After going through years of budget cuts, San Diego Unified is facing yet more. After laying off hundreds of teachers this year, the district says it will need to cut again next year  to fill a $57 million hole — one that could grow by more than $30 million.
Critics call the district failing. The school board acknowledges schools have problems and has adopted a bottom-up reform plan to effect improvements.
The district has attracted reform efforts from outside, too. One recent effort aimed to expand the school board with appointees and impose term limits. It failed to garner enough signatures to be put on the ballot.
We asked them what they would propose to fix schools, whether the mayor and City Council have a role to play in San Diego Unified’s oversight, and whether they would send their children to a public school in San Diego.
Carl DeMaio, city councilman: California’s public school system used to be the pride of our state. Much like our local and state governments, out-of-control pension costs, bloated bureaucracies, and budget cuts have brought us to a point where class sizes are far too large, test scores are low, and the money that does go toward schools is eaten up by administrative costs before it ever reaches the classroom.
As mayor, few things could be as important to me as the future of San Diego’s children. Before I ran for office I owned a business which looked at government agencies and proposed cost-saving ways to make government operate better. No government agency is tasked with more responsibility than our public school system, and I plan to do everything I can as mayor to work with San Diego Unified to help encourage and implement efficiencies to better manage that system so that San Diego’s children can thrive in local public schools. Additionally, I recently proposed a major expansion to the San Diego Workforce Partnership’s “Hire-A-Youth” program with the goal of providing career training to 5,000 San Diego high school students. If elected mayor, I will actively work to expand opportunities for San Diego’s youth.
Bonnie Dumanis, district attorney: It’s vitally important the mayor work to support a quality education for all San Diegans. Although the mayor has no authority over the school district, my work as district attorney and judge has shown that elected officials can still play a leadership role in our educational system. I will use the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office to aggressively advocate on behalf of our children and their educational opportunities.
As district attorney and a judge, I’m proud of the innovative educational programs I’ve participated in or helped create that can serve as models. These programs include the San Diego Children’s Initiative, the DA’s Youth Advisory Board, the city’s Gang Commission and literacy and truancy programs. I also support ‘Fight Crime, Invest in Kids,’ because very early education means kids are more likely to graduate and less likely to commit crimes.
As mayor, I will continue these types of programs and support reform initiatives for San Diego Unified when they make sense, increase accountability, improve quality and save taxpayer dollars. I will partner with the board of education, parents, schools, community leaders, including business professionals, and other stakeholders to help students develop the skill set that is necessary for today’s economy.
Bob Filner, congressman: The congressman failed to respond, though his campaign spokesperson acknowledged receipt of the question.
Nathan Fletcher, assemblyman: Education is an area where some think the mayor has no role. I disagree. Every elected official should be concerned about our schools and our children’s futures.
Leaders in the innovation economy point to a workforce problem as one of the reasons for high unemployment. Having an education system that produces workers we need is a cornerstone of our economic prosperity.
It is also a moral issue. I believe every American gets access to the American Dream. We don’t guarantee equality of outcome but every child should have access to the American Dream and that starts with a quality education.
I have recently begun an education listening tour with Council President Tony Young to understand how we can improve student achievement and prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century. Early next year I will lay out a plan for how I will play a constructive role to make a difference on this important issue.
Innovation will be the key to the future of our economy, schools, and how we address city services. We live in a 21st century world, but unfortunately the way we educate our children seems to be stuck in the past. We can do better.
David Cardon, real estate broker: To fix schools here in the city, we must first determine what is broken. Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education, has gone on the record to say that the school finance system in California “lacks simplicity, coherence and fairness.” He goes on to say, “It is overdue for a fundamental overhaul.” I couldn’t agree with him more. We need to put the focus back on the children. Reducing classroom sizes, reviewing allocation of funds from property taxes and state lottery, providing competing salaries for San Diego’s teachers, and a thorough curriculum review to allow for the best education here in San Diego are just some of the areas to start with. The mayor and City Council do have a role to play in San Diego Unified. Finding sources of revenue through federal and state programs, pushing for private sector initiatives to assist teachers with educational tools and programs, and ensuring that the school board is doing its due diligence with the funds it controls. Without major changes to classroom size, a redirection of focus back on children, and an emphasis on education, I would not put my child in a San Diego public school at this time.
