OUTSIDERS WIN SEATS ON GROSSMONT UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD

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School bond measure also passes

By Miriam Raftery

November 9, 2016 (San Diego’s East County) –The Grossmont Union High School District has been rife with controversies including efforts to parents to split the district apart after the board ignored admonishments by the County Grand Jury  and refused to build an Alpine High School promised in two past bond measures—voting to instead fund a lawsuit defending the district’s stance.   

Yesterday,  voters cast out incumbent  Jim Stieringer, the newest Board member in a wave of anti-incumbency that swept the nation on a day that saw Donald Trump capture the presidency.  His replacement in trustee district 2, the La Mesa-Mt. Helix area, is a teacher.  Voters also elected a teacher in district 1 in Lemon Grove-Spring Valley-La Prensa, carved out through redistricting as a majority-minority district. Here's what the public can learn from these races.

Stieringer was in a lose-lose position;  after he voted to oppose continuing legislation,  the  Republican Party endorsed Bible teacher Kevin Conover, hoping to continue its domination of the board. But with 100% of the precincts counted, the winner in District 2 is Elva Salinas, a community college teacher whose endorsement by the American Federation of Teachers likely swayed voters to put her in first with 33.57% of the vote.  Stieringer is second,  with 28.16% of the vote—losing by a mere180 votes, if that total holds when every last ballot including late-arriving mail-ins are counted.  Conover fiinished third with 26.9% of the vote and Oday Yousif Jr.,  a university student endorsed by the Democratic Party, finished fourth with 10.37%.  Salinas is also a Democrat but was not endorsed by the party.

In District 1, an open seat due to the new trustee district created through redistricting, the winner was also a teacher and a Democrat, Chris Fite, with 31.15% of the vote.  Fite ran a  stealth campaign, with no website and but the muscle of the party’s official endorsement apparently enough to beat out  three other challengers.  Steve Babbitt,  a member of the La Mesa Spring Valley School District board, took 26.48% of the vote, followed by Richard Preciado with 22.74% and preacher Rolland Slade with 19.64%.

A byproduct of redistricting in the GUHSD may be a break-up of the power long held by both the Republican Party and mega-churches, though three incumbents long backed by persuasive religious leaders and mega-church parishioners in more heavily Republican-leaning districts will not face reelection until 2018.The votes also respect a power struggle between the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Grossmont Education Association (GEA),  the local teachers' union which did not endorse any candidates in the race.

Voters could have a chance to break-up that majority sooner,  however, if the state and voters approve a request by Alpine parents and the Alpine Union School District to break off from the GUHSD and unify the AUSD to expand from elementary and middle school to high school.  A suit seeking to take back funds raised by Propositions H and U to build that school remains in court. If the split is approved,  sources have advised ECM that trustee Jim  Kelley,  who lives in the area slated to be dropped from the  GUHSD,  would ultimately lose his seat if he stays there.

Grossmont’s Bond Measure BB, meanwhile, appears to have narrowly won approval from voters yesterday by just under 58%, with 55% needed for passage.   Voters made clear that they want to keep seeing improvements to the district’s schools—while voting to infuse the GUHSD board with new faces they hope are not controlled by the same forces that have long dominated the school board.