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Town Hall Meeting Regarding School Board Elections
Monday, April 23 at 6pm Mission Bay High School

The San Diego City Council has asked the San Diego Unified School District to propose recommendations to the City Council with potential changes to school board elections. The San Diego Unified School District Elections Advisory Committee has been tasked with gathering community feedback on this issue within in a tight timeline. Please read the background information below and provide your input through the surveys that are linked on the right. 

Provide your input & take a survey!

The following information is a summary of the SDUSD School Board Election Committee Report
created by the  San Diego Unified Council of PTAs:



The City of San Diego is a charter city.  Exercising the power granted to it by the California Constitution, voters established the rules for electing members of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). This vote in 1962 replaced a charter provision that had been in place since 1931. San Diego is not alone in having its city charter establish the method for electing school board trustees. Other cities include Berkeley, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.


Article VI of the San Diego city charter provides that voters in each of the five sub- districts choose the top two candidates for a runoff that includes all of the voters within SDUSD boundaries. Candidates in sub-districts must reside in those sub- districts. All other matters regarding SDUSD are subject to state law.


Several events and trends have converged to raise the issue of changing the manner in which SDUSD elections are conducted. In May 2017, the San Diego County Grand Jury issued a report that recommended that the San Diego City Council place measures on the ballot to amend the City Charter to (1) provide for district only elections, (2) provide that a person receiving a majority of the votes (50% +1) in the primary election would be the person elected to represent that sub-district, and (3) impose term limits on SDUSD trustees.


In addition, school districts across the state, including school districts and San Diego County, have moved to elect school board trustees and district-only elections in response to the requirements of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA). Rather than go to the expense of defending lawsuits they would likely lose, these districts move forward to change from at-large elections to district elections. For the most part, these school districts are governed by the general laws of the state of California. In July 2017, the California Attorney General issued an opinion that the CVRA applies to charter cities and school districts whose elections are governed by city charters.


On January 10, 2018, the San Diego City Council Rules Committee heard for proposals to amend the City Charter provisions regarding SDUSD elections, but took no action on those proposals. Representatives SDUSD informed the rules committee that on January 9 the school board established an advisory committee and a timeline to bring back recommendations to the city Council for possible changes to the charter. The school board directed the advisory committee to hold a minimum of five town hall meetings (one in each sub-district) and to discuss, at a minimum, the seven following questions at those town hall meetings:


  1. Should the process for school board elections continue under the City Charter, or be removed from the City Charter and be regulated by State law?

  2. Should there be term limits?

  3. Should there be District only elections?

  4. Should there be more than five sub-districts, or more than 5 Board Members?

  5. Should 16-year olds be able to vote?

  6. Should undocumented residents be able to vote?

  7. Should elected Board members be paid full-time salaries and be allocated paid staff?


#1 Should the process for school board elections continue under the City Charter, or be removed from the City Charter and be regulated by State law


Arguments to Stay in City Charter:

  • Remaining under the charter gives residents of San Diego great authority to organize school board elections to meet local needs, including identifying who is eligible to vote based on age or citizenship, or the level of compensation for school board trustees.

  • The California Constitution and current state law recognizes that charter cities have the authority to control school board elections.

  • School board elections in many of the largest school districts are governed by city charters (Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland , San Diego, San Francisco)

  • Remaining in the charter could allow a vote to grant the opportunity to vote in school board elections to parents of SDUSD students are unable to vote for school board trustees even though School Board decision impact their children and even though they pay taxes (sales, income and property taxes) that support SDUSD.

  • A charter amendment could bring school board elections in line with the California Voting Rights Act, which in many cases requires district only elections.


Arguments to Leave City Charter:

  • Schools are a state responsibility

  • Current voter eligibility under state laws are currently used for SDUSD elections.

  • The city council has no responsibility for SDUSD administration or operations.

  • The provisions governing school board elections date back to 1931 and were last updated in 1963.

  • The voters of San Diego changed the way council members are elected, so school board elections are no longer current when compared to city council elections.



