Schools are MAGA Targets

15 Mar

By Thomas Ultican – 3/15/2021

One of America’s wealthiest public school districts typifies the damage MAGA Republicans are doing to public schools. San Diego County’s San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) serves just over 13,000 students in five middle schools and five high schools. With former Republican congressional candidate Mike Allman’s narrow school board victory, the MAGA coalition has achieved a 3 to 2 majority.

This election result advances using school reopening as a political wedge issue. Normally nonpartisan school board elections have been turned into partisan political battle grounds.

May 25, 2020, the former President Tweeted,

“Schools in our country should be opened ASAP. Much very good information now available. @SteveHiltonx @FoxNews

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020

In July, the former Secretary of Education declared,

“School leaders across the country need to be making plans’ to have students in the classroom. There will be exceptions to the rule, but the rule should be kids go back to school this fall. And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with school by school or a case-by-case basis. There’s ample opportunity to have kids in school.”

Carl Hulse’s Feb. 12, 2021 New York Times article ran under the banner, “Republicans Seize on Shuttered Schools as a Political Rallying Cry” with a subtitle stating, “As President Biden struggles to keep his pledge to reopen schools in 100 days, Republicans in Congress are hammering at the issue as a way to win back alienated women and suburban voters.”

The SDUHSD school board election is a case study in using school reopening and hard ball politics in search of political gain.

Mike Allman’s Election Signaled MAGA Politics have Arrived

Michael Allman is a self-described “libertarian-leaning Republican.” He came to San Diego to work for Sempra Energy; is a former executive of Southern California Gas Co. and until 2016 was an executive at a software company called Bit Stew Systems. He received a BS in Chemical Engineering from Michigan State and an MBA at the libertarian economist Milton Friedman’s school, the University of Chicago.

He is a wealthy investor who lived in Rancho Santa Fe for twenty years before moving to Solana Beach.

Running for school board was Allman’s second foray into electoral politics. He ran in the 2018 district 52 congressional primary; a district in which he did not live. He was matched against incumbent Democrat Scott Peters and five fellow Republican challengers. Allman reported $415,109.45 total campaign spending in that race of which $300,000 came via his personal loan.

He garnered a disappointing 3.9% of the vote.

In 2020, Allman ran against Jane Lea Smith and Amy Caterina to become the Area 4 SDUHSD board Trustee. Caterina eventually dropped out and endorsed Allman but was still on the ballot. The former special education teachers and medical device researcher, Jane Lea Smith, proved to be stout competition. Allman won the seat with 7,507 votes to Smith’s 7,181 (42.3% to 40.5%).

Like in his congressional race, Allman ran for a school board position in an area where he does not live. He personally contributed $29,000 of his total $33,333.55 in campaign contributions received and loaned his campaign $30,000. He out-spent Smith who received a total of $14,096.01 in campaign contributions five to one. If the $7,066.88 in independent expenditures by the teachers union is included, the spending advantage drops to three to one.

Allman was clear about two points in his campaign to be on the board; schools must be opened full time for face to face instruction and the teachers union is the problem. Four days before the election he posted,

“Teachers unions’ goals are in direct conflict with those of school boards.

“I will be your independent voice on the board and will work for students, parents and taxpayers. I am not beholden or supported by the teachers union.”

A post by Allman at the end of August called for opening schools and joining his political movement. He wrote,

“The Teachers Union will demand that the return to in-class learning be delayed.

“If you would like to get involved to ensure that our schools open as quickly and safely as possible, please join this group. We have a SDUHSD Board Meeting in a couple of weeks, and we can make a difference!”

Allman provided a link to the private face book page SDUHSD Families for School Reopening.”  An education activist and student mother who was kicked off of the page says that Allman was the key voice and administrator of the group until he was elected. She claims he is still the key voice leading FB discussions in the group but is no longer an administrator.

Of the five people who are current administrators of “SDUHSD Families for School Reopening,” Ginny Merrifield and Alison Stratton seem to be the most politically involved.

Allison Stratton runs a marketing company and was very involved in Mike Levin’s 2018 successful campaign for the CA 49th congressional district seat. It is surprising to see a significant supporter of a Democratic congressman decide to back an Issa-like Republican. She is purportedly one of Allman’s most vocal allies. There are some activists who believe Allman is using the school board seat as a stepping stone to run against Levin for the 49th district in the next election.

Ginny Merrifield is a very connected operator in Republican circles. She is a trustee of the E3 Civic High charter school located in the San Diego Central Library. She was a co-founder and trustee of the private and pricey Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, California. She is on the board of governors for the $750 million San Diego Foundation. Her husband Marshal ran for San Diego city council as a Republican but was not elected. She is a very active and publicly open ally of Trustee Allman’s.

