A new state bill banning school administrators from fundraising for the board members they serve is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
It’s the latest in a series of measures meant to address the years-long corruption scandal at Sweetwater Union High School District.
South Bay voters will also get a shot at a clean slate of school board members in this November’s election.
Four trustee spots are up for grabs after SUHSD board members were kicked out for their involvement in a pay-to-play scandal that began in 2011. They and other administrators were charged with accepting gifts over the legal limit in exchange for contracts. And the fifth member – John McCann – is in the run-off for a seat on Chula Vista City Council, leaving his seat vacant as well.
Recently, we’ve seen a few major reforms to how these powerful positions get filled. Let’s take a look at what has come from the South Bay scandal.
No Funds Raised by Administrators
The latest development: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s bill passed out of the state Assembly Monday, legislation that would ban school administrators from raising money for board campaigns.
Gonzalez’s bill was a direct reaction to the SUHSD scandal, which also reverberated through San Ysidro School District and Southwestern College following claims that school administrators there raised money for board elections by asking contractors to dig into their pockets. Under the bill, administrators can’t campaign or fundraise for candidates in public school and community college board races.
A Cap on Contributions
South Bay voters worked for years to get a campaign contribution limit on donations to candidates running for school board. Community advocate Maty Adato said the proposal was on the board agenda five different times for two years before it was finally approved in January.
Adato said fomer SUHSD board president Jim Cartmill sat on the resolution for months before finally signing it and bringing it to the board.
“He takes credit for getting this passed, and in my opinion that’s an insult,” Adato said. “We [community advocates] met with the attorney and did all the work.”
Now individuals can only contribute $750 or less to SUHSD trustee campaigns.
Trustees Now Represent Geographic Areas
SUHSD jumped on the bandwagon of school districts switching up their election process after residents filed a petition with the County Office of Education. This year’s election will mark the first time South Bay voters will elect representatives by area — voters in five districts will each elect a single trustee. The areas are divvied up to include roughly the same number of people.
The new method is thought to provide better access to board members. But critics – such as Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox – said she was concerned board members might “scratch each other’s backs” and look out only for the interests of the area they represent instead of the entire district.
“They’re supposed to watch out for the community as a whole,” Cox said. “That one person alone doesn’t get things done unless you have support from other members.”