Tacked to the end of San Diego Unified school board president Kevin Beiser’s emails, you’ll see his slogan, simple and inspirational: “with students first.” He’s a teacher, his re-election campaign mailers remind voters, and he’ll continue to fight for kids.

But for the students who he’s most directly involved with – those in his middle school math class – it appears students sometimes take a backseat to his political aspirations.

Over the last five years, Beiser has been absent from his job as a middle school math teacher, on average, four weeks out of every school year. That more than meets the bar to be considered chronically absent.

Beiser defended himself in an email to VOSD last week, writing: “A vast majority of those days I was serving students of San Diego Unified or engaged in professional development to better serve the students in my class, and they were planned in conjunction with my principal and supported and endorsed by her.”

There’s a lot packed into that statement that makes it difficult to fact check. He’s got wide latitude to justify his absences as serving the interests of students in San Diego Unified.

This could include, for example, the times he missed school because he was attending San Diego Unified School board meetings, taking trips abroad, delivering speeches or appearing at award ceremonies.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Training and conferences only account for a quarter of Beiser’s time out of the classroom. The rest are made up of sick and personal days.

Since 2009, Beiser’s missed 106 full school days, and came in late or left early at least 29 days, according the Sweetwater Union High School District.

And on many of the days Beiser left early, a substitute teacher wasn’t brought in. Instead, other teachers or staff members covered his class, or supervised students as they read silently.

That’s not enough to dissuade the teachers union, which has endorsed Beiser. The group has doubled down on its support for Beiser.

“Teachers are professionals and in that capacity must make the determination on how their time needs to be spent,” SDEA President Lindsay Burningham wrote in an email.

Teachers weigh the pros and cons any time they step away from their classroom, she wrote, and missing class for professional training, to recover from illness or speak at an event can serve the greater good and make them more effective advocates for kids.

“I know how committed Kevin is to his first job of teaching and know that he thinks seriously about every day he is away from his students,” she wrote.

David Page, a San Diego Unified parent who for years has pressed the district for greater transparency, said he believes that whatever Beiser was doing with his time off is less important than the fact he wasn’t in class, in front of students.

Page, who supports Beiser’s opponent Amy Redding in the upcoming election, said teachers who chronically miss class rob students of the consistency that need most.

“If my kid’s teacher would have missed five days, you can bet that I would have been at the principal’s door, asking what’s going on,” he said.

So what was Beiser doing with all his time out of class? He declined to discuss it with me. But even if Beiser was indeed missing class because he was tied up politicking, this probably wouldn’t violate any rules.

Based on the contract between teachers and the Sweetwater Union High School district, teachers get 10 sick days per year – seven of which can be used as personal days – with an extra five days going to teachers who also serve as elected officials. Additional days can be approved by the district on a case-by-case basis.

That points to a major flaw, not just with Beiser’s absenteeism, but with the system itself.

Because the district pays Beiser on the days he misses, and foots the bill for the substitutes to cover his classes, taxpayers are essentially subsidizing his campaign efforts.

    This article relates to: Education, News, School Performance, Share

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario is an investigative reporter focused on immigration, border and related criminal justice issues. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email: mario@vosd.org.

    Jafa subscriber

    I have worked for both a public agency and a private employer while serving on a public board. When I could show that the time I spent on the board related to my public agency responsibility and benefited the people I served in my public job, I was allowed limited release time to attend board meetings--4 hour a month. My private employer was not interested in supporting my participation at all. Although Beiser's school board duties are related to education in general, it is hard to see how his time spent away from the classroom benefits the students he was hired to teach. And the amount if time away from his job is extraordinary, even by generous public agency standards. Let's keep in mind that unlike most workers he's not on the hook for 2080 hours a year in the work place. Pressing the flesh at opening day at SDUSD school cannot benefit his students. I can't say that I have strong convictions about the School Board race, or support Mr. Beiser's opponent, but I find his chronic absence from teaching offensive, and possibly a theft of public funds.

    francesca subscriber

    Speaking of education...I see that the San Diego Police and the San Diego Unified School District police and the local fire department had a joint training, to help them prepare for a school shooting, at a San Diego middle school.

    One child played the shooter, several played the victims, the police stormed the campus, with guns drawn and today they are holding a pretend funeral, at Knox Middle School on S.49th St. to end the anti-bully drill.

    Middle School, eleven to thirteen year olds...On the news coverage several children said the training was very realistic and frightening.  I disagree with this exposure of innocent young children to this frightening experience, even one child handcuffed  and taken away.

    I would rather see this at high school level, if it has to be done.  La Jolla High, perhaps.

    Mario, You've done three or four stories on Beiser's campaign.  How about letting the public know who authorized this emotional assault on young, innocent students.  Did parents give permission?

    Shelley Zimmerman?  Cindy Marten? Reuben Littlejohn?  Unbelievable.

    msginsd subscriber

    Once again, nine comments coming from Twitter, all from media people, most from VoSD staff, that add nothing to the discussion.  VoSD = amateur night.

    Joe Jones
    Joe Jones subscriber

    @msginsd Spot on. Get your act together, VOSD. If the kids wants to banter, do it in private.