Recently Merrifield became the founding Executive Director of the Parent Association of North County (PANC). The contact address listed for PANC is 5965 Village Way, San Diego. It is a strip mall with only one education related business; Elite Educational Institute a tutoring, college consulting and SAT test preparation organization. Along with Executive Director Merrifield, PANC lists nine directors one from each of the nine north county school districts they claim to represent.

PANC publishes three organization objectives: reopen schools, grow membership and recruit substitutes. Regarding substitutes they say, “Due to a shortage of qualified substitutes, parents have created easy step-by-step instructions for parents to get a 30 day emergency substitute credential.”  

PANC is not unique. On January 26, 2021, Edsource reported,

Open Schools California includes parent groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Richmond and other cities who say that distance learning has been a disaster for most students, and the state needs to push harder for safety measures that would allow campuses to reopen for in-person instruction. The group announced its formation Monday.”

In the city of San Diego the group Reopen SDUSD began posting on their new Face Book page in September 2020. They supported three pro-open schools candidates for the San Diego Unified School District board. All three were soundly defeated by the incumbents up for reelection.

A rebuttal page called Reopen SDUSD Exposed has arisen claiming,

“We are committed to exposing the truth about Reopen SDUSD @reopensandiegoschoolsnow. They are filled with anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-testing voices. They don’t want our schools open safely, they want them open at any and all costs.”

Reopen SDUSD Exposed admits “not all Reopen SDUSD supporters are anti-mask, anti-vaccine, Q following nut jobs,” but they are aligned with them.

The San Diego Union reported on March 11, “Three parents filed a class-action lawsuit against San Diego Unified this week alleging that the state’s second-largest school district failed to provide sufficient in-person learning and sufficient access to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.” One of the plaintiffs is Reopen SDUSD co-founder Gina Smith.

Reopen SDUSD Exposed Venn Diagram Depicting Reopen SDUSD Membership

Saturday March 13, 2021, PANC and Reopen SDUSD held a joint reopen schools rally in front of the county administration building in downtown San Diego. However, it does not appear that they attracted any local media attention.

Implementing the MAGA Politics of Division and Violence

In San Dieguito, the five member school board now has a three vote MAGA majority.

Maureen “Mo” Muir is the SDUHSD Board Trustee for Area one. In 2014, she was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party for what was then an open board seat. In 2018, the board was rearranged into Areas and Mo had a very difficult contest for the Area 1 seat; defeating Amy Flicker 7486 to 7291. In 2016, she also ran as a Republican for California’s 76th Assembly district and lost. Today she is the SDUHSD board President. This long time Republican finds herself in the uncomfortable position of having to support a radical MAGA style Republican agenda.

Joining Muir and Allman in the MAGA coalition is Melisse Mossy who is married to Jason Mossy, head of the Mossy Auto group and its many San Diego County dealerships. Mossy is a wealthy Christian house wife living in Rancho Santa Fe who does not seem to value the public school system. In a promotional video for the Santa Fe Christian School, Mossy says that if she could design a school it would be like this school where for the teachers it is more like a ministry. She states,

“I used to be a teacher in the public school environment and I have seen the worst case scenario. This is the farthest thing from it.”

Allman went to his first board meeting as a Trustee on December 15, 2020. He came ready to cause a stir by promoting four divisive agenda items.

Trustee Mossy introduced an Allman inspired proposal to change the time of the regularly scheduled Thursday at 5 PM board meetings to an alternating schedule of 9 AM and 5 PM. Allman seconded the motion. Minutes indicate that this motion was amended to alternating 3 PM and 5 PM. This change to a many years precedence will obviously make it more difficult for working people especially teachers to attend SDUHSD board meetings.

Allman wrote a proposal calling for a change to Rosenberg’s Rules of Order instead of using Roberts Rules of Order at Board meetings. According to Jurassic Parliament, the Rosenberg Rules are less Democratic giving more power to the chair and the majority. They are simpler with their rules stretching only to 10 pages compared to the 787 pages explaining the Roberts Rules, but that also gives the chair more power to make ruling interpretations. After a discussion the item was labeled a “future agenda item.”

Allman also proposed changing the boards legal council to Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP. When the agenda item arose, Muir moved to make the change and Allman seconded the motion. It would be unusual for a public school district to hire this “school choice” promoting law firm. On the firm’s web site they state,

“If you view charter or private schools as opportunities to improve public education, we are aligned with you. We want to help you make a positive difference.”

