Voters face many 'firsts' when replacing Sweetwater school board members

Five new districts mean many more candidates

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Some voters will encounter several "firsts" this November.

The entire five-member Sweetwater Union High School Board of Trustees needs to be replaced. That is the first time that has happened in U.S. history.

Four of the five board members were suspended after pleading guilty in a bribery scandal. The fifth seat is open because that trustee is running for another office.

"In this case, it's a good thing," said Sweetwater candidate Kevin O'Neill. "It's a fresh start."

Voters will also vote in five districts as opposed to voting at-large.

"This is a new thing that they've implemented this year," said another candidate, Chris Shilling.

Shilling was one of the first to announce his candidacy even though he did not know exactly which district.

"The Registrar of Voters doesn't even have accurate maps yet, so we had to go in and look at their PDF files and figure out where we lived to figure out where we were going to run," he said.

O'Neill said, "You may have one or two candidates in one seat area. You may have four or five in another seat area."

A rough list has five to seven names of candidates so far. There could be dozens for the five seats by the Aug. 5 filing deadline.

However, O'Neill said it was important for the community to get together before the November election to figure out what kind of Sweetwater District it wants.

"Let's first find out what the community's vision is and respond to that," said O'Neill.

He said the district could head any direction from expanding to a charter school district to focusing on college prep or vocational studies.

Sweetwater may lack direction because it only has a temporary board and an interim superintendent.

"We've wandered in the desert too long," said O'Neill.

"The board and the superintendent have been a distraction and they've taken away the focus from student achievement," said Shilling, who said hiring a new superintendent is one of the first and most important jobs for the new board.

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