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Commentary: The elephant in the room

By Garvin Walsh

It’s high season in the 2022 elections. Since Labor Day, the rhetoric has intensified, campaign spending is surging, and the battle for hearts and minds is in high gear.

Ballots will soon be in the mail, so the time to choose is close at hand.

Naturally, the state-wide races, the congressional races, and the state legislative races get the most attention. The geographies involved are large, the voters are many, and the expenditure of big ad dollars can be justified.

Down-ballot local races tend to get overlooked. They don’t involve a lot of spending and don’t benefit from big-budget image building. As a result, some voters ignore smaller races.

School board elections are the most critical down-ballot contests and they deserve not to be ignored. The schools matter – they are a big factor in shaping how our next generation enters adult society, and they involve big bucks.

School taxes are a sizable chunk of local property taxes, so voters and taxpayers do indeed have a stake in the outcome of school board elections.

Those races usually attract the attention of school parents, both as candidates and observers. Those with children in public school are more attuned to how the school system is run. But the rest of us, voters and taxpayers, should care also. Whether we realize it or not, we have a dog in the fight.

Looking at the yard signs around town, most school board candidates tout some version of the same message: they’re “for the students.” None speak to the most fundamental question: if elected, with whom will they stand, the teachers unions or the voters and taxpayers?

That question is the elephant in the room and it shouldn’t be ignored.

There is no good reason to give the unions control. It makes no sense to have union representatives sitting on both sides of the table when the issues they have an interest in arise.

Until two years ago, control of the San Dieguito Union High School District board was held by a majority aligned with the teacher’s union. They drove one of the wealthiest districts in the nation into financial difficulty.

The district has been operating in the red and suffering steadily declining financial reserves for several years, but the teachers are the highest paid in the region. They even inserted a clause into their contract to keep it that way – they automatically get a salary bump if teacher pay in another district rises above their own.

Sweet deal for them, but not so good for taxpayers.

Since they lost their majority in 2020, the union has been scratching and clawing to get back into the driver’s seat. They’ve forced a special election, attempted a recall, threatened lawsuits, and stirred up their political allies with divisive cultural issues. It’s been very unpleasant and not a good experience for the district.

From this writer’s perspective, union-backed candidates are not the right choice. They won’t protect voters and taxpayers at the negotiating table, they won’t protect parents and students when the teachers oppose them on policies and programs, and they are promoting divisive views on cultural issues.

Maybe you disagree. If you favor union control of your school board and like having the fox guard the henhouse, then choose the union-backed candidates.

In SDUHSD those are Rimga Viskanta, Jane Lea Smith, and Julie Bronstein. In the Carlsbad Unified School District, they are Michele Tsutsagawa Ward, Jennifer Fornal, and Kathy Rallings.

On the other hand, if you want independent trustees, not beholden to the teachers’ union; trustees who will put the education of our students first; and trustees who will mind taxpayer dollars with care, then vote for the challengers.

In SDUHSD, those are David Carattini, Sheila King and Phan Anderson. In CUSD, those are Sharon McKeeman, Gretchen Vurbeff and Scott Davison.

Pick a side, and feed the elephant – be sure to vote.

Garvin Walsh is a resident of Encinitas


SDsurfer760 October 10, 2022 at 5:57 pm

The ONLY thing this ridiculous commentary got right is that all property owners in Carlsbad have skin in the game with the school board elections whether you have a child in the system or not. Our high property values are in part a direct result of the nationally ranked public school system we have here, led by superintendent Dr. Ben Churchhill. The very first person these right-wing extremists will oust if they are able to get a majority on the school board. If that happens, we will witness a mass exodus of teachers from CUSD, leaving our acclaimed public school system in dire straights. Sharon McKeeman likes to tout that she will “put students first”. But not ALL students! When given multiple chances to go on the record, both McKeeman and Vurbeff have stated they can not openly support the LGBTQ+ community! Completely despicable! As someone with a disability herself, she should be ashamed to selectively discriminate against any student. And let’s not forget that McKeeman had the audacity to stand before the Carlsbad City Council a few weeks ago and gloat about how she and her family are beacons of public safety (referencing the current state of emergency in Carlsbad regarding bike and pedestrian safety). Yet just two days PRIOR, she was photographed riding her ebike through the village with her child on the back with her helmet strapped to her bike frame rather than her head. How about she start with “practice what you preach.” That’s not someone that I want looking out for my child’s best interests. These three are the epitome of decisiveness and are bad news for Carlsbad!

chuckeemonba October 9, 2022 at 10:52 am

Most teachers in our school district can be loved, but to be honest, there are also many lower performers that don’t teach and don’t care about students. We should give good teachers a raise, but not so much for the other ones. An elected Trustee should represent voters from the community. Taking $$$$$ from the union and then negotiating contract with Union is a BIG conflict of interest, period.

EMusick October 7, 2022 at 6:36 pm

Mr. Walsh has shown through his prolific social media activity that red is the only color he sees. Qualifications and personal integrity are irrelevant. He urges a vote for Scott Davison for Carlsbad School Board, not because he is qualified or has integrity, but because he has an “R” next to his name.

I’ve known Scott Davison for 11 years. He was my partner in a 2-attorney intellectual property firm I started 6 years ago. For 5 years, I generously subsidized his practice because he didn’t bill enough to cover what he needed to live. In early 2021, he decided, without consulting me, to file a lawsuit against the governor, several other state officials, and numerous school districts on behalf of some parents who wanted to force the schools to reopen during the pandemic.

Even large law firms require approvals from other partners to take on litigation. Considering the high profile and controversial nature of the case, it should have been a no-brainer that Davison would consult his only partner before filing a pro bono lawsuit. Add to that the fact that the firm’s largest client is a state agency, he created an ethical problem. He lacked the integrity, responsibility and courtesy to even discuss it with me. I found out about the lawsuit by reading a story in the San Diego Union Tribune. I wondered what jerk attorney would file such a lawsuit to force the schools to reopen at the very peak of the pandemic when an average 50 people in San Diego County were dying every day from Covid. Imagine my surprise when I saw my firm name on the court docket. It’s still on the court docket to this day, even after I demanded he remove it. Note that I said “was” my partner.

Integrity matters, ethics matter, and fiscal responsibility matters when dealing with decisions about taxpayer-funded public education. Davison lacks these qualities. Simply being anti-teacher’s union and anti-mask with an R next to your name does not qualify a person to make important decisions about children’s education.

concerned parent October 6, 2022 at 9:35 pm

It is so sad to see this “commentary.” Everyone that was named as one to not to vote for is absolutely the candidates that should be voted for. They are the ones who will improve the educational process and work with the teachers. Many are under the impression that teacher unions represent a small group. In fact, it is about 90% of the faculty at all sites. That means, the beloved teachers you or the child admires the most are part of the union. In addition, toxic divisive rhetoric comes from those candidates this commentary endorses. These people are the DEFINITION of divisive. Teachers are not the ones bringing division to the classroom. So upsetting and I am frightened that the absolutely wrong people may get elected in such important positions.

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