How Will Sweetwater Move Forward After Firing Superintendent?
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Aired 7/8/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Early this morning, the Sweetwater Union High School District terminated the contract of superintendent Jesus Gandara. Gandara had been under fire for months after the San Diego Union-Tribune revealed he was charging meals to a district credit card, and had engaged in other questionable management practices.
Early this morning, the Sweetwater Union High School District terminated the contract of superintendent Jesus Gandara. Gandara had been under fire for months after the San Diego Union-Tribune revealed he was charging meals to a district credit card, and had engaged in other questionable management practices. We speak to the president of the Sweetwater Union High School District board about the process of selecting an interim superintendent, and what the district will do to move forward.
John McCann, school board president for the Sweetwater Union High School District
CAVANAUGH: Just yesterday we spoke with Ricky Young of the Watchdog Unit at the San Diego Union Tribune about a series of reports on alleged ethical misconduct at the Sweetwater union high school district. Last night, the School Board voted to terminate the contract of superintendent Jesus Gandara. He reportedly misused district credit cards, despite thousands in expense account benefits and a $250,000 salary. Gandara was also accused of soliciting ethically questionable gifts from school contractors. All of it created what some critics claim has been a climate of corruption in the Sweetwater district. Joining me is John McCann, School Board president for the Sweetwater Union High School District. Hi, Mr. McCann.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for joining us.
MCCANN: Happy to be on there.
CAVANAUGH: I know this is a personnel matter. But what can you tell us about the decision to terminate the contract of superintendent Gandara?
MCCANN: Well, what I can tell you is I was -- I'm a newly elected School Board member. And we needed a change, obviously. You saw the news reports and some other concerns. And we wanted to make sure that the district had high integrity and returned to accountability. And so we -- made a change, and we're gonna give the district a fresh start and be able to clean up some of these issues.
CAVANAUGH: More than 500 people showed up for the district's board meeting last night. What message did they communicate to the School Board?
MCCANN: I think you had a lot of different people come out. We were actually improving our budget. We were able to balance our budget without laying off any teaches or increasing class size. We also went ahead and proved our one year agreement with our teachers and our counselors. So we've been able to negotiate that and have labor peace over the next year. There were a myriad of things that people had concern about, and about the superintendent.
CAVANAUGH: It was a long closed door meeting, I think. It ended at 2†o'clock this morning. Ever have a board meeting like that before?
MCCANN: I've served two terms on the City Council. So I've had a couple late meetings go into the night. Our closed session, actually, lasted over eight hours.
MCCANN: And that was -- as a board member, even though I'm president, I'm only one vote. And we needed to have five total board members. And we wanted to make sure that we did everything legal and proper and also be able to get a unanimous vote for the separation.
CAVANAUGH: Was the vote to terminate superintendent Gandara unanimous?
MCCANN: Yes, in the end it was a 50 vote to go ahead and separate the superintendent.
CAVANAUGH: How much will the district have to pay the superintendent on his contract?
MCCANN: Well, prior to me being on the board, he did receive a very, very lucrative agreement. And that agreement said that if the board did terminate his contract, he would get 18†months salary. So that's a very large amount. Wish it wasn't that large. But we had to deal with the current contract. And ultimately, I think for the district, it was the right thing to do for the district.
CAVANAUGH: So that comes to almost half a million dollars, is that right?
MCCANN: With the medical and benefits and pay, yeah, it's approximately a half a million dollars.
CAVANAUGH: What's expected to happen at tonight's follow-up board meeting?
MCCANN: Well, what we're gonna be doing, obviously we want to -- as a board, we are similar to the board of directors or a policy board. We do not run the day-to-day operations of the district. That's the superintendent's job, and again, that's why his accountable for what goes on in the district day to day. And so we're gonna be looking to appoint an interim superintendent, somebody that can run the district until we find a permanent superintendent.
CAVANAUGH: When does that process of looking for a permanent superintendent start?
MCCANN: It will start tonight.
MCCANN: And that is part of the -- part of this meeting, we're gonna be doing that kickoff.
CAVANAUGH: I know this has been a tumultuous time for the Sweetwater district. What would you like to say to parents and other members of the community that are served by the district?
MCCANN: Well, I think the biggest thing is that being a new board member and coming in as the president, we need to restore the integrity and trust of the district. We have great teachers, parents, and especially great students. And beer gonna be focusing on students' academic success, making sure that the district is accountable, that we're transparent , that we're working together with the community to push our students forward in their academic -- and increasing their academic excellence.
CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with the Sweetwater school district's president John McCann. Thank you very much.
MCCANN: Thank you very much.