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Sweetwater Schools Superintendent Under Fire

Six employee unions cast ‘no confidence’ vote


Aired 5/12/09

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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Avatar for user 'NotGonnaTakeIt'

NotGonnaTakeIt | May 12, 2009 at 1:37 p.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

Ms. Lillian Leopold is in Gandara's back pocket. What choice does she have? Her job has been on the line since El Diablo arrived on his tricycle a few years ago. If she and all the other administrators don’t do his exact bidding, bow and cower, they find themselves demoted or fired before they knew what hit them. Of course, this has been almost entirely white, intelligent women. He consistently removes intelligence from his inner circle and replaces them with moronic puppets that stand ready to support him without question. What he has single handedly done to this district in such a short amount of time is a crime. This man has no intention of giving our children a quality education. His narcissistic, egotistical needs are to further his political career and nothing else. This man, who claims to be a Christian, speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He and his Board of Trustees are all in bed together with the same agenda. Why doesn’t anyone talk to an insider instead of listening to the political hot air bags that spew lies and cover-up the travesties of justice going on at Sweetwater each and every day? The vote of 'no confidence' for Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara is valid and has very little to do with contract negotiations. It has everything to do with the fear and intimidation he spreads every day. Sam is right on the money.

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Avatar for user 'freesushd'

freesushd | May 12, 2009 at 9:35 p.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

PLease investigate the terminations of people who dedicated the "best years of their life" to this district; (vaguely alluded to in the reassigning administrtators sentence). Look into the board, too. What was with the allegation from the attorney for the company that did not get the prop O contract on May 11 board meeting? Something about Ricasa's brother owning property that the company who did get the contract is using. Whatever-- somebody with more time and interest should comb through those board minutes. Those guys toss money around like chicken feed and then cram our students into classrooms, terminate/ demote /disappear Karen Janney and tell future teachers to forget about working at Sweetwater where they will not receive health benefits upon retirement.
The gang of five have health retirements por vida if they serve a couple of terms. No wonder it is of no concern to them. No wonder they would enjoy pitting old-timers against newbies in the health care arena. Students first. Quality education first. Free SUHSD

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Avatar for user 'RevaLution'

RevaLution | May 13, 2009 at 10:11 p.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

Finally! An actual journalist doing her job! Thank you, Ana, for listening to teachers instead of assuming that we are greedy, unruly children. The heart of the problem here is that the superintendent et. al. is proposing PERMANENT cuts for a TEMPORARY crisis. Leopold is so proud of herself for her "it's not a status quo economy" sound bite. Ask for a copy of their budgets as they submitted them to SDCOE. It is easy to see that there is not much of a "crisis" there. Furthermore, if you look at how the board approves EXPENSIVE consultants left and right, pays an attorney over a million dollars, and continues to approve expense accounts, travel expenses, professional association dues, meal allowances, gas cards, cell phone bills, the public will quickly realize that their hard earned tax dollars are being disrespected and misused. Too many pigs at the public trough. Those monies are for STUDENTS and TEACHERS to TEACH students--plain and simple. The real crisis is a board that asks NO questions, seeks NO clarification, does NO research. The real crisis is a superintendent who maintains his primary residence in Texas and has already interviewed for 2 different positions in Texas. INVESTIGATE THE REAL CRISIS!

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Avatar for user 'oceans'

oceans | May 14, 2009 at 6:41 a.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

Ms. Leopold has a short memory. She's forgotten about the last time a superintendent was "under fire" in Sweetwater. Dr. Brand secretly wrote legislation that would link test scores to salaries. Sweetwater was going to be the beta site for this ill-conceived plan. His disdain for the union resulted in a loss of confidence from the board, who would no longer support his administrations initiatives. Dr. G needs to learn from history. Sweetwater is all about teaching and kids. In the mean time, board members and the good old boys go about their sad business of making deals with campaign contributors, making Sweetwater safe for "la raza", and feathering their political nests. The word is getting out board members. Which one of you should we recall?

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Avatar for user 'RevaLution'

RevaLution | May 14, 2009 at 9:42 a.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

oceans: Let's ask, "Which one of you should we recall FIRST?"

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Avatar for user 'havetospeakup'

havetospeakup | May 14, 2009 at 11:57 a.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

