“This district is filled with outstanding students, parents and educators. They’re worth fighting for.”
—SDFA President Duncan Brown
For members of the San Dieguito Faculty Association (SDFA), the school year has been filled with difficulties and drama that have rocked the 13,000-student San Dieguito Unified High School District (SDUHSD). According to SDFA President Duncan Brown, events have shaken educators’ faith in the leadership of the well-regarded district, which stretches along North County San Diego and encompasses some of the most expensive real estate in Southern California.
The election of an activist school board member in November set off a chain of events that included a lawsuit filed against the district, the resignation of a board member, buyout of the superintendent’s contract, and replacing him with an interim superintendent with no education experience. The board majority then appointed a replacement trustee in Trustee Area 5 that left stakeholders without a choice or voice in the matter.
“In my 30 years in this district, I have never seen this kind of dysfunction,” Brown says. “It’s unprecedented.”
Elections have consequences
Former Republican congressional candidate Mike Allman narrowly won a seat on the school board in November, representing Trustee Area 4. Less than six months later, he and his fellow conservatives cemented a 3-to-2 majority coalition on the board. Their aim: to reopen schools as soon as possible, despite its being prohibited by governing state law at the time.
Allman began his tenure in December with proposals that were attempts to consolidate power:
- Authoring a resolution that all SDUHSD schools would open five days a week on Jan. 4 for face-to-face instruction. The resolution passed 3-2, but the reopening was delayed after CTA and SDFA filed a lawsuit, as the county was still in the purple tier.
- Changing the 5 p.m. board meeting to a rotating 9 a.m. schedule that would make it more difficult for working people and teachers to attend board meetings.
- Replacing Robert’s Rules of Order with a stripped-down version known as Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, which unsurprisingly gives the president additional power over the meeting agenda.
Parallel to Allman’s efforts, Trustee Area 5 board member Kristin Gibson was the subject of a recall in March that ended in her resignation. Opponents claimed on their website: “Trustee Gibson Puts Union Interests Ahead of Students’ Well-Being!”
In another destabilizing move, the new coalition voted to release Superintendent Robert Haley in April and absorb the remaining 12 months of his $270,746 salary, health and welfare benefits through April 30, 2022. He was replaced by Lucile Lynch, a defeated school board candidate with no public school education or management experience. It was yet another perplexing decision given Haley’s recent salary increase and the need for cohesion and collaboration in the wake of the pandemic.
The path forward
Brown says this is an existential moment for the 600-member SDFA and the district. “For SDFA the path is clear. Anti-democratic forces are harming the continuity and collaborative partnership that has made SDUHSD a national destination school district. SDFA and concerned parents and allies are seeking a special election to ensure that all school board trustees are democratically elected by and accountable to the constituents they serve.”
SDFA volunteers and parents spent several weekends in May collecting the required number of signatures to request this election in Area 5. On Thursday, June 10, the San Diego Registrar’s office officially certified the signatures to trigger a special election in SDUHSD Area 5 – along with hope for return a to normalcy for the community.
A big reason SDFA and supporters are pursuing a special election is that they believe only elected and not appointed board members should be a part of the superintendent selection process, as the former truly represent their constituents.
Selecting who will lead SDUHSD is the most important decision trustees make, Brown says. “When the selection of the superintendent is imminent, it’s vital that those making it have been vetted by the voters.”
Accountability for Allman
At the May 20 SDUHSD board meeting, Brown served Allman with an intent-to-recall notice, which cited his erratic, divisive demagoguery as justification.
In a strong public statement, SDFA leadership asserted their rationale for their action, stating in part: “Mr. Allman has repeatedly violated numerous Codes of Conduct included in the San Dieguito Union High School District Master Contract, Board Bylaws, and School Board Policies, therefore disregarding the obligations he was sworn to uphold.”
A recall election is not likely to happen until late this year or even early next year. Meanwhile, the situation is likely to become more divisive. The school board majority has made no commitment to refrain from selecting a new superintendent before the special election takes place.
SDFA members believe the stakes could not be higher. “This district is filled with outstanding students, parents and educators. They’re worth fighting for,” says Brown.