Stay up to Date
Will Huntsberry's biweekly education report (Thursdays)
Sweetwater Union High School District’s new campaign contribution limit should stave off future scandals. That doesn’t mean it came easily.
Working to reform Sweetwater Union High School District’s campaign contribution rules was a no-brainer. But by no means was it easy to pull off.
It took more than two years and a lot of people to bring about the resolution to limit campaign contributions to $750 from any individual donor. In this district, that’s a big deal, considering the majority of the people deciding the resolution’s fate were indicted for this very thing.
The resolution has a long history, and was blocked over and over again by everyone on the Sweetwater school board except ex-members Bertha Lopez and Pearl Quinones. Former board president Jim Cartmill takes credit for getting it passed, but he and trustee John McCann had previously made every effort to block it.
From November 2011 to March 2012, we tried to get a campaign contribution limit resolution onto the school board’s agenda. But in May 2012, the board decided to pass a different resolution to make it so failed items would have to wait a year to appear again on the agenda. They made my request for consideration of our resolution retroactive. This was their way to avoid dealing with the proposed limit. We waited patiently before again requesting that it appear on the agenda, following the necessary protocol.
It wasn’t until the media reported on the limit proposal that Cartmill was pressured into putting it on the agenda. It went nowhere, so my fellow community advocate Kathleen Cheers and I pulled a new resolution together with the help of board-assigned attorneys. We finished last August – Cartmill dragged his feet until December. Even then, McCann found problems with the resolution but never once offered assistance. Cartmill and McCann’s resistance wasn’t surprising. They both enjoyed major donations from contractors to get them elected, and then voted on their contracts. I call that a huge conflict of interest. And now these men are running for public office again.
Cartmill sat on the SUHSD board for more than 15 years. It’s hard to believe he never saw any of the corruption going on during that time. McCann sat on the board for four years and also failed to do anything to rid the district of corrupt pay-to-play activities until he was forced to. He’d tell you otherwise. But it came down to the public and some very brave staff to call out the foul play.
We hope the contribution limit will prevent dealings like this in the future. But there’s still more work to do on campaign reform.
The political action committee model is a problem, and frankly, campaign spending is way out of hand. No school board campaign should cost upwards of $80,000. We need to put in place strict term limits for these board members. Nobody should be able to serve for more than eight years. People become too comfortable and lose their drive to actually help.
They forget the job they were elected to do: This is a school district, meant to ensure quality education for our children. We’ve seen too many greedy administrators and self-serving board members who are in it for themselves, and not the students they were elected to serve.
Maty Adato is a South Bay community advocate. She’s lived in Chula Vista for 35 years. Adato’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.