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Tacked to the end of San Diego Unified school board president Kevin Beiser’s emails, you’ll see his slogan, simple and inspirational: “with students first.” He’s a teacher, his re-election campaign mailers remind voters, and he’ll continue to fight for kids.
But for the students who he’s most directly involved with – those in his middle school math class – it appears students sometimes take a backseat to his political aspirations.
Over the last five years, Beiser has been absent from his job as a middle school math teacher, on average, four weeks out of every school year. That more than meets the bar to be considered chronically absent.
Beiser defended himself in an email to VOSD last week, writing: “A vast majority of those days I was serving students of San Diego Unified or engaged in professional development to better serve the students in my class, and they were planned in conjunction with my principal and supported and endorsed by her.”
There’s a lot packed into that statement that makes it difficult to fact check. He’s got wide latitude to justify his absences as serving the interests of students in San Diego Unified.
This could include, for example, the times he missed school because he was attending San Diego Unified School board meetings, taking trips abroad, delivering speeches or appearing at award ceremonies.
Training and conferences only account for a quarter of Beiser’s time out of the classroom. The rest are made up of sick and personal days.
Since 2009, Beiser’s missed 106 full school days, and came in late or left early at least 29 days, according the Sweetwater Union High School District.
And on many of the days Beiser left early, a substitute teacher wasn’t brought in. Instead, other teachers or staff members covered his class, or supervised students as they read silently.
That’s not enough to dissuade the teachers union, which has endorsed Beiser. The group has doubled down on its support for Beiser.
“Teachers are professionals and in that capacity must make the determination on how their time needs to be spent,” SDEA President Lindsay Burningham wrote in an email.
Teachers weigh the pros and cons any time they step away from their classroom, she wrote, and missing class for professional training, to recover from illness or speak at an event can serve the greater good and make them more effective advocates for kids.
“I know how committed Kevin is to his first job of teaching and know that he thinks seriously about every day he is away from his students,” she wrote.
David Page, a San Diego Unified parent who for years has pressed the district for greater transparency, said he believes that whatever Beiser was doing with his time off is less important than the fact he wasn’t in class, in front of students.
Page, who supports Beiser’s opponent Amy Redding in the upcoming election, said teachers who chronically miss class rob students of the consistency that need most.
“If my kid’s teacher would have missed five days, you can bet that I would have been at the principal’s door, asking what’s going on,” he said.
So what was Beiser doing with all his time out of class? He declined to discuss it with me. But even if Beiser was indeed missing class because he was tied up politicking, this probably wouldn’t violate any rules.
Based on the contract between teachers and the Sweetwater Union High School district, teachers get 10 sick days per year – seven of which can be used as personal days – with an extra five days going to teachers who also serve as elected officials. Additional days can be approved by the district on a case-by-case basis.
That points to a major flaw, not just with Beiser’s absenteeism, but with the system itself.
Because the district pays Beiser on the days he misses, and foots the bill for the substitutes to cover his classes, taxpayers are essentially subsidizing his campaign efforts.