The sick and vicious acts that this superintendent has inflicted on our district will take years to repair. My own site has been damaged, almost beyond fixing. We are strong, though, and with enough teamwork, we can oust this corrupt superintendent and the corrupt board members that blindly do his bidding. Yes, I agree with the first comment. Lillian Leopold, as well as the financial officer, Diane Russo, are hardly reliable sources anymore. She knows that if she says anything against the Big Kahuna, she'll be the next middle-aged white female to go!
Gandara says in an interview: "I didn't cause this fiscal crisis." What fiscal crisis? The district has an abundance of reserves; the figures are public knowledge, unfortunately for them. Also, as mentioned in this article, the stimulus money has come in. Wow, what a big surprise. How long have we known it was coming? And yet, the big political move of handing out pink slips on March 15th that they knew weren't going to be necessary was still carried out and put workers and their families through hell. Now we are supposed to fall on our knees in gratitude when they are rescinded? I'm not impressed. We are supposed to fall on our knees in gratitude when the 2% pay cut is also taken off the bargaining table? I'm not impressed. Anyone who has bargained for a clay pot in Tijuana knows the drill: sly vendors start impossibly high so that when they "generously" shave some off of the still-inflated price, a naive tourist leaves with a smile on their face, thinking they got a great deal on something they actually overpaid for. We are not tourists; we are not naive. We are not buying what Gandara and his board member cronies are selling. Over 2000 signatures on a vote of no confidence (and that's only from one week of collecting; there will be more) is not a "tactic". It's a clear message from district employees that we have had enough, we are fed up, and we are all headed toward a very dangerous time in the life of our district. I wish he would put all of his energy in getting our district out of Program Improvement status (which happened on his watch) rather than thinking up new ways to thwart our efforts to settle a contract that is almost a year overdue.
On the issue of the dismissal of Karen Janney, this is proof positive that this guy is insane. She deserves to be the one running this district. Get rid of Gandara and rehire Janney as superintendent. This district would turn around in a flash. It would be like getting rid of Bush and his lousy cabinet and putting Obama in the driver's seat. One board member said Gandara's not worth the $250,000 it would take to buy out the rest of his contract. I say that in comparison to the money he has wasted on reassignments and other bad moves, that amount is peanuts. compared to the possible benefit.

Agreed: recall the board. Let's get started, and I vote for Bertha Lopez to be at the top of the list!

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Avatar for user 'goodnough'

goodnough | May 14, 2009 at 12:23 p.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

I wish I could disagree with the above commentary but it is true. As a hard working educator in the district it is sad when people get to high places and they are more focused on power then making a difference. The misuse of money is maddening and the firing of Karen Janney and Dianne Carberry was not only political but hopefully with be reversed by a court of law. Dr. Gandara does not like Unions, and has publicly admitted it, but they serve one important purpose: to advocate for people while they are busy advocating for others. We are not greedy, in fact, we are often selfless. The recall was not political...I signed the was necessary. We are headed in the wrong direction (for kids...that is my focus) and it is our duty to speak up. Plain and simple.

Thank goodness for KPBS because the Union Tribune doesn't seem to investigate. I called them and asked them to please look into the misuse of money and they would only report it if I had all the information for them. I do not have that kind of access. I do know from working hard in this district everyday that people are getting fired that shouldn't be, that money is getting misused, and the economy has very little to do with the district's decisions.

I have seen first hand that Sweetwater's current Board of Education is not exercising its checks and balances obligation to the public. They tend to vote all the same way on very controversial issues and do not ask enough questions. They are all too willing to do as the Superintendent says instead of researching on their own. And it is true...they get benefits for life for doing this.

I am looking at 40 students in one room compared to 33 now. I have a very hard time keeping up with the demands of my students now. Since I can not put any more effort into it, I am currently giving it 100%, students will get less attention. We have not closed the achievement gap and cannot afford to do what looks good on paper ( for budget reasons) while the superintendent has a million dollar retainer on legal services, hires consultants to do things people within our district could do, and has a meal and travel expense account. Let the kids eat better first. Let them have a chance at education. All of us are already sacrificing our time and money so it is pretty hard to take the district's current recommendations and especially when they think it is all a joke or power play.

Chandra Goodnough
Mathematics and AVID
National Board Certified Teacher

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Avatar for user 'LeadershipHero'

LeadershipHero | May 14, 2009 at 6:17 p.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

Thank you KPBS for publishing this story. I think it is important that the parents and students who attend schools in the Sweetwater district know that the frustrations of the teachers, custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, counselors, and nurses are aimed at the Board of Trustees and district leadership....not at them. Teaching and learnng will continue in Sweetwater because that is the right thing to do.

It is also important that parents and students know that the elected officials are not being held accountable for the job they were elected to fulfill.

Mr. Cartmill, Ms. Ricassa, Mr. Sandoval, Ms. Quinones, and Ms. Lopez are quickly loosing the confidence of the voters in the South Bay. The last time the voters lost confidence in the elected officials and district leadership- the elementary school districts began forming committees to look at spliting the Sweetwater district up and unifying the middle, junior and high schools with the elementary school district.

Has that time come again?

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Avatar for user 'havetospeakup'

havetospeakup | May 15, 2009 at 2:10 p.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

Actually, Leadership Hero, I hadn't thought about that, but if it came to it, I would be much less inclined to fight against unification than I was before, and I don't think I'm the only one who would feel that way.

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Avatar for user 'Heyitme'

Heyitme | May 18, 2009 at 6:34 a.m. ― 7 years, 10 months ago

Why so many management employees at the district in the years that Dr. Gandara has been there have either resigned or retired because of him and usually with the minimum of notice. He uses intimation on his management it is either his way or the high way. Most of Sweetwater’s management team walks in fear of him. Why does he pick on classified employees? He even picks on classified employees. I bet you will find that these are white employees too. He doesn’t even follow district policies that are in place to protect the employees. The school unions keeps calling him on the carpet with his tactics. Sweetwater employee morale is at an all time low. Why can Dr. Gandara break his contract by seeking employment and interviewing for it in Texas and not be accountable for it. Why does he hire consultants to audit the books when they have in house auditors? Why does he hire consultants then allow them to write up their job description and then turn around and hire them? Why is he so proud that they rescinded all the layoff but the Adult School teachers who do not have their tenure have to end work a week early (so they don’t reach it) and then have been told they will not be rehired in the fall? Isn’t this a layoff too?

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