Hud Collins, trial attorney: During a double dip recession, the last thing that a mayor should be doing is addressing a plan to fix schools. The mayor and City Council should have no role in the San Diego school situation. The city is in a financial emergency and crisis and hasn’t appropriately addressed that problem, homelessness, lack of jobs, pension disarray, dysfunctional city government, etc. When the city figures out this financial emergency and crisis (so that we are not technically insolvent) then the council/mayor should set up an advisory board that would liaison with the San Diego Unified School District. Certainly at the appropriate time there are certain crossovers and possible help that the city could look at. It would be foolish not to spend 100 percent of the mayor/City Council’s time on the immediate problems. The schools in the city are very important; let the San Diego Unified school board handle it.
Loch David Crane, magician and retired teacher: Of course I’d send my children to the public schools because I know they can receive appropriate education when I as a parent pursue it. The key is always parent involvement or absence. You have to participate in your child’s education the get the available services! The mayor and City Council should set an example of leadership, frugality, or self-control for the city schools … but they haven’t yet!
The problems of student violence, boredom, vandalism, drop outs, and many other non-medical problems can be solved with appropriate individualized counseling and smaller class sizes. Unless you involve the student’s wishes and career, the parents’ ability and willingness to help, and the state’s requirements-failure will result. Laying off expensive administrators lowers class size, allowing that individualized attention. Magnet schools show that when students enjoy learning, they attend and excel! Success can be studied and learned.
Students need to be motivated toward trades, labor and management — not just academic careers. A properly led construction class could help maintain the school and show student skills; vandals should clean up their own graffiti; artists could maintain the classrooms; gardening classes could raise salable flowers or edible food; computer classes could consult online.
Steve Greenwald, compassionate physician, businessman, and civic activist: As mayor of San Diego I would implement strategies to increase funds available to the SDUSD coffers. To improve the prosperity of our citizenry I would create jobs grow our major industries thus increasing the values of all real estate in our city. As mayor I would strive for excellence in education and improving the efficacy of our teaching staff. As mayor I would advocate TOLERANCE OF OTHERS so as to decrease the incidence of BULLYING in the schools. As mayor I would advocate a cadet work program during the summer recess which would be offered to all senior high school students so that they may be integrated into the private and public work arena. Our future success as a nation is dependent on our present day students. BTW all my children attended SDUSD schools at one time of their scholastic experiences.
Tobiah Pettus, unemployed: San Diego Unified School District is allocated money per child, per day of attendance. The current fiscal challenge is due to enrollment dramatically declining, every year, for the last 10 years. SDUSD is losing funding, because they are losing students.
I propose to fix schools by spearheading San Diego’s economy. We will reverse the fiscal decline, by creating the ideal environment where people, “have to live and be”, in our San Diego. This will increase enrollment and it will increase the taxable base.
The mayor and City Council have zero authority over SDUSD. SDUSD is NOT funded by the city. They also cannot “fix” SDUSD’s governance.
“Educators say a teacher is the most critical factor in a child’s academic success outside the home.” It is critical, to decrease, the child per teacher ratio! We have to STOP pink slipping teachers! My wife, Holly, is an SDUSD primary teacher. So, YES, absolutely! I want Holly to educate our child! Her students/parents love her! Our first child is due April 2012. Holly and I are, thus, a few years off ourselves, but we know that San Diego teachers are of the highest caliber. I will fight for Holly and for education. http://www.MayorTobiahPettus.com 
Scott Wilson, businessman: On the most part I’ll respond to the concept that the only way to improve schools is to throw money at them. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how school improvement happens and flies in the face of thousands of schools and districts across the country that have improved dramatically without the luxury of money. Take the study by Dr. Douglas Reeves most well known as the “90, 90, 90” effective schools research. Dr. Reeves did a positive deviant study on schools that had 90% poverty and a 90% minority population yet more than “90 percent of the students met or achieved high academic standards, according to independently conducted tests of academic achievement” (Reeves, 1995). The study was eye opening because it wasn’t some prepackaged program that cost a ton of money to implement, run, and sustain over time. Rather, the schools beat the norm of failure for schools of similar demographics through practices that are described by the author as “mundane, inexpensive, and most importantly, replicable” To get the full understanding of these practices please visit our website at www.CrazyScott4Mayor.com 
Five other declared contestants didn’t respond: Toby Lewandoski, Bradley Slavens, Sharam Adhami, Rob Harter and new entrant Sunny O. Enyoghwerho.
Lamii Kpargoi is an international fellow working with voiceofsandiego.org. He will be working on elections issues and media best practices in community relations. You can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org  and 619.550.5671.
Follow @lkpargoi 
Like VOSD on Facebook .