According to documents filed with the City of San Diego this week, the secretive group behind the campaign for appointed school board officials is 99.75% funded by just two individuals: Chicago financier Ron Dammeyer ($300,000 via CAC Advisory Services LLC) and billionaire Irwin Jacobs ($150,000).
The story broke late Wednesday, Jan. 26th in the Voice of San Diego, which went on to report:
Last year, the group spent or owed more than $50,000 of that money for radio advertisements, more than $130,000 to pay petitioners and more than $115,000 in consulting costs, according to documents filed with the city yesterday that cover the last few months of the calendar year.
San Diegans 4 Great Schools is campaigning to expand the school board, now composed of five elected members, to include four more appointed members. The campaign would also set term limits and elect school board members exclusively from geographical subdistricts instead of making them campaign in the school district at large.
Its backers say the changes would stabilize and depoliticize the school board, stopping the political turmoil and the revolving door of superintendents in past years. Opponents, including existing board members and the teachers union, call the plan elitist and undemocratic and say it won’t help schools.
Last week the Union-Tribune’s Watchdog poked holes in claims that the group is making in radio advertisements urging people to sign the petitions currently being circulated by paid signature gatherers at local shopping destinations:
The case for reshaping the San Diego school board is laid out dramatically in radio advertisements and a petition drive designed to get a reform proposal on the ballot.
A review by The Watchdog found that San Diegans 4 Great Schools has made some inaccurate claims in its campaign to overhaul the board of education, especially when it comes to funding.
Earlier stories in both the Union-Tribune and the Voice of San Diego shed light on false claims being made by the petition bearers regarding the impact of the initiative. Disruptive behavior by those signature collectors has also prompted the Vons grocery story chain to post signage disavowing any implicit support of the group. Walmart, on the other hand, which has a tough policy prohibiting solicitation outside its stores, has allowed the Great Schools signature gatherers access to its shoppers, probably because they were usually also collecting names for a company sponsored initiative to overturn a City Council ordinance that would have required an economic impact study from “big box” retailers seeking to locate in San Diego.
According to multiple press reports, the Walmart initiative has garnered enough signatures to trigger a special election, which will cost the cash strapped City government more than $3 million. The Great Schools initiative petition hasn’t reached that threshold yet—paid signature gatherers were reportedly complaining about voter resistance–, although it’s considered likely in the wake of the radio ad campaign that they will eventually get there.
In response to the success of the Walmart petition drive, most insiders are predicting that the newly elected City Council will vote to repeal the ordinance rather than spend the monies to hold a special election. The “education reform” initiative backers are clearly hoping to piggy-back their measure with a special election that Gov. Brown is proposing for May or June. However, given the time constraints imposed by the law, which requires initiative petitions to be verified, this measure may have to be voted on in a separate election to held within 11 months of the signatures being turned in. In that case, San Diego’s City government may still find itself forced to pay for a special election while cutting public safety services and closing libraries.
Meanwhile, local rumor mills have been working overtime, as a still as-yet-unannounced and unnamed group—reported to be a bi-partisan coalition focused on the implications of having appointed school board members with no voter recourse—has been making the rounds seeking to gather support from elected officials. State Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson has reportedly taken an interest in the matter and has had discussions with local administrators about the implications of the Great School ballot measure.