San Diego Unified School District board Candidates (from left to right) Godwin Higa, Rebecca Williams and her two sons, Shana Hazan and her two daughters, and Cody Petterson. / Photos by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

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Over the past six years, candidates backed by the San Diego teachers union have dominated San Diego Unified School District board races – all five current board members were backed by the union in their elections.  

The union has historically been a key spender in board races, and this year is no different, even though it’s the first election using a new election system that’s intended to boost candidates with less financial backing. For the first time, voters will be electing board members in the sub-district they would represent rather than citywide. Since candidates can talk to a smaller subset of voters, it’s meant a move meant to allow candidates with less money and name recognition to compete.  

Both union-backed candidates, former nonprofit executive Shana Hazan in sub-district B and Cody Petterson, educator and adviser to County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, in sub-district C, sailed through the primary. 

Hazan has massively out fundraised her opponent, Godwin Higa, and despite being out fundraised by his conservative opponent Becca Williams, Petterson has benefitted from substantial financial backing from the union. 

In total, Petterson raised roughly $12,000 this period, bringing his campaign’s total to nearly $44,000. He’s spent most of his funds on campaign paraphernalia and phone banking and has around $14,000 left to spend. 

But Petterson has benefitted from robust spending from the San Diego Education Association, the union that represents SDUSD teachers, which has spent more than twice what he’s raised on his behalf. SDEA spent $13,000 for mailers this period, bringing its total spending on Petterson bid to around $92,000 this year. Most of those funds went to mailers, with an additional $25,000 for digital ads. 

Meanwhile, his opponent, conservative charter school founder Becca Williams, has significantly outraised him. She added around $43,000 this period, the most she’s raised in any filing period. That brought her campaign’s fundraising total to around $114,000. That single period haul is more than any other candidate has raised in a funding period. 

Williams has made around $38,000 in payments over this same period, the majority of which was spent on campaign literature, postage, Facebook and text messaging campaigns, consulting and office expenses. She still has around $32,000 left. She’ll need the financial advantage to pay off after Petterson finished 13 points ahead in the primary.  

In mailers sent independently from Williams’ campaign by the county Republican party, she was portrayed as a candidate that has leaned into conservative culture war issues like opposition to critical race theory and “deceptive ‘woke’ ideas.” She’s also found allies in the movement to push back on masking and vaccine mandates in schools. That could give Petterson an edge over Williams with the 23 percent of primary voters who cast their ballot for Democrat Lily Higman.

Williams’ approach stands in stark contrast to Petterson’s, an unabashed liberal who’s embraced the district’s masking and vaccine policies – which have since been dropped. Another point of contention is Measure U, the district’s latest bond measure, which Petterson wholeheartedly endorses, and Williams pans.  

The fundraising totals in sub-district B are even more uneven. Hazan’s previous job as chief philanthropy officer at the nonprofit Jewish Family Services has given her ample experience in the fundraising world. She has raised around $128,000, though $10,000 came from loans she made to her campaign. She’s spent around $70,000, mostly on campaign paraphernalia, literature and mailings, office expenses and consulting. That leaves her with nearly $50,000 heading into the final stretch of the election.  

Hazan’s also benefitted from significant union funding, though not as much as Petterson. SDEA has dished out $48,000 on pro-Hazan mailers thus far. 

Godwin Higa, a former educator and SDUSD principal, raised just $1,700 this period,  bringing his total raised to around $8,000. It underscores the bare-bones campaign he’s run, which has relied on door-knocking and sign waving instead of consultants and mailers. He’s spent around $4,000 of those funds, almost exclusively on campaign paraphernalia like the signs.  

But that lack of campaign infrastructure has also led to challenges. He finished a distant second in the primary, receiving just 25 percent to Hazan’s 52 percent. It’s also evident in his campaign finance disclosures, which he filed himself, unlike the three other candidates who employed campaign treasurers. Despite the comparatively miniscule amount he’s raised, the filings were peppered with mistakes, many of which Higa’s rectified after Voice of San Diego inquired about them. 

But unlike the race in sub-district C, which is a tale of opposites, Hazan and Higa actually agree on quite a lot. They both support the district’s planned development of community schools, which provide wraparound services in collaboration with community resources. They both embrace trauma-informed instruction, which attempts to account for the trauma children may have experienced (the issue is a centerpoint of Higa’s campaign.) Both candidates also both support the district’s latest bond proposal. 

Hazan is hoping her laundry list of priorities, including a commitment to bridging the divide widened by the pandemic with regular office hours and dialogue resonates with voter. Meanwhile, Higa’s betting on his decades of experience as an educator and principal in the district.  

Correction: This post has been updated to correct that mailers sent out in support of Becca Williams were sent out independently from her campaign by the county Republican Party. And while Petterson and Williams have mostly different views on policy, they are both supportive of Ethnic Studies. This post has been updated to clarify an implication that she does not support it.

Correction: This post has been updated to correct the name of the teacher’s union, San Diego Education Association.

Jakob McWhinney

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter.

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