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SD Unified Names New Schools Superintendent

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Video published June 25, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: What will new San Diego Unified School's Superintendent Bill Kowba bring to the district? We discuss Kowba's background, and the challenges he will face as the new superintendent.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Last week, we talked about the three candidates who were competing to become the next superintendent for the San Diego Unified School District. In a bit of a surprise move, the school board announced earlier this week that interim superintendent, Bill Kowba, had been selected to be the district's permanent superintendent. While the contract has not yet been signed, this appears to be a done deal. So we've invited KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis back on the show to tell us more about Mr. Kowba. So what can you tell us about his background?

ANA TINTOCALIS (KPBS News): Well I think something that makes him stand out above the rest is that he spent about thirty years in the military. He's very much a nontraditional superintendent. Most of his time was spent as kind of a top ranking naval officer; he retired from the navy as a rear admiral. So he has a lot of experience managing global operations and logistics. So he's used to a lot of moving parts. But he's never stepped foot to teach in a classroom. He doesn’t have any classroom experience, any really academic instruction background. So, again, that makes him stand out. Again, a very nontraditional candidate. But people like him because he is a very trusted administrator. He shoots from the hip…he's very brass tax. He has that military ethic to him and it’s about commitment, loyalty, and not backing down from a challenge. And I think he's won the respect from a lot of people because of that.

PENNER: But as you said, he has very little background in education per se. The other two candidates both came from education backgrounds.

TINTOCALIS: That’s right.

PENNER: So why was he selected over the other two?

TINTOCALIS: The key words for this whole superintendent selection process have been stability, commitment, and teamwork. Nothing about, you know, academic visions and rigor. Those three things – stability, commitment, and teamwork – is what Bill Kowba really embodies and that’s why I think he was picked. He's been with the district since 2006 so people know him; he's a familiar face. He really prides himself on working as a team. And he's not someone that’s going to really push – well, from my point of view – will really push back on the school board. He's looking to build consensus among everyone, which many say that’s a good thing.

PENNER: So what are his main challenges?

TINTOCALIS: His main challenges will be this huge budget deficit that each and every school district is facing in California. San Diego is especial in that it’s the second largest school district in the state, so it’s facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit. Once again, they’ve been cutting everywhere and it’s not getting any better. So that is the biggest challenge. And people say Kowba is the man for the job. He's been the chief financial officer. He knows how to deal with budgets.

PENNER: Well we decided to ask him. So we spoke to Bill Kowba about the deficit the school district faces for next year, and this is what he had to say.

WILLIAM KOWBA (SDUSD Superintendent): On Tuesday night, the board had a first reading of the 2010-11 budget, as part of that presentation the chief financial officer and his team identified approximately $127 million budget cut that has to be made. To get to the $127 million, we provided the board with a proposed set of options or considerations. Nothing final there, but dealing with unfortunately the harsh reality of cutting people and program next year. With that number, over a five-year period going back to 2007 to 2011, we will have cut about $500 million.

PENNER: So already the district has dealt with significant cuts. Give us a rundown of some of the stuff that’s been cut out.

TINTOCALIS: Well I think what the most notable is that there's going to be five fewer school days next school year. That’s a huge deal because there's – teachers are on five furlough days. So that’s one of the biggest impacts to each and every student in the district. There's also cuts to magnet school funding. There's also less programs for new beginning teachers. Most adult education offerings have been slashed. There's been huge cuts to the central office administration. That basically has been gutted. And there's just been a lot less school site support. And the supplies and equipment, that budget has been gutted. So we’re really talking about a really bare bone education budget.

PENNER: So what is there left to cut?

TINTOCALIS: You know, sadly, I think you're going to be hearing a lot more about layoffs in the coming years. After this next school year I think the school board is really going to have to make the really hard decisions of laying off teachers or closing small schools. Those are the two things that they talk about every time but they’ve always been putting off. But I think at this point when you're talking about $500 million in cuts over the past several years that’s the only place you can cut.

PENNER: Well in that landscape, in that environment, do you expect to see any major academic changes?

TINTOCALIS: No. And I think Kowba has been pretty honest about the fact that his challenge right now is to deal with the budget and he's going to keep things the status quo and try to just keep things as stable as possible, not bring in any more reforms. I mean they have no money to bring in big wide scale reforms. And he’s not the guy that will be the big reformer either. So that’s the kind of leader we will have.

PENNER: Well we went ahead and asked him about that. We also spoke to him about the kind of academic changes he has planned for the district. And here's a clip of that conversation.

KOWBA: Given the financial realities, it's more about maintaining valued programs that are making a difference for our children, not about trying to grow or dramatically change anything in the near term. Sadly, we're all about reducing our services, not about growing or altering them, so we have to focus on the core curriculum, the things that are making a positive difference.

PENNER: So given the main education stakeholders like the teachers’ and the principals’ unions, the administrators, how do they feel about the lack of academic reforms planned under Kowba?

TINTOCALIS: From what I hear, they're happy with it. Teachers are usually averse to big changes in their classroom, big academic reforms. And the teachers’ union president, Camille Zombro, who has said you know all we have to do is really focus on the core curriculum. Let teachers do their job; let them stick with a type of instruction more than a couple years. They don’t want any more changes. So the fact that he's not going to be bringing in big changes is welcomed by the teachers’ union and the principals’ union. They want to just do things as they best feel is right for students. And this fall in line – as I mentioned last week – this falls in line with the new vision for the district, the new mission where school sites are really moving forward with their own type of reforms and not really getting the direction and this is what you have to do from the central office.

PENNER: Well thank you very much, Ana Tintocalis.

TINTOCALIS: You're welcome.

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