A vote for decency on the county school board

By Marsha Sutton

A lawyer once told me he would rather defend rapists and murderers than dive into the ugly world of education politics. Although joking (sort of), I take his point.

Having written about education for the last 18 years and suffered more than my share of abuse for the positions I have espoused, I vowed never again to enter into a debate about the merits of one candidate over another for school board seats.

That was until I learned that words I had written over three years ago had been dug up and used, actually misused, on a hit piece mailer. These words were reprinted without my permission or knowledge, taken out of context, and included to push the agenda of a candidate I do not support.

Furthermore, the quote expressed my anger at a unanimous vote taken by an entire school board, not the one individual the hit piece targets.

Using my words in this way is deplorable, deceptive and, sadly, likely very effective – especially considering that the mailers were sent to voters in North County who reside in communities beyond the readership area of this newspaper and may never see this column.

Vying to replace Sue Hartley on the County Board of Education for District 5 are Doug Perkins and Rick Shea. Three hit pieces supporting Shea have been mailed in the last few weeks, all of them slamming Perkins, while Perkins has had one distributed that never mentions his opponent.

Just on the surface, knowing nothing else about the two candidates, which would you support? The one twisting facts to relentlessly blast his opponent, or the one refusing to engage in negative advertising?

It’s the second mailer, which oddly enough I never received, that contains my quote. The first and third pieces appeared in all their nasty glory in my mailbox, but not the one with my name on it. I learned about it only from others.

The fragmented sentence quoted in the piece is this:

“A monumental misuse of taxpayer money and an embarrassment for the local community.” — Marsha Sutton, Del Mar Times

This is the full quote, which ran in a column published Sept. 1, 2011: “The irresponsible allocation by the Del Mar Union School District of the Federal Education Jobs Funds during a financial crisis is a monumental misuse of taxpayer money and an embarrassment for the local community.”

The point of that 2011 column was to alert the community to the Del Mar Union School District’s decision, supported unanimously by all five trustees and then-superintendent Jim Peabody, to spend a one-time allotment of $500,000 in Federal Education Jobs Fund money by giving cash bonuses of $1,000 to all full-time employees in the district.

Although the misallocation of free money still aggravates me, what aggravates more is the implication in the mailer that my anger was directed solely at Perkins, one of the five trustees.

To extract a phrase from something written nearly three years ago, and use my words to give the false impression that I support Shea, is despicable.

When I asked about the mailer, Shea, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for the San Dieguito Union High School District school board, wrote in an email, “As I’m sure you know, the mailer is not my mailer. It was put out by AFT.”

He’s right: All three hit pieces were paid for by the American Federation of Teachers union, so Shea has cover and Nixonian-like plausible deniability.

I wrote back the following message but never received a reply: “So does that mean you disavow the contents and accept no responsibility for the piece?”

As an aside, the Del Mar teachers union strongly approved that cash give-away in 2011 and applauded the school board’s action. How ironic that the AFT is appearing to criticize Perkins for supporting the cash bonuses.

Also ironic is Shea’s lawn sign slogan, which reads: “Quality education – not politics.”

Really? Not sure how his campaign could be more political.

But that’s not all. Each of Shea’s mailers contains a list of endorsements, but at least one of those listed did not endorse Shea and asked that the name be removed. It was not removed and continued to appear on the second and third mailers. How many other “endorsements” might also not be true?

Aren’t we better than this? Why would any upright citizen want to run for elected office when they would be subject to this kind of personal abuse and undeserved negativity?

By contrast, Perkins’ direct mail piece, paid for by advocates for the California Charter Schools Association, never mentions his opponent and focuses only on his own qualifications for the seat and his long list of solid credentials.

If you know little about either man, Perkins is the one running the decent campaign that doesn’t stoop to shameful attacks on opponents, disgraceful deception, and win-at-all-costs tactics.

— Marsha Sutton can be reached at

Upcoming topics:

•San Dieguito Union High School District athletes scheduled for sports physicals next week through their foundations should know that, despite language indicating otherwise, students do not need to pay their foundation $25 for physicals. Going through the foundation is optional, even though flyers did not make that clear. Furthermore, a legal complaint charges that the school district may be on the hook to pay for sports physicals entirely.

•Should students be charged a permit fee to park their cars in school parking lots, when teachers can park their cars for free?

•Look for the school district to reimburse families this year that paid graduation cap-and-gown fees which it appears were charged illegally.

•A legal challenge may mean students’ tests, upon request, should be allowed to come home for parent-student review.

• Why one obscure exposure of an invoice payment may mean less transparency for everyone on San Dieguito school board agendas.