families.
That’s really what got me into this.
A lot of people from the local community and things that I’ve been involved with, who are influential, said, “Jared, I know you have a dream to go into medicine, but you always said you love children and families. You’ve been involved in your community. You’ve got leadership qualities. You’re young. You’re ambitious. I think children and families really need a person like you, they need a young mind, they need someone who is going to be willing to speak out.”
I know a lot of people are dissatisfied with a lot of the things that John Lee Evans has done. I have no personal agenda against him, but I think I can make a change, in that the school board could use someone like me.
A lot of people see this position as a stepping stone to other political aspirations. Do you see this as a springboard, or is this its own thing?
I see this as going out there to help the students.
I believe that if we don’t focus on education, we don’t have a future. I’ve never had any aspirations to be a big-name politician. It’s not something I’m using as a springboard because I’m already involved in my own business.
But would you like, eventually, to run for other offices?
If there were people who said “you’re doing a great job, we really think you could help represent us,” and I deemed it as a good purpose, of course I would do it. But that’s not a plan of mine at all.
I still have that dream of going into medicine. Well, if I went into politics I wouldn’t have the opportunity to go into medicine. So right now, I’m at a point where I’m choosing. I’m feeling things out.
You have a magic wand and you can wave it and make things happen, regardless of cost or practicality. What do you do to change schools?
I think the most important thing is to have a good student-to-teacher ratio — the interpersonal relationship between a teacher, or a mentor, and a student.
I think bringing in mentor programs, with college students would be great. USD has a great program where students go and mentor school students.
I believe that every student is intelligent in their own way, and it’s our job, as educators, to take the time to figure out their learning style and figure out how to help them learn.
Will you be seeking the endorsement of the teachers union? And in the light of the adversarial relationship between the union and the district, if you do seek the endorsement, would you do anything to try and close that divide?
I don’t have any aspirations to seek an endorsement from the union.
Not because I don’t want to build that tie, but because I see some of the problems being unions. Sometimes, I have seen they’ve affected the system negatively.
An example is my mom, who is a teacher. She receives a pink slip all the time.
I don’t think it’s fair that every teacher has to join the union automatically. So that is not something I’d necessarily seek. But I’d be willing to open up and communicate with them, because I think there must be a way for us to come out with a solution.
Obviously, we’re not going to get rid of the union overnight.
Would you want to get rid of the union overnight? If you could?
I think I would create a better system that worked more effectively, something that’s more directed on keeping teachers based on their performance instead of other measures like years of experience. We live in a performance-based society.
In the past, the union has been immensely influential in these elections. Does that worry you?
I’m not concerned about it at all.
If people really want to know what you’re about, they’ll listen to you. They’ll call you up, they’ll contact you, they’ll find out where you’re speaking and your true colors will shine out.
Yeah, there’s going to be negative campaigning going out, but that’s nothing to be scared of. That’s part of politics.
The primary issue facing the district is a financial one. What would be your approach to understanding, getting to grips with and ultimately solving the budget issues at the district?
I worked with quite a few budgets growing up.
I think the main thing is to look at your priorities. As a representative of the students, I would look at the things that benefit the students and the programs that benefit the students, and of course, we’d make the necessary cuts where we can, but also allot the money and the programs that I think are important.
The number one way is to get the parents involved. If there’s a budgetary problem we’re going to have, we should seek the help of the parents, and seek fundraising.
But 92 percent of the district’s day-to-day budget is spent on salaries and benefits. So the fundamental problem is very simple: The district doesn’t have enough money to pay people what it has promised to pay them. So, what do you do about that fundamental problem?
It’s a matter of looking at the effectiveness of the system.
Does it make sense to have this many administrators, paid at this amount? You look at what’s going to benefit the students the most, and you make the necessary cuts or changes.
You go out into the schools, and see how they’re run. I’d be willing to provide that one-on-one interaction. I’d be willing to look at schools, look at their administration.
That would be the first thing I’d do. I’d go out and say, “Look, we have an excess of administrators here.” Yeah, it’s nice to have, if we had the money, but if we don’t, it’s better to have a teacher, or two or three teachers.
Why can’t we fundraise? Why raise taxes? You’re just going to frustrate people.
People are happy to donate money to things they believe in. We have plenty of philanthropists out there. If they believe in education, they’re going to donate to that cause.
Will Carless is an investigative reporter at voiceofsandiego.org currently focused on local education. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5670.
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