At the County Board of Education, the battle over the role of charter schools is playing out in District 5, stretching from Del Mar to the Fallbrook Union Education District.

Four districts had seats up for grabs this year, but two candidates who had the support of charter school advocacy groups, and one who was backed by a teacher’s union, were elected outright in the June primary. The only safe seat is held by union-backed Alicia Muñoz, chair of the ESL Department at Cuyamaca College.

With the union-supported candidates, who typically oppose charter schools, controlling two seats, and charter school proponents controlling two of their own, all eyes are on District 5, where nearly $1 million has poured into the race that otherwise flies under the radar.

“This election is an obscure race that few even know exists, yet it has become the focal point of a high-stakes political shoot-out,” Jim Miller writes in the San Diego Free Press. Miller is vice president of the American Federation of Teachers Guild, Local 1931, which represents faculty in the San Diego and Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community Colleges.

His union backs incumbent Rick Shea, who was appointed to fill the District 5 position in 2015, and has raised $300,000 this year.

Former state Sen. Mark Wyland is looking to unseat Shea, and has raised $140,000 from contributions and loans, and has benefited from another $500,000 spent by the California Charter Schools Association, the Union-Tribune reports. (Disclaimer: Voice of San Diego co-founder Buzz Woolley has contributed $750 to Wyland’s campaign.)

Meanwhile, a similar dynamic is playing out in the Encinitas Union School District, where a pair of comparatively large contributions are making waves.

Candidates Anne-Katherine Pingree and Leslie Schneider each received donations of $10,000 from one individual, Jacob Stern, CEO of a marketing firm, and board member of the Encinitas Educational Foundation.

“Anne-Katherine and Leslie both demonstrated fiscal responsibility and the willingness to question the actions of the superintendent,” Stern told The Coast News.

While Stern made no mention of his position, or the candidate’s, regarding charter schools, the two candidates are the only ones in EUSD endorsed by CCSA.

Running against Pingree and Schneider are Rimga Viskanta and current trustee Patricia Sinay, who have raised a combined $17,000 and are endorsed by the local teacher’s union.

Carl Luna, a professor of political science at the University of San Diego, says the large contributions also raise the issue of “checkbook democracy.”

“The problem with a single person making such large contributions, effectively becoming the only significant donor for a candidate, is that the ‘public’ elected official has been partially privatized,” he told The Coast News.

Hospital’s Bills Become Focus of Campaigns

The election for the board of Tri-City Medical Center usually garners only slightly more fanfare than school board races, but with $337 million in revenue and major expenses, the hospital’s finances are becoming a hot issue.

Last year, the hospital operated at a net loss of about $4.3 million. This year, a judge also ruled against Tri-City in a lawsuit involving eminent domain takings of an office building, and required it to pay an additional $12.1 million to the former owner.

The Union-Tribune reports that the incumbents say that’s no reason for alarm.

“I have complete confidence in how we are operating,” board member Ramona Finnila said. “Talk of bankruptcy, that’s total fear-mongering.”

The challengers, however, say the picture incumbents are painting doesn’t align with the district’s statements in court, in which the district said, “The district cannot pay $12.1 million without defaulting on its financial covenants.”

Former CEO Larry Anderson has filed a complaint with the state about how the district included the $12.1 million verdict in its most recent financial audit, and took to an Oceanside Facebook group to make a few accusations about the district’s current financial situation.

“The truth is that 2014 and 2015 were anemic years and 2016 was a HUGE LOSS. The truth is that the hospital lost over $26 Million in 2016, but the Board does not want to tell the public until AFTER the election,” he wrote.

North County PAC’s First Election

Last week, I received a mailer supporting the incumbents on the Tri-City board, paid for by the North County Leadership Council, which prompted me to check back on the group that has been fairly dormant since it formed last year.

The group is composed of North County Republicans, including Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar, who is running for county supervisor.

Though she hasn’t taken an official position on Measure B to decide the fate of Lilac Hills Ranch, the group Gaspar helped launch has spent nearly $35,000 supporting Measure B. It’s also put out mailers to support Gaspar’s bid for county supervisor.

At the end of October, the group gave $31,102 to San Diegans Supporting Housing Opportunities, Yes on B. The week before, it spent $3,390 on mailers to support Measure B.

Also benefitting from NCLC-sponsored mailers are Gaspar’s husband, Paul, who is running to replace her as mayor, and Encinitas City Council candidates Councilman Mark Muir and Phil Graham.

Some Residents Pay Less for Water

Ry Rivard reports that residents in the Vallecitos Water District, serving San Marcos and some surrounding areas, are paying less for their water than it’s worth

Vallecitos doesn’t produce its own water, and instead resells water it gets from other sources, including the desalination plant in Carlsbad. That water is expensive, and Vallecitos is losing about $1.60 on every unit of water – about 748 gallons.

The average customer in the district uses about 12 units of water each month, and while that $19 wouldn’t amount to much for each customer, the district has withdrawn millions of dollars from its reserves to pay for operating costs.

“The shenanigans within the small district offer a window into the lengths some California water officials will go to avoid raising rates,” Rivard writes.

Also in the News

• Two men were arrested last week in the shooting death of a teenage girl at a park in Oceanside earlier this year. (Union-Tribune)

• Plans have been submitted for the controversial housing development at a former Escondido golf course. (Union-Tribune)

• Dredging in the Oceanside harbor is finally done, five months behind schedule. The Army Corps of Engineers, which was recently tasked with sand replenishment in Encinitas and Solana Beach, was in charge of hiring the contractor to perform the dredging. (Union-Tribune)

• A Poway woman is accused of stealing campaign signs belonging to her father’s opponent in a City Council race. (NBC 7)

• San Marcos tightened its regulations on marijuana ahead of a statewide vote on Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational pot. (The Coast News)

• Encinitas rejected an investigation into allegations of Brown Act violations by Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear and Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer. (The Coast News)

Ruarri Serpa

Ruarri Serpa is a freelance writer in Oceanside. Email him at and find him on Twitter at @RuarriS.

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