Two union-backed San Diego Unified school board candidates have declared victory in races where they hold sizable leads, but one of their opponents isn’t giving up yet.

Late Thursday, Shana Hazan, an organizational consultant and former teacher, and Cody Petterson, an environmental aide to a county supervisor, declared victory over their competitors in a conversation with inewsource. However, Becca Williams, a Texas charter school founder competing against Petterson, said votes are still outstanding and she’s not calling the race yet.

Why this matters

On Tuesday  San Diego Unified voters elected its two newest board members and decided whether a $3.2 billion bond measure will be approved to improve school facilities. Incoming board members and funding will be invested in the district, the second largest in California representing more than 114,000 students.

Petterson and Hazan said they would issue formal statements later.

Election results also show the growing approval for Measure U, which proposes billions of dollars to improve school facilities

Countywide after Thursday night, nearly 650,000 ballots had been counted and about 400,000 were outstanding, according to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters. The county will update election results again by 5 p.m. Friday. 

For the first time this year, San Diego Unified voters nominated a school board candidate representing their sub-district instead of the district at large. The move, approved by district voters in a 2020 ballot measure, is meant to increase diverse representation on the board and improve campaigning for candidates with less funding and name recognition. 

As of Thursday, Hazan had about a 20-percentage point lead in the eastern Sub-District B over Godwin Higa, an adjunct social psychology professor at Alliant International University and former San Diego Unified principal and teacher. 

“There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but I’m really just incredibly grateful,” Hazan told inewsource Wednesday. 

Within the first few weeks on the job, Hazan said she plans to listen, learn and understand how to operate an effective board. Through her, parents will have a voice on the school board, she said, thanking those in the district who trusted her with their concerns and dreams. 

Higa said he hopes Hazan will advocate for trauma-informed restorative justice practices in schools, an issue they both ran on. Higa claims credit for starting San Diego’s first trauma-informed school at Cherokee Point Elementary School while he was principal there.

“We recognize that imitation is the most excellent form of flattery as (Hazan) started using these practices as her platform,” he said, adding that he hopes “her endorsements and contributors will not derail these objectives with their need for her support in other areas.”    

The competition to represent San Diego Unified’s coastal Sub-District C was closer. 

As of Thursday, Petterson, an anthropology lecturer at UC San Diego and a senior environmental policy adviser to San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, led Williams by more than 3,500 votes, or about 9 percentage points. 

Williams, who manages curriculum for the charter schools she founded, was the only San Diego Unified school board candidate backed by the county Republican Party. 

“I am somebody who really wants to contribute to the district,” Petterson said Wednesday. “I just want to start listening to teachers, listening to administrators, listening to principals… I want to start helping.”

While Williams said she isn’t calling the race yet, the latest election results appear in Petterson’s favor. 

“Obviously if that’s the trend for the remaining ballots, this race is not close at all,” she said Thursday night, believing that the next batch of results may lean in her favor. 

San Diego Unified’s newest board members will replace outgoing board members Kevin Beiser and Michael McQuary, whose terms expire in December. After being sworn in, the two new members will attend their first board meeting as trustees later that month. 

Measure U likely to be approved

Of the nearly 187,000 votes tallied as of Thursday for the district’s bond referendum, nearly 117,000 – or 63% – were in approval.   

More than 200 educational facilities across the district were built 30 to 60 years ago, and the deterioration rate of these facilities is estimated at $240 million annually, according to the district. 

The bond measure, which requires a majority vote of at least 55%, will provide more than $3.2 billion to improve San Diego Unified school facilities. Of the $3.2 billion, $296 million will pay for security and safety improvements, a big selling point for the proposal. 

It’s the district’s fourth bond on the ballot since 2008, totaling $11.5 billion in borrowing. 

San Diego Unified trustee Richard Barrera said that with the “economic anxiety” some voters are feeling, he knew it would be a challenge to convince voters the funding is critical. But he held out hope.

“We were confident that if we could just make the case … San Diegans would step up again and that’s exactly what they did,” Barrera said Wednesday, confident the bond measure would be approved once final results are in.

Haney Hong, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, said high prices and inflation for consumers made it hard to predict whether voters would approve a bond measure. But San Diego Unified voters showed up. 

“I think the support shows … people very much care about school safety and making sure that our kids and the facilities they have are good,” he said, adding that the district “is generally well run,” but his organization will continue to monitor the district’s performance. 

Outgoing trustee McQuary celebrated Wednesday, saying San Diego Unified residents know that the district can be trusted with school bond funding. He said the district is working “to make schools not only attractive, but safer and better places for students to learn.”

“The bond is absolutely essential, just like taking care of a home. You’ve got to do the work everyday. You’ve got to maintain the water, the pipes, the sewers and facilities as well as staying up to date on technology,” he said.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Andrea Figueroa BriseñoEducation reporter

Andrea Figueroa Briseño is an investigative reporter at inewsource and a corps member for Report For America, a national service program that tasks journalists to report on undercovered communities and issues. She covers education and focuses her reporting on Latino students and families who are part...