Scott Barnett has staked his campaign for school board on whipping a massive school district into financial shape. His plug is simple: San Diego Unified is badly managed. And he’s the one to fix it.
In his bid to unseat veteran school board member John de Beck, Barnett has billed himself as a budget wonk who can cut through financial jargon, a sensible alternative to the often caustic and controversial de Beck. His unlikely coalition of backers includes typical enemies, as he’s gained support from the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and the conservative Lincoln Club, sitting school board members John Lee Evans and Richard Barrera, and some of the school board’s toughest critics.
Like Barrera and his labor allies, Barnett promises to continue the school district trend toward decentralizing and empowering schools to make their own decisions. Yet he is uneasy with the planned salary hikes for teachers and opposes a new tax for schools — a change of heart that led the teachers union to yank their endorsement from him. He is known for being independent and unpredictable, a Republican who opposed recalling former Gov. Gray Davis and backs gay marriage.
“He’s hard to pigeonhole,” said Lorena Gonzalez, CEO of the Labor Council.
The question is whether Barnett can deliver on his pitch as a budget expert. He is best known as the former head of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit that champions efficient government. He has hovered over local politics for decades, advising candidates and criticizing waste. The father of two girls in San Diego schools, he’s good at explaining why he thinks the school district is mismanaged through concrete examples about school lunches and the endless forms parents have to fill out when the school year begins.
In recent years, he has hopscotched from one gig to another, working as a political consultant, starting up his own watchdog group, even penning articles for the San Diego Reader. De Beck argues that Barnett lacks any real chops to dissect school finances and is just angling for higher office.