    @vosdscott I didn't want to say anything, but you might be starting to droop and sag a little. Some say age; I say erosion. @MarioKoran


    @MarioKoran I see that. Still, I'm a bit concerned about erosion. My wrist does hurt. Erosion?

    John Gordon
    John Gordon subscriber

    Mario, this was a very poor "investigative" article. More like an OP-ED or a campaign piece.

    First you probably don't know, but "politicking" is done evenings and after hours. How can you possibly bring up "politicking"  if you don't know anything about it? Have you ever participated in a campaign and have any idea? Do you have any schedule of "politiking" events to cross check? Of course not.

    Secondly, Kevin is an elected School Board Trustee and President of the Board. Based on my four year term on the SDUSD Prop S Oversight Board, there are both Monday and Tuesday meetings and others. Its like a full time job. Not all the meetings can possibly occur after 400p or whatever you seem to note close of business is. Why: you need to talk to staff on weekdays and they clear out.

    This is more poor VOSD "journalism. Its really silly. Paper standards have deteriorated greatly over the  Scott Lewis administration. Compare this silly piece to the journalism seen at Honolulu Civic Beat, a real professional organization.

    Once Scott fired Emily Albert (who is doing just fine at the LA Times as City Hall Reporter), you have to know it was a downhill path.  

    John A. Gordon

    Mario Koran
    Mario Koran author

    @John Gordon John, Thanks for the comment. Some of this is ad hominem, which I won't try to defend or respond to; you're entitled to your opinion. 

    But, respectfully, you're mistaken in assuming that I haven't cross checked Beiser's political activity with his school schedule. I compared his time cards to several sources: His personal calendar from his school, the blog San Diego Unified keeps, Beiser's facebook page, and of course, former supporters who were familiar with his campaign activities. 

    You and I may differ on our definitions of politicking. Ultimately, I decided not to go down the road of parsing his schedule in nitty gritty detail. What's most interesting to me, and what I wanted readers to take away, is that we have a chronically absent teacher and a system that supports that.  

    francesca subscriber


    I think the public deserves to know more about Amy Redding.  

    I've found her rather heavy handed, when as the president of a parents group, she stated, at a school board meeting, "These are our recommendations and we're going to watch you to make sure you follow them."  Not my understanding of the meaning of the word 'recommendation.'

    Also tell us more about her close relationship with Scott Barnett.  By that, I mean a political relationship, but the last thing we need is a continuance of Scott B., (Mario, You should have done a story about all the School Board Meetings he missed.) a continuance of his property selling, charter school loving,bullying,  privatizing agenda for PUBLIC schools. 

    He already has a puppet in Cindy Marten.  We don't need Amy to play that role, too.  

    francesca subscriber

    @Susan Hopps 

    Some odd statements in your comment, Susan.  "Apparent you don't know the district very well"  "Not sure whose side you are on"... Strange and hard to understand.

    I see you are one of the two or three parents who, after one or two minor incidents, tried to paint the teaching professionals as bullies.  

    You verge on being a bit of a bully yourself.

    francesca subscriber

    @Susan Hopps 

    Susan, Did you hear about the police and fire department training, held yesterday at Knox Middle School?  School and city police, storming the campus,rifles drawn, terrorizing eleven year olds, according to the children's  statements on local news.

    One child, chosen to be the shooter, shooting his bullying classmates.  Mock funeral held today.

    I think this is something your "bully committee" might want to protest.  Children said they thought it was real..

    Who authorized this?  Cindy Marten?  Did parents sign permission slips?  Hard to believe.

    Susan Hopps
    Susan Hopps subscribermember

    @francesca  It is apparent that you don 't know the district very well or the people who make up the numerous boards and organizations.  As far as Barnett goes, he has been the only fiscal voice of reason for a very long time.  Those with any desire for fiscal responsibility and transparency will miss his insightful and honest assessments.  And Marten is her own person.  Impressive, responsive, smart, and fair.  After years of yes-men she is a breath of fresh air, taking accountability to a real level and working tirelessly to improve all areas of the district.  Not sure whose side you are on really, but it is easy to criticize while sitting in a chair in the audience.    

    francesca subscriber

    @Mario Koran 

    Thanks, Mario.  I tried to locate it on the 55 minute podcast.  Heard Scott and his friend, talking about DeMaio.  Couldn't find Amy Redding's interview.  

    Nicolas Abel
    Nicolas Abel subscribermember

    Great story, Mario.

    I have no kids.

    However, I was a kid, my family and friends have kids, and I believe that the most important thing we can do as a society is educate our kids.

    Your story sounds very Dilbert-like.

    Based on what you've written, maybe we're better off with this guy as a manager rather than a teacher.

    Ron Hidinger
    Ron Hidinger subscriber

    Never been a teacher, but when I worked at jobs that distinguished between sick and personal leave, I was supposed to be sick on sick leave.  And the employer could ask for some proof.  Is that the case here?

    Mario Koran
    Mario Koran author

    Hi, @Ron Hidinger. Thanks for reading. That doesn't seem to be the case here. Based on the union contract, teachers are allowed to miss up to 7 days of "personal necessity leave," which can be for pretty much anything that can't be done outside of normal school hours. Those are taken out of their 10 allotted sick days, but a teacher doesn't have to be sick to use them.