Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008 | Poised for an upset that would dramatically reshape the San Diego Unified school board, child psychologist John Lee Evans appeared close to narrowly toppling a sitting trustee, Mitz Lee, in a rare feat that would double as a dramatic demonstration of the political muscle of the teachers union.
As of early Wednesday morning, Evans had garnered 53 percent of the vote with nearly 55 percent of precincts counted, his lead widening with each new tally.
His election, along with that of incumbent Shelia Jackson and unchallenged newcomer Richard Barrera, would install a new majority on the board: a triad that is backed by the teachers union, wary of some of the reforms pushed by Superintendent Terry Grier, and loath to resort to teacher layoffs as another financial crisis looms for San Diego Unified.
“This tips the balance on the school board toward the teachers,” said John Oren, a retiree and former San Diego Unified teacher who campaigned for Evans. “For once it will be a truly progressive board.”
Evans rode a wave of discontent over teacher layoffs to challenge Lee, aided by the teachers union, which poured more than $388,000 into mailers and ads that reviled Lee for cutting teachers during the budget crisis that menaced San Diego Unified this spring. If Evans clings to his lead, their sweat and cash may have achieved the Matterhorn feat of unseating an incumbent school board member — something that Evans said has not been achieved in San Diego Unified since 1979 — and a sizable challenge that had bested other groups in the past.
“Clearly the union was unhappy with Mitz,” said Scott Barnett, a political consultant who had once planned to run for the same seat but dropped out when Lee decided to seek re-election. “It may have been more than anyone spent in San Diego on anything.”