The backers of an unusual plan to remake the school board turned in their petition with a bang. The mayor was there. So was a former state senator known for her controversial stands on schools. They were confident that it would move ahead, having gathered roughly 40 percent more signatures than the bare minimum they needed, a big margin for error.

Now their plan is going out with a whimper, killed not by tough debates or attack ads but just about the most mundane thing imaginable: It didn’t get enough signatures to get onto the ballot.

The campaign said it turned in 133,000 signatures, more than the roughly 93,000 they needed. City Clerk elections analyst Denise Jenkins put the count a little lower, slightly shy of 130,000 signatures. The County Registrar of Voters sampled 3 percent of them and projected roughly 88,000 valid signatures, lower than the bar needed to put the initiative on the ballot.

That was so close that elections officials were legally bound to count every signature to be sure. So they went over every one and found 90,000 were valid, but more than 39,000 were not.

That comes out to almost one third of the signatures. Seventeen percent of all the signatures came from people who weren’t registered to vote. Eleven percent were duplicate signatures. The rest were for a scattering of other reasons, including being in the wrong district or not including an address.


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

“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” said Erica Holloway, a spokeswoman for San Diegans 4 Great Schools. Holloway said they had already fished out some duplicate signatures before turning them in.

Subscribe to the Morning Report.
Join thousands of San Diegans who get the day’s news in their inboxes every morning. Get the Morning Report now.

Its downfall was strikingly similar to a bid by City Councilman Carl DeMaio to dramatically change contracting and outsourcing in the city last spring. DeMaio turned in more than 134,000 signatures, but a random sampling of 3 percent of those signatures found an unusually high number of duplicates, disqualifying it. The signature effort fell so far short that it did not qualify for a hand count.

Both campaigns hired the La Jolla Group, a political consulting firm led by Bobby Glaser, to gather signatures. I left a message for Glaser this morning to ask about the signatures and how it could come up so far short. I’ve also phoned Tom Shepard, another consultant on the campaign, but we haven’t yet connected

Local politicos who have worked on other campaigns say the error rates are high.

Conservative political consultant Jen Jacobs, who worked DeMaio’s aborted campaign, said she normally prepares for 10 to 15 percent of signatures to be tossed. (In this case, 30 percent were disqualified.) The firms that are paid to gather signatures are supposed to verify signatures to catch duplicates and unregistered voters.

Evan McLaughlin, political and legislative director for the regional Labor Council, which has spoken out against the school board measure, was stunned that one of every nine signatures was a duplicate.

“Firms should be double-checking these,” McLaughlin said.

A group of philanthropists, business leaders, parents and others led the push to remake the school board. Known as San Diegans 4 Great Schools, they argued that expanding the school board and changing the way it was chosen would depoliticize the school board and reform a school district that was failing too many kids.

It would have expanded the board to include four new members appointed by a committee of university chiefs, parent leaders and a business representative. It would also have imposed term limits on school board members and changed the election system so that board members only ran within smaller subdistricts, instead of campaigning for votes from everyone in the school district.

Existing school board members and the teachers union opposed the idea of appointed school board members, calling it elitist and undemocratic. Labor leaders saw it as a power grab against the teachers union, which has been the biggest political force in recent school board races.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

 

    This article relates to: Education, News

    Written by Emily Alpert

    14 comments
    mlaiuppa
    mlaiuppa subscriber

    But hey, thanks for that mini local stimulus package. I heard they were getting $4 a signature. No wonder they were getting people to sign more than once. How many MIckeys and Marilyns were there anyway?

    mlaiuppa
    mlaiuppa

    But hey, thanks for that mini local stimulus package. I heard they were getting $4 a signature. No wonder they were getting people to sign more than once. How many MIckeys and Marilyns were there anyway?

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Initiative campaigning 101: First plan, budget and implement a comprehensive voter education campaign for at least a year BEFORE you begin circulating petitions. That didn't happen there. These guys thought they could run a initiaitive past the voter that would fundamentally change how the school district works on the cheap. You can't depend on minimum wage petition gathers to educate the voters for you, not if you expect to succeed. Go back to the drawing board.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood

    Initiative campaigning 101: First plan, budget and implement a comprehensive voter education campaign for at least a year BEFORE you begin circulating petitions. That didn't happen there. These guys thought they could run a initiaitive past the voter that would fundamentally change how the school district works on the cheap. You can't depend on minimum wage petition gathers to educate the voters for you, not if you expect to succeed. Go back to the drawing board.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    Thank you for the link, Tommy. I'll be excited when CTA moves beyond principles to actual, practical policies. I support peer evaluations by teachers from other schools. School politics makes evaluations by principals and/or other teachers at the same school unreliable. New teachers could learn a lot by observing teachers. They could document specific actions by teachers. Another issue is how to best utilize teachers with vastly differing abilities. I support giving the best teachers responsibility for several classrooms. They would be responsible for directing and supporting the regular teacher in those classrooms.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins

    Thank you for the link, Tommy. I'll be excited when CTA moves beyond principles to actual, practical policies. I support peer evaluations by teachers from other schools. School politics makes evaluations by principals and/or other teachers at the same school unreliable. New teachers could learn a lot by observing teachers. They could document specific actions by teachers. Another issue is how to best utilize teachers with vastly differing abilities. I support giving the best teachers responsibility for several classrooms. They would be responsible for directing and supporting the regular teacher in those classrooms.

    Tommy Flanagan
    Tommy Flanagan subscriber

    Outlaw mercenary signature gathering, our democracy deserves nothing less.

    TommyFlanagan
    TommyFlanagan

    Outlaw mercenary signature gathering, our democracy deserves nothing less.

    larry remer
    larry remer subscriber

    Public Education in California is facing its bigest crisis in 100 years. It would seem to behoove us to get everyone working together.

    political hack
    political hack

    Public Education in California is facing its bigest crisis in 100 years. It would seem to behoove us to get everyone working together.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    But hey, CTA, how about a little more effort to create a plan to effectively evaluate teachers? The current system is a total flop. CTA doesn't like using student test scores, so it should come up with another plan. The status quo is not acceptable. I can certainly understand the frustration of SD4; I just don't agree with their tactics.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins

    But hey, CTA, how about a little more effort to create a plan to effectively evaluate teachers? The current system is a total flop. CTA doesn't like using student test scores, so it should come up with another plan. The status quo is not acceptable. I can certainly understand the frustration of SD4; I just don't agree with their tactics.