With San Diego Unified School District in continued financial distress, the city’s four major mayoral candidates have made K-12 education an issue in the campaign. The city has no direct control over the school system and current Mayor Jerry Sanders has largely avoided talking about education during his seven-year tenure. But across the country, big city mayors increasingly have gotten more involved in their K-12 education systems. And in San Diego, public polls show voters want the mayor and City Council to pay more attention here.

In a series of stories this week, we’ll be laying out the mayoral candidate’s education plans, explaining their ideas and calling out their potential weaknesses. Next up: Bob Filner.

The Candidate: Bob Filner

The Word: Bob

Filner was a history professor at San Diego State University when the local school board tried to close his children’s elementary school.

He helped stop the school from closing. He ran for school board. He won. That was 33 years ago and his political career took him to the San Diego City Council and, for the past two decades, Congress.

Filner contends his professional and political experience — not to mention the fact his kids attended city public schools — makes him the most qualified mayoral candidate to address San Diego Unified’s problems.

But unlike opponents District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, Filner doesn’t have a formal education plan. Instead, he wants to increase before- and after-school programs and lobby the state for greater funding.

The Ideas: Filner believes the city should help local students by taking care of them when they’re not in school and helping them get there. He talks about leveraging the resources of city parks and Balboa Park cultural institutions to take care of students outside of school hours. He also has proposed free public transit for students going to and from school.

He’s also the only candidate to support a proposed tax increase pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor argues that the tax hike will help K-12 schools avoid further large budget cuts. It fits with Filner’s belief that local officials could do much more to advocate for greater state funding.

The Weaknesses: Like most other issues during the campaign, Filner’s not provided much of a roadmap to show how he’d implement his education ideas.

The Metropolitan Transit System, which runs the city’s bus and trolley lines, already offers 50 percent-reduced fares for K-12 students. The program generates $6 million in revenues a year, an agency spokesman said. If MTS made it free, the agency would have to find that amount in its budget plus pay for any additional ridership that would come from cheaper service. Filner said he’d lobby MTS to find a way to cover it.

And while Filner has relied on his own educational bona fides, it’s not clear how much he’s kept up-to-date. At a mayoral forum on education in April, Filner’s opponent, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, had to explain to Filner what the “parent trigger law” was. The divisive law, passed in California in 2010, allows parents of students at failing schools to radically restructure a school’s governance.

Many labor unions, who Filner is relying on for support, oppose the parent trigger. But Filner said he backed the law. After hearing Fletcher’s explanation, Filner replied, “I love it.”

“Parent involvement is the best thing,” Filner continued. “I’ve worked on that for decades. And whenever we see parent involvement goes up, achievement goes up however you want to measure it.”

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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