The California Constitution allows cities to become charter cities after a vote of the people.  The League of Cities notes “A charter maximizes local control.”  The league summary further explains that “…charter cities have supreme authority over “municipal affairs.”2 In other words, a charter city’s law concerning a municipal affair will trump a state law governing the same topic.3”


“The California Constitution does not define “municipal affair.” It does, however, set out a nonexclusive list of four “core” categories that are, by definition, municipal affairs. (Cal. Const. art. XI, § 5(b); Johnson, 4 Cal. 4th at 398.) These categories are 1) regulation of the “city police force”; 2) “subgovernment in all or part of a city”; 3) “conduct of city elections”; and 4) “the manner in which . . . municipal officers [are] elected.” (Cal. Const. art. XI, § 5(b).) [SDUSD is a subgovernment as described in the constitution.]


Some of the options in the remaining questions could only be implemented if SDUSD remains in the city charter.  Otherwise, removal from the charter would subject all non-federal issues affecting SDUSD to state law.  For example, voting is limited to citizens at least 18-years old.


#2 Should there be term limits?


Arguments for Term Limits:

  • The 2016/2017 San Diego County Grand Jury recommends that the San Diego City Council: 17-30: Consider placing a measure on a future ballot to allow the voters to decide whether to amend the San Diego City Charter to limit the number of terms San Diego Unified School District School Board Trustees can serve.

  • Grand Jury Justification:

  1. Fact: Incumbents enjoy an 80 percent chance of reelection by name recognition alone.

  2. Fact: There are no term limits for San Diego Unified School District board trustees.

  3. Fact: The San Diego City Councilmembers, Mayor, and County Board of Supervisors have term limits.

  4. Fact: In general, surveys show term limits are favored by 67 percent of voters nationwide.

  5. Fact: The Sweetwater Union School District voted in the November 2016 election to have term limits for its school board members.

  6. Fact: Limiting the terms that one member can serve on the board invites new community members and new ideas.

  7. Finding 03: Term limits enable more citizens to take part in school governance.

  8. Finding 04: By instituting sub-district elections and term limits, a large part of the elections process will be returned to the people.

  9. Finding 05: Term limits broaden the pool of people involved in the schools boards.

  10. Finding 06: School board positions were not intended to be a long-term career position.


Arguments against Term Limits:

  • Of the largest 25 school districts in California, most do not have term limits (Only LA Unified and Sweetwater).

  • Some members of this committee argue it can take a term or more for a person to gain enough knowledge to be an effective school board member.

  • Some members of the committee argue term limits punish school board members that its constituents support.  The electorate is free to vote out school board members that do not serve their district.

  • San Diego City Council along party lines voted to reject school board term limits.  The City Council recommended that San Diego Unified look at reforming the election process.

  • Richard Barrera (3 term San Diego Unified school board member) and Kevin Beiser (2 term and unopposed for a 3rd term) argue that stability of the school board has led to greater student achievement in San Diego Unified, because of their support for Superintendent Cindy Marten.

  • With regards to term limits in general, studies have found that term limits do not accomplish what voters intend. “Granted, the research that's been done on the subject so far has looked primarily at state legislatures, not school boards. That evidence suggests that term limits have done little to counter cronyism, increase diversity, or improve legislative outcomes. Meanwhile, a certain amount of experience and institutional knowledge is lost, and longer-term initiatives sometimes fail to gain traction as more short-term fixes are sought.

  • A report by the Public Policy Institute of California found that term limits, while enticing to voters, "have eroded legislative capacities in unhelpful ways." Even some former supporters of term limits have later expressed regret over their adoption.”


#3 Should there be District only elections?


Arguments for District Only Elections:

Arguments against District Only Elections:



San Diego Unified School District is made up of many different ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups - to ensure minority groups of the district do not have their voting power reduced, compliance with CVRA is necessary.


#4 Should there be more than five sub-districts, or more than five Board Members?


Arguments for Adding Sub-Districts and/or Board Members:

  • An increase in the number of trustees would lead to better representation for the students and families which reside within the boundaries of their individual districts as the trustees would have less area to cover and less constituents to meet with.

  • The majority of large school districts (50K+ students) have seven (7) trustees.

  • Increasing the number of trustees would allow the trustees a more allowable load of constituents leading toward better representation.


Arguments against Adding Sub-Districts and/or Board Members:

  • Increase in the number of Trustees would mean increased cost of two more positions. Trustees are paid a nominal fee for their engagement; school board position are considered by the State of California Ed code to be part time positions and all districts which fall under state jurisdiction are paid a salary determined by a formula. The current city charter sites the board trustees to fulfill part-time positions (just as the State Ed Code). If the districts were expanded and the trustees were paid full-time with assistants the cost would be prohibitive.



