It has been recently reported that Jesus Gandara, Superintendent of the Sweetwater School District, spent almost $4000 over three years on 300 meals using his school district credit card. It was also reported that he receives an $800 a month allowance for incidentals. For this he has been called out in the local media.
Was this smart of him? No. Was it illegal or violate any rules? Again, No. Does it look bad? Yes. In these tough economic times, perception is important. Then again, public image has not been Gandara’s strong suit.
Back in 2008, when tough economic times were at their peak, Gandara had another perception gaff when he and the board decided to spend $12,900 on a one-day welcome back ceremony for teachers. Here again no rules were broken but the perception was all wrong. You don’t spend that kind of money when parents, neighbors, and the South Bay community were going through tough economic times.
La Prensa San Diego called out Gandara back then for this, but other San Diego news media saw no problem with this lavish expense and instead praised the Superintendent for his innovative, fanciful, and entertaining event.
And of course there is the other embarrassing issue of the recent bridal shower for Gandara’s daughter. Again, no crime was committed, but Gandara did not think about implications and possible consequences to his public image.
With all that said, let us not lose sight of the big picture. The Sweetwater Union High School District is the largest of its kind in the nation and encompasses several cities. At the same time it is one of the best run districts. No pink slips were given to either teachers or classified personnel during these tough budgetary times. Modernization funds have shifted priorities from building new gymnasiums under the old administration to re-modeling actual classrooms for effective teaching and learning. As you drive by the completed school sites the community can now look proudly upon what were once rundown campuses.
Further, from all indications, test scores at Sweetwater Unified High School District will be showing dramatic improvement this year.
The district, the administration, the teachers and staff, and the school board have much to be proud of.
If there is a failing it is with the district policies in regards to the use of the monthly allowance in the wording of the Superintendent’s contract. The board has the right and responsibility to review the both of these areas and if changes are called for then the board needs to make these changes.
Until then, we hope that Gandara is more prudent in his spending … perception is everything.