SBUSD Board Candidate Pay to Play is not OK
By Monie de Wit
In a town that prides itself on ideals of equity, access, and inclusion, the prospect of running for the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) Board is anything but.
Just to file the necessary paperwork and pay for a 200 word or less statement costs $5,302! For any candidate that needs to make their case to the voters in less than 400 words? You’ll need $10,604 handy. In contrast, a run at the city council is free and an SBCC Trustee fee is less than $1,000.
I get that there are extra translation fees but really the half of a page is going to run without the 200 words so additional charges are hard to justify from a printing aspect.
This price tag is a barrier and leads to appointed incumbents staying in power. Incumbents have name recognition and party and donor backing that those lacking the means can't compete with and should not have to in a democracy. I think it is wrong to create barriers that exclude candidates whose children are among the high risk. This leads to having boards, like we did with our last Superintendent that is made up entirely of appointed board members. So Superintendent Matsuoka got to hire his own bosses. This tends to make for a top-down rubber-stamping board. Our new Superintendent and the current board could change this if equity is truly a priority.
Santa Barbara County has the third-highest rate of poverty in California, according to a study conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.
I drilled down on these details because I am considering a run for SBUSD board. As a mother of two children in the district, I have believed our district could do a far better job of addressing literacy, special needs students, teaching the neurodiverse, and dramatically raising the educational outcomes for all students, be they privileged or impoverished.
SBUSD spent $26.5 million on the armory and $40 million on a football field that was supposed to cost $12 million. But this same leadership that spends freely on vanity projects cuts off anyone who can’t easily afford the $5,302 entry fee. The voter guide is the main way to communicate with voters in a pandemic. Do we really want candidates canvassing door to door because they can't afford the fees and that is the only option? This feels so rigged against outsiders or new energy.
How are we ever going to get representation from those socioeconomically stressed? What about our high-risk students and families? So many in our diverse community get spoken down to, but when will they have a voice on the school board podium too?
This "Pay to play" dramatically reduces competition and accountability. It simply maintains the status quo - people connected to the school district or simply using their board seat as a platform to higher office. I find this troubling, rigged and inherently unfair because it means that anyone else who wants to participate in the process must first be part of the elite and/or aline themselves with one political party or the another just to pay the entry fee.
I am motivated to get involved because I truly believe that literacy is a human right. Literacy not only disrupts the school to prison pipeline, it builds self-confidence and self-esteem, and it enables every child the chance to reach for their true potential. Literacy is the essence of education.
Even if I do not make it on the ballot, I believe we should reduce this defensive paywall to allow a greater diversity of new people and new ideas to enter our school district leadership. If we want the best for our kids, our teachers and our community, let’s stop shutting the door on those ready, willing and able to help.
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