  • According to California State Education Code, the number of trustees is based on a loose formula according to the size of the student population - 3 trustees are allowed for a student population under 300. The determination of five versus 7 trustees is left to the County Office of Education, but voted on by the voting public.

  • SDUSD is the second largest school district in the State of California, although it is 1/6th the size of the largest district LA Unified, it is almost twice the size of each of the next eight (8) listed school district, with student populations between 50,000 - 80,000 students. Of these eight smaller districts, five districts have seven trustees and three districts have five trustees. The most common size for larger school districts appears to by seven (7).

  • The office of Board Trustee for San Diego Unified is considered part-time. The current student population in the school district is 125,454 (attendance records SDUSD). The number of students represented by each trustee is approximately 26 thousand and each trustee is responsible for approximately 41 schools. If the number of trustees was 7, each trustee would be responsible for 29 schools and 18,500 students. With the office of trustee determined to be a part-time venture, this would give a more allowable load to each elected individual.

  • SDUSD History - 



#5 Should 16-year olds be able to vote?


Arguments for 16 year-olds voting:


Arguments against 16 year-olds voting:

  • Current cost. Printing separate ballots for under-16s could be very expensive, and if cost is on SDUSD, then the vote could negatively affect students by redirecting funds needed for their education to cover election costs.





#6 Should undocumented residents be able to vote?

Please note - We amended this question to read “Should non-citizen residents be able to vote”?


Arguments for Allowing Non-citizens to Vote:


Non-citizens are already given some citizen benefits:


Arguments against Allowing Non-citizens to Vote:

  • From the LA Times (2014): Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed non-citizen permanent residents to serve on juries, Brown said, "Jury service, like voting, is quintessentially a prerogative and responsibility of citizenship."

  • Non-citizens also pay federal taxes, and there is little support for allowing them to vote in federal elections. Moreover, linking the payment of taxes to voting smacks of a property qualification. Even citizens who don't pay taxes have a right to vote. (

  • Non-citizen parents can already make a difference by volunteering in schools, meeting with board trustees, administration and teachers, and under California's Parent Trigger law, a majority of parents in an underperforming public school can sign a petition to force it to become a charter school; the law doesn't distinguish between parents who are citizens and those who aren't.

  • Some believe it's unfair to the immigrants who DO go through the naturalization process and did everything the legal way if the same result can be achieved by simply going outside of the law.

  • In our current political climate, registering non-citizens for voting purposes could harm their future in America if that information were to be used for deportation purposes.



  • There is much discussion as to why this question was included in the first place. The Grand Jury report did not include non-citizen voting, nor 16 year old voting, yet Board Trustees requested it be researched along with the issues found in the report.


#7 Should elected Board members be paid full-time salaries and be allocated paid staff?


Arguments for Full-time Salaries and Paid Staff:

  • SDUSD is one of the largest school districts
    SDUSD is one of the largest districts along with LA’s. The LA community recognized that their trustees were underpaid and recently, their trustees received a significant salary raise,

  • Need of a full-time job to properly serve constituents.
    If communities assume and want their trustees to become a full-time employee, and also consider the number of students served, then we fall under LA’s scenario, of expecting a trustee to work on a full-time basis in order to properly serve their constituents.


Full time Board Trustee:

LAUSD full-time Board member pay= $125,000 + benefits (as of 7/1/17)—see brookings ref above. This pay structure and having allocated staff may help the diversity and efficiency of the school board as it would attract talented individuals.


Arguments against Full-time Salaries and Paid Staff:

  • Budget.
    As the district has been dealing with an ongoing budget challenges and crisis, there seems no space to address this matter. One, a full-time salary for trustees AND two, the allocation of paid staff.

  • Administrative help may cost a lot more than a Board Trustee.

  • Declining enrollment of students.
    While some would argue that SDUSD is one of the largest districts and bring up the fact that LA’s trustees were underpaid and that recently have received a significant salary raise,


We need to take into account the number of constituents that SDUSD has, does not compare to LA’s. In addition, SDUSD’s enrollment is declining each year.



SDUSD Administrative support costs:


Additional cost of just one Conf. Admin. Asst. II per Board Trustee5 trustees:  $522,710


**Ballotpedia school board election statistics are based on the 1000 largest school districts by enrollment.



There is much discussion as to why this question was included in the first place. The Grand Jury report did not include paid full-time salaries and paid staff allocation, yet Board Trustees requested it be researched along with the issues found in the report.

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