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A new candidate has joined the race to fill the San Diego Unified school board seat vacated by Marne Foster.

Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, a retired San Diego Unified educator, announced her candidacy at a meeting Monday night at Lincoln High School.

She’ll face off in June against LaShae Collins, who declared her candidacy two weeks before Foster pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and resigned from the school board.

Collins and Whitehurst-Payne – who cordially posed for a picture together at Monday’s meeting – are so far the only candidates for the seat, but more could enter the race before June.

This won’t be Whitehurst-Payne’s first run at the seat. Back in 2004 she challenged Shelia Jackson, running on a promise to collaborate with teachers, who at the time felt left out of the superintendent’s plans for reform. She scored the endorsement of the teacher’s union, but it wasn’t enough to beat out Jackson.

Since then, Whitehurst-Payne has stayed active in the community, and has worked with the school district as an education consultant. Whitehurst-Payne also served on a taskforce to help San Diego Unified recruit and retain more teachers.

Whitehurst-Payne’s resume might earn her the endorsement from the teachers union this time around, too.

While the local teachers union, the San Diego Education Association, hasn’t yet endorsed anyone, president Lindsay Burningham told the San Diego Union-Tribune her members will favor a candidate who has a background in teaching.

Burningham also said Collins, a staffer for Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, has given the union “cause for concern,” because Weber has proposed reforms at the state level aimed at teacher tenure and teacher evaluations – measures that met strong resistance from teachers unions.

However, Burningham said the endorsement process will be democratic. After all the candidates have declared their intention to run, each one will have a chance to be interviewed and vetted before a decision is reached, she told VOSD.

“We will make sure to treat LaShae like we would any other candidate,” Burningham said.

Whitehurst-Payne’s announcement came on the eve of a school board meeting in which trustees will determine the process for filling the vacant school board seat. District legal counsel is recommending that trustees appoint an interim board member to serve until the end of the year, when the next elected official takes over. Though unlikely, school board members could also decide to hold a special election to fill the seat or leave it vacant until the end of the term.

Whitehurst-Payne said Tuesday that she was traveling to a funeral and would talk with me about her plans in more detail when she returns.

Mario Koran

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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