 After a discussion, Muir withdrew her motion and requested that a legal subcommittee to include Allman and Ms. Young meet with staff and review legal counsel options to recommend to the Board.

Allman’s big agenda item of the day was for all SDUHSD schools to open on January 4, 2021 for face to face instruction. Part of the resolution he authored stated, “The Governing Board designates Trustee Allman as the Board’s spokesperson for matters addressed by or arising from this Resolution.”

The board made it clear that all board members would be spokespersons and not just Allman. They also decided to start with one day a week in person before going five days a week on January 27. After that changes the MAGA coalition of Allman, Muir and Mossy provide the three required votes.

The San Dieguito teacher’s union immediately took legal action that stopped the in person school openings.

In late February, SDUHSD Superintendent Haley petitioned the state health department for an opening approval. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has offered a safety review process for school districts to request approval to reopen early while still in counties designated as “purple tier” for infection. Inexplicably, Haley announced that schools would open on March 8th before receiving word from the state.

When March 7th rolled around with no update from the state, PANC scheduled a rally to push for the approval, but that day the CDPH officially rejected the opening petitions from SDUHSD, Carlsbad Unified and Poway Unified. This apparently led to the following all too common MAGA style violence threat appearing on the Encinitas Votes face book page.

It would not be a real divide the community movement without a recall effort. In 2018, when Lea Wolf ran for the Area 5 Trustee position, she billed herself as a fiscal conservative and wrote in a recommendation for David Andresen, “David has been a tremendous resource for me as a entrepreneur since we met at San Diego Chamber of Commerce.” This founder of several technology companies who lost that school board race to Kristin Gibson is now leading an effort to recall Gibson.

On her website gathering recall signatures, she lists four reasons why Gibson’s performance is so egregious that she must be recalled: 1) Opposed letter grades during pandemic 2) Voted for $5.3 million Chrome books purchase 3) Approved 3.5% pay raise for Superintendent Haley and other administrators 4) Missed 2-thirds of last 9 board meetings.  

In the votes for the Chrome book purchase and pay raises, she voted with the majority. Gibson, who lectures at San Diego State University and is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, disagreed last spring with a late change in grading policy from pass-fail to letter grade. At the time, Superintendent Haley was quoted,

“There’s no one voice, there’s no one decision that everybody is in agreement with. We acknowledge that. This is a very difficult time and a very difficult decision, we’ve never had a pandemic school closure and, hopefully, we will never have one again.”

Missing 2-thirds of the last 9 board meetings appears to be a lie. Since the end of June last year there have been 17 SDUHSD board meetings. Minutes show that Gibson attended 5 of 7 regular and 8 of 10 special board meetings. Three of her four absences occurred between 1/14/2021 and 2/1/2021. During that 2-week period she was dealing with a family crisis.

Even with all of the school districts in San Diego County issuing plans to open face to face in April, the MAGA Republicans continue to agitate. They blame teachers unions for keeping schools closed but surveys show that teachers and the general public have about the same opinion on opening schools in this pandemic. An article at the five-thirty-eight reports,

“According to a Feb. 11-14 Quinnipiac University poll, 47 percent of adults believe that schools are reopening in their community at about the right pace; just 27 percent believe it’s not happening quickly enough, and 18 percent think it’s happening too quickly. Likewise, a plurality (48 percent) of parents and guardians of K-12 students told YouGov/HuffPost that schools in their area were handling things “about right”; just 23 percent thought they were being too restrictive, while 19 percent thought they were taking too many risks. And educators are pretty happy too: 63 percent in the Hart Research/AFT poll said their school system has struck a good balance on the issue. Fifteen percent said that their school system had not done enough to resume in-person instruction, while 16 percent said it had gone too far to do so.”

Maybe rich people like Mike Allman and the former Secretary of Education, think teachers and students should take the risk and get back in school. But “little flare-ups or hot spots” are existential threats for many teachers and school staff. Now that vaccines are rolling out and schools are announcing reopening plans it seems foolish to rush it. Schools finally have the resources needed for a safe reopening and the staffs have vaccines being distributed that make them safer. Getting school open by May 1 is reasonable and prudent. Teachers, staff and students are not endangered unnecessarily.

11 Responses to “Schools are MAGA Targets”

  1. David Wojtkowski March 17, 2021 at 3:23 am #

    This is such a poorly written article. For starters it’s riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. For someone who produces so little, you think you’d have the time to proof read or spell check your writing.

