Longtime labor leader Richard Barrera has been a San Diego Unified board member since 2008.

Barrera says his dual roles as a leader of the school district and leader within the local labor movement work well together – help organized labor and the school district’s teachers, the thinking goes, and working parents and students will be better off for it.

In an in-depth profile, VOSD’s Mario Koran and Ashly McGlone look into Barrera’s philosophy and how he’s wielded the extraordinary power he’s amassed over the last few years.

Barrera helped spearhead the district’s project labor agreement, ensuring that hiring forbond-funded construction projects would happen through union halls. He’s helped guarantee across-the-board salary increases for teachers, and was the first person to suggest an elementary teacher named Cindy Marten should be elevated to the highest position in the district. That decision was made behind closed doors, likely in violation of state open-meetings laws.

Scott Barnett, Barrera’s onetime board colleague, calls Barrera the district’s intellectual leader.

Not everyone is a big fan of Barrera’s labor-centric approach to the board, though. Jim Ryan of the Association of General Contractors, who advocates for non-union contractors, told VOSD he thinks it’s icky.

“I think, in his mind, all this helps the working man,” Ryan said. “Is what he’s doing illegal? Maybe not … But it’s more than a little incestuous.”

Opinion: Neighborhood Schools Are Actually Awesome

When Sandy Weiner-Mattson and her family moved to North Park back in 2003, their real estate agent told them their new neighborhood was great, but they’d probably want to consider looking around for better schools elsewhere.

Weiner-Mattson checked out the stats for North Park’s McKinley Elementary and wasn’t immediately impressed. But being able to walk to school rather than struggle through a long commute won out, and she somewhat nervously sent her kid to McKinley. But boy is she glad she did.

In an op-ed for VOSD, the mother discusses her experience sending her daughter to her nearby neighborhood school. McKinley wasn’t perfect, but she got involved alongside other parents in North Park and McKinley is now held up as a model for the district’s Quality Neighborhood Schools initiative.

Creative Chemistry: A Dangerous Weapon in the Drug War

Creative chemistry keeps the drug known as “spice” one step ahead of regulations. Lawmakers ban a substance only to turn around and find another, slightly different chemical compound out on the streets.

The Union-Tribune reports on the city attorney office’s plans to put an end to the cat-and-mouse game by writing a new ordinance that focuses on what the drug does to the brain rather than its ingredients.

San Diego officials tell the U-T that the drug, also known as synthetic marijuana, is responsible for a big uptick in local overdoses and it could be worsening the city’s homelessness problem.

• The U-T also has a story on a man who was caught at the Otay Mesa border crossing with 1,000 pills labeled as oxycodone. They were later found to be a much stronger and more dangerous opiate.

A Big Voter Registration Oops

When people register to vote but don’t consider themselves a member of a particular political party, some of them check the box that says “American Independent Party.” It’s a mistake.

A new investigation by the Los Angles Times finds that most people actually meant to check a box indicating they preferred no party affiliation. Instead, by checking “American Independent Party,” they accidentally joined an ultraconservative party that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.

The Times reports that the American Independent Party is now California’s largest third party, but 73 percent of its members may be in it by accident.

Anti-Trump Art in Tijuana

You’ve probably seen or maybe even taken a whack at the Donald Trump piñatas making the rounds.

The Union-Tribune’s Peter Rowe showcases other creative takes on Trump, two murals in Tijuana that paint a less-than-favorable picture of the presidential candidate. Rowe talks to people in the Mexican border city who say folks are very fearful of a possible future with Trump at the helm of their next-door neighbor.

Trump, of course, has said he wants to build a bigger wall between Mexico and the United States if he’s elected.

There’s been an increase of Chinese immigrants crossing into the U.S. through Mexico. (San Diego CBS 8)

In Other News

 Salk Institute scientists say they have some good news for people with Type 1 diabetes. (U-T)

NBC 7 San Diego reports on a possible future for professional soccer in San Diego.

Jacaranda, the trees all over San Diego that bloom with thousands of violet flowers, are nice to look at, but they can also be a nuisance that requires constant raking, as anyone with one on or near their property knows. Regardless, some folks in downtown decided to celebrate the iconic purple trees in a new festival over the weekend. (Times of San Diego)

San Diego Social Media Moments

 In one Instagram photo, this person sums up one of the ironies of the huge EarthFair celebration that goes down in Balboa Park every year.

When did beards get big in baseball? As an admitted fan of facial hair, I’m all for this trend.

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture...

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