New high school district trustee hits ground running

After serving on the Encinitas Union School District board for six years, Maureen “Mo” Muir felt it would be a natural progression to move up to the board that oversees middle and high schools in coastal North County.

Muir, the wife of Encinitas City Councilman Mark Muir, declared her candidacy for the San Dieguito Union High School District board and never really looked back. On Nov. 4, in a crowded field of seven candidates for three seats — including three incumbents seeking re-election — Muir was the top vote-getter, defeating 16-year trustee Barbara Groth.

Muir credited her strong showing to the name recognition from being married to a councilman and former Encinitas fire chief, as well as her campaign’s message of helping children succeed, whether by going to college or another career path.

“I think what I said resonated with people,” Muir said in a Dec. 19 interview, a week after being sworn in for a four-year term on the San Dieguito board, which oversees a district with four high schools, four middle schools and a continuation high school.

“People have asked me why I ran and why I ran so hard,” said Muir, and the reason stems from her childhood in Wisconsin, as one of nine siblings raised by a single mom.

“My mom, her dream was for every kid to go to college and make something” of him- or herself, she said, “and it really had an impact on me.”

During her campaign, Muir was also critical of the school district on a number of counts, including fiscal accountability, lack of transparency and failing to be responsive to parents and students.

When asked about ways that she might seek to shift spending priorities, she mentioned a consultant for a committee that is studying the district’s boundary policies, who she said is being paid $350 per hour. But she also noted that as a brand-new trustee, she will have to wait until the board holds its budget deliberations in the coming months before forming opinions on district spending.

She met with the district’s chief financial officer to begin to educate herself on financial issues, and plans a tour of district schools and meetings with school foundation officials, and representatives of parent-teacher organizations.

The purpose, she said, is “finding how I can best serve them, to help them get kids into college.”

She is also planning to have coffee with board president Beth Hergesheimer, who reached out to Muir after her election victory.

Muir, who was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party along with newly re-elected trustee John Salazar, said time will tell whether differences of opinions on the board result in split votes. While she said she knows Salazar well, and that “We’re both fiscally conservative people,” she rejected comments made by Groth at her final board meeting in November.

At that time, Groth said the new board would have “two politically-motivated board members,” in an apparent reference to Muir and Salazar.

Muir said she has long been involved in children’s and education issues, from serving on the elementary school board and writing grants for school funding, to volunteering on the county’s First Five Commission, which focuses on programs for children from birth through age 5.

“I don’t know how you can misconstrue that as being political,” Muir said. “If you met me, you’d realize I’m passionate about education and kids. I don’t know where that came from.”

After a week on the job as a San Dieguito trustee, Muir said she is looking forward to discussions on a number of topics, from the district budget to the findings of a committee set up to look at boundary policies. She also praised Superintendent Rick Schmitt for his communications efforts, and his handling of lockdowns in November at Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest high schools, after online threats.

Schmitt calls board members once a week to update them on things going on at the district, and he also puts out his own schedule each week. “That’s great,” she said.

When she heard about the lockdowns, Muir said, she called Schmitt, who answered on the first ring. The superintendent gave her a quick briefing, and promised to call back once the situation had stabilized, which he did. Schmitt immediately went to Torrey Pines to deal with the situation.

“I thought it was handled really well,” Muir said.

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