    – it’s not Ana Caterina, it’s Amy Caterina
    – you show a Venn diagram of SDUSD parents and display “white wealthy parents of La Jolla” but then fail to provide any context and don’t even mention La Jolla in the entire article
    – your entire premise is that somehow the reopen crowd is MAGA – yet you never mention any evidence or even talk about MAGA. Same goes for your terms on anti-vax, anti-mask and anti-test – it’s like you have never even written a persuasive essay. The title of your article is “Schools are MAGA targets” – defend that please with facts.
    – “Mossy is a wealthy Christian house wife living in Rancho Santa Fe who does not seem to value the public school system” – where’s the rationale for this? Because of a supportive quote to a very popular local private school? Mossy is very much a middle of the road Board member. If you followed the news or lived in the area or actually ever attended a Board meeting, you’d know that. You’ll have to show me all the Board decisions that ended up 3-2 with Mossy in the majority.
    – the motion to change Board start times from 5pm to 3pm that you criticize? It passed unanimously.
    – this idea that the reopen side is interested in recalling Gibson is faulty at best. I’ve never even seen any discussion of the recall and the first time I saw the website was in your article. Kristin Gibson is my rep, I’ve known her for years and although I disagree with her I still support her as a caring and intelligent board member as do many in the reopening debate. Lea Wolf has no spot that I know of within PANC. Furthermore, she rarely even posts on the Reopen Facebook site. Trying to connect her to the group is just silly and disingenuous.
    – you bring up the chromebook purchase as if it was overwhelmingly supported since it passed by majority. You forget to comment that it was the past board majority (two of which are gone) and overwhelmingly is panned as an awful decision by almost everyone. In fact, I know of no parent or teacher that has ever publicly defended the decision – notably those chromebooks were ordered using CARES pandemic funds (to assist learning during the pandemic) last summer for this school year and the district has YET TO RECEIVE THEM. So yeah, it was a terrible decision and the fact that you didn’t know that shows how removed you are from the grassroots in this situation.
    – you say schools are planning to open “face to face” – that is absolutely not true. In the overwhelming majority of public schools (SDUSD and LAUSD included) in SoCal, secondary schools are planning on opening in limited fashion for “zoom” school while in the classroom – it is absolutely not face to face as teachers will never even see the faces of their students and students will, for the most part, get the same experience in school as they would at home – zooming on their laptop, wearing headphones.
    – you’re surprised that parents blamed the teachers’ union for keeping schools closed. The teacher’s union sued the district to overturn a majority board decision and keep schools closed. So of course the teachers’ union bears some responsibility in the school closure.
    – you believe that opening schools in some minor form by May 1 is success? So six weeks of school in 15 months is success? And you were a public school teacher?

    Overall I think you attempted to write an article based on limited information and zero knowledge of the local area and constituents in it. I’m a life long Democrat, 100% against Trump and all things MAGA, a union member, married to a public school teacher and am 100% in support of the Reopening Schools group. The lack of leadership and resourcefulness from this District since last March has been disappointing and eye opening. I’m not trying to ruin public schools and I’m certainly not a MAGA lover. Nor are a great deal of people in the group. But even if someone is a pure 100% Trumper, if we agree on this position, then we agree. It’s writing like yours that pigeonholes people based on YOUR naive assumption on what they want and think on all things that infuriates people.

    Like

    • tultican March 17, 2021 at 1:54 pm #

      Thanks for the correction to Amy Caterina’s name.

      Like

  2. Al Hefter March 18, 2021 at 3:43 pm #

    Excellent article. Very well researched and thorough. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Victor Shepard March 18, 2021 at 3:45 pm #

    Looks like the MAGA boys are really butthurt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Wojtkowski March 18, 2021 at 4:11 pm #

      Butthurt? Very intelligent. Are you sure this isn’t Vishal Shaw? Sounds like something you’d hear in an online discussion between teenage boys. Good retort – seriously.

      Like

      • Victor Shepard March 18, 2021 at 5:00 pm #

        Wow … looks like the comment really hurt. Butthurt much?

        Like

      • Vishal Shah March 18, 2021 at 6:27 pm #

        No Woj .. it wasn’t me, but glad to know I am living rent free in your brain. When everyone around you at the PANC rally has a ginormous trump flag, maga hats, with no masks, makes you wonder who you’re aligning yourself with. Ultiican called it like it is.

        Like

  4. stinkerbunniew March 21, 2021 at 7:33 pm #

    Kristin Gibson resigned Friday. Apparently her successor will be chosen by the current board.

    Like

    • tultican March 21, 2021 at 11:40 pm #

      This is unfortunate for the district. She was by far the most qualified board member.

      Like

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