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At the end of a five-hour San Diego Unified School District board meeting Tuesday, John Lee Evans handed over the gavel to Kevin Beiser. In a 3-2 vote, Evans came up short in the vote for board president. He’d told his colleagues that he’d be willing to continue to serve as president. He said he’d had a perfect attendance record, never missed a meeting.
While four trustees wrote down their vote in a few seconds, Marne Foster visibly struggled over her decision, spending three and a half minutes while the others waited and wondered – before handing in her ballot. When the votes were read aloud, Foster – and Evans, who voted for himself – were in the minority. Richard Barrera and Scott Barnett – along with Beiser, who also cast a vote for himself, were in the majority.
A second vote followed to decide vice president, which Foster won unanimously.
So, what does it matter? Is being president of the school board a much more powerful job than just being a trustee? Or is it just a political bragging right that might help a candidate get re-elected?
The Board President’s Role
One thing is different: Board officers – the president and vice president – are expected to attend agenda-setting meetings that other trustees are not. These meetings, held every other week, last two or three hours and give the board officers time to meet with Superintendent Cindy Marten and her staff to go over potential agenda items. So, there’s more face time and advance knowledge on what issues will be coming.
Board members are paid $1,488 monthly and those elected as officers don’t earn any extra, despite the increased time commitment. Any trustee can ask to put an item on the agenda, as long as he or she gets another board member to co-sponsor the item.
The board president acts as spokesperson, responsible for turning up to ribbon-cuttings, parades, giving the state of the district address and speaking to the media on behalf of the board.
Evans said the job involves dedication. He told the board he took lots of extra time off, “much to my wife’s chagrin, for five years, I’ve had 100 percent attendance.” It’s not just board meetings that trustees are expected to attend, there are also workshops and planning meetings. Board services director Cheryl Ward confirmed Evans’ perfect attendance claim. Beiser has missed 13 meetings since he began his board service in December 2008, Ward said.
“We as a board have been working on a lot of big-picture items that I’m proud to be a part of,” Beiser said. “Whether you’re a trustee or a board officer, it doesn’t matter, we will all still continue to advocate for things like music and arts in the school. We’ll all continue to value the things that we know help kids to learn more and be more successful.”
What Next Year Brings
Beiser might find himself in an especially bright spotlight this coming year, with so many changes newly under way or coming soon.
Marten, unanimously appointed by this board, has been leading the district through a re-organization with dozens of top leaders – including principals – coming and going. Then there’s the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula, which determines how much money each school district gets. It’s being rolled out soon. There’s a new curriculum – the Common Core – being introduced, along with a new standardized test to measure its effectiveness.
The school board members are elected in even years. Barnett and Beiser will be up for re-election in 2014. Candidates must file for office by March 7, said San Diego Registrar of Voters Michael Vu. The primary will be in June, followed by a general election in November. Evans, Barrera and Foster have terms expiring in 2016.
Barnett said he plans to run again, although he hasn’t actively started campaigning. Beiser’s fundraising is already in high gear. It won’t hurt Beiser to be able to be able to call himself the school board president during his re-election campaign.
The teachers contract ends next June, so the bargaining process for a new contract will begin soon. Beiser, a math teacher at Castle Park Middle School in the Sweetwater Union High School District, got the endorsement of San Diego’s teacher’s union during his first campaign.
“I think that my perspective being an educator only adds to the rich diversity of conversations we have on the board,” Beiser said.
Recently, the position of board vice president has been a stepping stone to the role of president. Beiser has been the vice president of the school board for the past year. Evans was vice president before serving as president for the past two years.
Barrera noted that before he and Evans were elected in 2008, the vote for board officers could go as many as 23 rounds before the board came to a majority decision.
“There’s different times for different people to take on leadership roles” Barrera said. “I think our ability to share leadership is the mark of a mature group of people. I have confidence that we are going to be able to move forward with this board in a way that we can share leadership and allows people to step up and grow into leadership roles.”