Teachers Union Is the Only Big Spender in San Diego Unified School Board Races

Education

Teachers Union Is the Only Big Spender in San Diego Unified School Board Races

The power of union spending in local school board races has always been big – and this year it’s the only campaign spending game in town.

Clockwise from top left: Voice of San Diego reporter Will Huntsberry and San Diego Unified school board candidates Crystal Trull, Camille Harris, Richard Barrera, LaWana Richmond and Sharon Whitehurst-Payne take part in an online debate at VOSD’s Politifest 2020.

The power of union spending in local school board races has always been big – and this year it’s the only campaign spending game in town.

In San Diego Unified, the teacher’s union has spent roughly $100,000 on each of its preferred candidates. Meanwhile, two out of three of their opponents haven’t raised any money, at all. Another has raised roughly $1,000.

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Three seats on San Diego Unified’s five-member board are up for grabs in this year’s election. That means, in theory, the nature of the board could change drastically. But, in reality, the prospect seems unlikely.

All five current members of the board have been supported by the teacher’s union, the San Diego Education Association. They tend to rarely break rank and frequently make 5-0 votes in setting policy within the district.

Two incumbents, Richard Barrera and Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, are up for re-election. Incumbents already tend to have an advantage going into elections, but in this case both candidates’ incumbent advantage is bolstered by union spending.

In District A, which covers University City and Clairemont, Sabrina Bazzo and Crystal Trull are running for an open seat being vacated by John Lee Evans. Bazzo is the union-backed candidate.

“Obviously I don’t have the budget to send huge [political] mailers all over the city,” said Trull. “I would have to rely on mailers more than under normal circumstances [because of COVID] and so it’s difficult to compete against that and spend that kind of money.

The latest election filings show Trull has raised just over $1,000. She said the figure is closer to $4,000 now.

Kisha Borden, president of the local teachers union, did not respond to a request for comment.

In some school-related elections, charter school supporters have put up big cash to match union spending – even in local San Diego Unified races. But as charter schools have fallen out of the local debate, the money also seems to have dried up.

Much of the union money in this year’s race has gone to polling, digital advertising and campaign mailers.

Campaign mailers funded by the local teachers union boost the group’s chosen candidates.

One mailer portrays the union-backed candidates as comic book super heroes who have pushed back against opening schools.

One citywide measure on this year’s ballot could impact the influence of outside spending in school board races. Currently, school board candidates are required to run citywide – rather in their small “sub-districts,” which only encompass smaller portions of the city – in the general election. Many have said this favors candidates who can raise enough money to reach a much larger swatch of voters across the city.

Measure C would change the electoral process so that school board candidates only run in their sub-district – this is how City Council races and most other contests work – in general elections. Supporters have said this would dilute the effect of big money on school board races.

Scott Lewis contributed to this report.

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