After the San Diego Unified school board majority took controversial stands that allied them with unions, like backing a labor pact on school construction, critics predicted their day of reckoning would come at the polls.
But when voters weighed in Tuesday, they threw their support to candidates who pledged to work side-by-side with those same board members — and it looked likely that they would eject the dissidents on the school board, Katherine Nakamura and John de Beck. Voters gave a thumbs-up to candidates who are likely to partner with the existing school board, even as they shunned a new tax for schools.
Middle school math teacher Kevin Beiser held a commanding lead over businessman Stephen Rosen when 74 percent of the votes were tallied, with 57 percent of the vote to Rosen’s 43 percent. Write-in votes for incumbent Nakamura haven’t been counted, but early totals showed few write-in votes at all. Budget consultant Scott Barnett led de Beck 51 percent to 49 percent at the same time.
Nakamura was knocked out in the June primary and waged a write-in campaign to keep her seat. Such campaigns are extraordinarily difficult, even more so in elections like the school board, which gets little limelight. As votes were tallied up, it appeared that few voters had bothered to write in anyone at all.
Beiser had almost every advantage in the school board race. He raised more money. He was endorsed by the teachers union. And he was a teacher with awards under his belt — a simple fact that earned him credibility. His campaign was simple and positive, touting small classes and stressing his teaching savvy.
The race was so polarized that the candidates often seemed to talk past each other. They diagnosed the problems at San Diego Unified completely differently: Beiser argued the school board needed a teacher who understood the classroom and would support its decentralized school reforms. Rosen argued that the teachers union, which backed Beiser, had too much sway and the board needed a businessman to bring it in line. Meanwhile, Nakamura touted her work on unifying causes like music education.