San Diego Unified’s Unanimous School Board Fails to Prioritize Students

In an era where school board politics across the nation have been marked by divisiveness, San Diego Unified’s school board stands out for its unprecedented level of unanimity. However, the unanimous votes on every item that has come before the board in 2023 raise concerns about the lack of robust debate and the board’s failure to promote meaningful changes to benefit students. Under the leadership of this Democrat-dominated board, attendance in low-income areas has dropped, and overall education quality has suffered.

While board members claim that their unanimity is a result of shared values among the elected representatives, concerned voters argue that it stifles dissenting voices and is manufactured by the outsized influence of the teachers union in elections. The absence of lively debates on important issues hampers the district’s ability to operate efficiently and implement effective programs.

Richard Barrera, a longtime board member, dismisses concerns about the board’s unanimity, suggesting that those who worry about it simply wish different individuals held board positions. He attributes the board’s unity to shared core values and confidence in Superintendent Lamont Jackson. However, true progress requires open dialogue and diverse perspectives, which are seemingly lacking in the board’s decision-making process.

The current board’s ideological unity is defended by Cody Petterson, who believes that the board’s composition reflects the progressive thinking that prevailed in recent elections. While Petterson acknowledges that senior staff address individual board members’ concerns before bringing items to a vote, there are limits imposed by California’s Brown Act on how public boards can meet. This restricted interaction raises questions about the depth of deliberation that occurs behind closed doors.

Even though the board claims to ask the right questions, the possibility of important issues going unaddressed troubles Petterson. The sheer magnitude of overseeing a district with 100,000 students and a budget of approximately $2 billion makes it nearly impossible for board members to have a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of the district’s operations. This reliance on trust in the superintendent leaves room for critical issues to be overlooked.

While the board’s unanimity is emphasized, it is worth noting that there have been instances of dissent in the past. However, in recent years, dissenting votes have been rare, with only a handful since 2020. The lack of opposing voices raises concerns about the absence of critical discussions and alternative viewpoints.

The most contentious issue in recent memory was the vote on whether student board members should have full voting powers. The board rejected the resolution supporting state legislation that would have given student trustees more influence in decision-making. This rejection exemplifies the board’s reluctance to explore different options and consider the potential benefits of diverse perspectives.

Becca Williams, who ran unsuccessfully against Petterson, intended to challenge the board’s ideological unity. Williams believes that the board’s primary allegiance lies with organized labor, particularly the teachers union. She argues that individuals who do not share that allegiance face significant disadvantages when running for board positions, as the union’s influence is deeply entrenched.

The students and parents of San Diego Unified deserve better than this unified but stagnant Democrat leadership. It is essential to prioritize the interests of the students above political posturing and union influence. To ensure a brighter future for all students, it is crucial for the board to encourage meaningful debate, consider alternative viewpoints, and actively seek improvements in student outcomes.

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