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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Sweetwater Schools Superintendent Under Fire

Six employee unions cast ‘no confidence’ vote

Audio

The leader of the Sweetwater Union High School District is under attack for the way he's handling contract negotiations with six of the district's employee unions. KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis explains.

The leader of the Sweetwater Union High School District is under attack for the way he's handling contract negotiations with six of the district's employee unions. KPBS Reporter Ana Tintocalis explains.

Union members from teachers to custodians banded together yesterday to cast a vote of 'no confidence' for Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara.

This is the first time in Sweetwater's history that all six of the district's unions have taken such action.

The workers have been working without a contact for a year now. They say they're fed-up with Gandara because he doesn’t seek input from teachers and doesn’t want to reach a consensus with workers. They also complain he's making unilateral decisions when it comes to boosting class sizes, reassigning administrators and disciplining teachers. Sam Lucero is president of Sweetwater's teachers union.

“The very, very essential character of our district has changed since Superintendent Gandara has come on board," Lucero said. "Whereas there was a very collegial, collaborative relationship, now it has deteriorated to one of fear, intimidation. Obviously that's not healthy for a public school setting.”

Some workers are asking for the superintendents resignation.

But his staff is downplaying such concerns. Lillian Leopold is Sweetwater's district spokeswoman. She says Gandara is a lightening rod for criticism because the unions aren't getting what they want.

“You always look at these votes of 'no confidence' as a union tactic," Leopold said. "There has to be a bad guy somewhere, right? There has not been a contract for a year now. So I think there is some frustration because of that. They're asking for a status quo contract right now, but we don't have a status quo economy right now.”

The district was calling for a two percent pay cut for its workers in contract negotiations, but took that off the table yesterday thanks to an infusion of federal stimulus money in education. Officials also took back an additional 48 layoff notices.

Even so, many workers are still upset, calling for a return to their old retiree health plan, class sizes and workers' rights. Gandara has been on the job for the past two years.

Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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