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Tuesday wasn’t a bad night for the local teachers union.
In addition to victories on Proposition 30, a statewide tax increase to help fund education, and Proposition Z, the $2.8 billion school bond at city schools, both of the San Diego Education Association’s preferred candidates won their respective races for the San Diego Unified School District.
Incumbent John Lee Evans will keep his job as school board president, and community college educator Marne Foster will join the board.
The wins mean the union will maintain its roster of four labor-friendly trustees on the five-member board. Fiscal conservatives had hoped former vice principal Mark Powell would join as a crucial ally to Scott Barnett, often the board’s only dissenting voice.
But despite a strong showing in June’s primary election, Powell up short Tuesday. Early Wednesday morning, he had 48 percent of the vote to Evans’ 53 percent.
Evans said his success was an acknowledgment that despite the financial challenges the district has faced, student achievement has continued to grow under his leadership.
“I was in a difficult situation. I’ve been on the board for four years of cuts from the state and I was the only incumbent up for election,” Evans said.
Throughout the race, Powell sought to portray Evans as the embodiment of a school district gone awry.
Over the last few months, he harangued his opponent about San Diego Unified’s seemingly constant hundred-million-dollar budget deficits and held up charts showing the district’s exotic bond borrowing in an attempt to discredit Evans’ leadership.
Evans, who won backing from the teachers union despite voting to lay off hundreds of teachers last year, said he’d heard it all before. He compared Powell to an angry parent at a school board meeting, complaining about the district’s actions, but offering no solutions of his own.
“I never heard a plan. There were no alternative ways of doing things,” Evans said.
In the district’s other contested race, Foster handily beat retired administrator Bill Ponder to take over the seat being vacated by outgoing Sub-District E Trustee Shelia Jackson.
Foster, who also trounced Ponder in June’s primary, ran a low-key race, and even missed several debates and refused to take a stand on key issues she will face on the board. But she had the crucial financial and political backing of the powerful teachers union. Early Wednesday she had 70 percent of the vote.
Foster did not respond to calls for comment Tuesday.
Both Evans and his colleague, Trustee Richard Barrera, spoke effusively about Foster. Barrera (who won re-election in an uncontested race) said he believes she will be a unifying force on the school board.
“She’s an educator and she’s a parent and she knows this district,” Barrera said. “I’m excited to work with Marne, she’s going to bring a lot of energy and experience.”
The newly formulated school board will be aided by the passing of Proposition 30, which prevents billions of dollars in cuts to state education and will provide additional funding for school districts in the coming years.
Also working in the district’s favor is a renewed relationship with the teachers union, which for years was at loggerheads with the school board, a path forged by hard-line isolationist leaders who are no longer with the union.
Despite those steps, however, San Diego Unified is still projecting large budget deficits next year. In the post-election glow, things might look rosy for the winners. But come next spring, when they have to start crunching the budget numbers and possibly issuing pink slips to teachers, things might get more complicated.
Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at email@example.com or 619.550.5670.
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