If you’re looking at your sample ballot and scratching your head about the candidates running for school board, never fear: We’re here to help you figure out who deserves your vote. Just take a gander at our scoreboard that summarizes the views of the candidates.

We asked the candidates where they stand on key issues like insolvency, union concessions, teacher evaluation and more. 

In the June election, voters get to choose from candidates vying to represent their geographic area. But, unlike the City Council election, no one can win outright next month; the top two vote-getters in each district go on to the November election, which is district-wide.

Understanding the School District’s Money Mess

Many city schools officials have placed blame on the state for their financial troubles. But the district has done its own damage, and our Graphic of the Week shows the dire straits facing the district thanks to a labor deal it made in 2010.

In the coming year, the district is expected to face a $122 million deficit. Of that, a whopping $45 million is attributable to that three-year labor deal, in which unions agreed to days off in the first two years in return for raises in the third.

The deal will make up an even larger chunk of the estimated deficit the following year. “The key takeaway here: The district is in a lot of trouble, and most of that trouble is self-inflicted,” write our Keegan Kyle and Will Carless. “The 2010 deal saddled the district with a deficit that it is now trying to solve by laying off staff.”

To understand the district’s financial troubles, check our reader’s guide to the insolvency crisis.

Political News Roundup

• Labor mailers claim Prop. B, the pension initiative on the ballot, “will leave city employees without a pension and NO Social Security benefits.” However, the measure allows them to — potentially — join the Social Security system, U-T San Diego says.

Our Scott Lewis went down that wormhole last year and came back with the realization that the decision about whether new city employees can join Social Security could come down to just one worker.

And if you want a primer on Prop. B, we have just what you need.

• Political chutzpah alert!

Juan Vargas, the state senator and former San Diego councilman, is making a stink about how his opponent — former state senator Denise Ducheny —  tried to keep a GOP rival out of a televised debate.

But, as the U-T reports, it was a TV station, not Ducheny, that made the decision about who got to appear at a debate. And Vargas himself refused to show up because he didn’t like the candidate invitee list.

• KPBS summarizes the views of the main mayoral candidates on the future of the port.  

Quick News Hits

• Here’s a big question about last September’s power outage: Why didn’t the state and SDG&E switch to local sources of power when the things went haywire? After all, there’s a big power plant in Carlsbad. It could have stepped in even when the San Onofre nuclear plant went off line to avoid being slammed with a power surge.

It turns out that federal regulators, the ones you’d think would answer a question like this, avoided it in their new report. That’s the word from KPBS, which talked to local engineer Bill Powers.

“Why is it that the largest power plant in San Diego at the hottest day at nearly the hottest hour of the year is sitting up ready to go but not called?” Powers asked. “And help us as a community understand whether the rationale you’re using is appropriate because the people who got hurt were not the power companies, it was the users. It was the 1.4 million customers who were sitting in the dark with their food spoiling and everything else happening.”

The outage caused plenty of havoc from snarled streets and abandoned cars (gas pumps didn’t work) to a big sewage spill and a powerless hospital facing a broken generator, hot temperatures and patients on life support to worry about.

• San Diego will get part of $12.4 million in sales tax that got diverted when the dollars were allegedly “siphoned illegally by the city of Fillmore,” the LA Times reports.

The allegation is that a medical equipment company set up a “sham office” in Fillmore so that city would get sales-tax proceeds from its business income. And then, allegedly, the city kicked the taxes back to the company.   

• The U-T and LA Times both explore the strange but seemingly true tale of a woman who went to the beach earlier this month near the San Onofre power plant, put some stones in her pockets and was stunned to feel them flare up with heat. The rocks then actually caught fire, seriously burning the woman.  

What happened? One theory is that phosphorus on the rocks came from Camp Pendleton munitions. As for the nuclear plant, it says it’s not involved. 

Whatever the case, authorities don’t seem too concerned about what actually happened. The county environmental health department decided it didn’t need to go up there and look around.

Remembering a Politician Fired by Passion

Back in 1992, the sleepy North County city of Vista turned into ground zero in the cultural wars when evangelical Christians took over the local school board and began pushing for changes in the teaching of science and sex education. They tried to give teachers more leeway to challenge evolution and supported a sex-ed program that urged kids to “Pet Your Dog, Not Your Date.”

The national media flocked to Vista to watch the battle unfold, while local newspaper reporters on the education beat — including me — found themselves engulfed by a huge, once-in-a-lifetime story.

Linda Rhoades fought back against the conservatives. She was a reporter’s dream: friendly, passionate and endlessly quotable. (“I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck,” she snapped one day when she felt the board majority was trying to put something past her.)  She was unique too: Unlike some of her allies on the left, she never got unhinged by hatred for her ideological foes.

I kept in touch with Rhoades, who’d go on to spend the next 20 years serving on local boards and advocating for North County’s children. Last week, she died of cancer at the age of 63.

I visited Rhoades before the end came, and we talked about the old days. The stress of the big school board battle in the early 1990s was physically tough on her, and she was already handicapped by polio and walked with balky braces.

I asked her if it was worth it the strain. Yes, she said, adding: “I loved every minute of it!”

To borrow a phrase used to describe another politician, she was a happy warrior. We need more public servants can retain their passion, grace and humor when crucibles erupt around them.

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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