Community Advocates Keep Pressure on Sweetwater board
May 15, 2015
Sweetwater district office not moving east
By Susan Luzzaro
The May 11 board meeting proved once again that being a trustee for Sweetwater Union is not for the faint-hearted. Meetings often last until 1:00 or 2:00am because board members are grappling with problems inherited from former superintendent Ed Brand’s tenure –and then there are the new problems.
On May 11 six people spoke in opposition to a contract being offered to Moises Aguirre for the newly created position of Assistant Superintendent of Business Services. The newly created position and Aguirre’s appointment happened in a closed session on April 27. Interim superintendent Philip Stover created the position and brought in Aguirre whom he had worked with at San Diego Unified.
During the May 11 meeting, trustee Arturo Solis informed the public that he would be recusing himself from voting on the contract because Aguirre is his son’s godfather.
One of the people who spoke against the contract was community advocate Stewart Payne. He said that the creation of the position was a good idea, but he believed the position should have been posted and gone through a competitive selection process. He pointed out that the salary was high ($176,770 annually, $13,130.00 benefits) for someone who had not been through a competitive process.
Payne went on to ask the board to reject the contract, as he feared that this appointment “would send the message to the community that nepotism and cronyism were not dead in Sweetwater.”
Community advocate Maty Adato also spoke against awarding the contract to Aguirre. She matched his resume with the job description. She said the job description calls for someone “to formalize long-range facilities plans, oversee planning, construction and real estate property, and coordinate acquisition of sites.”
Adato warned, “If the new hire doesn’t have the qualifications, you’re going to end up with another L Street. (L Street is property the district purchased in 2005 that is currently upside down in its value.)
Vice president of Sweetwater Education Association, Colleen Cooke-Salas spoke in support of the creation of the position, but opposed the appointment. She said the union fights hard for “due process, having qualified people in positions, and having positions posted.”
Aguirre’s resume states that he has a Bachelors Degree in Political Science, Spanish and Literature and a Masters degree in Public Administration. In San Diego City schools he had been a Charter School Manager. He is working on his doctorate in Educational Management.
In a May 13 interview, Interim Superintendent Philip Stover said the board voted unanimously to hire Aguirre. “They indicated to me that they wanted me to make a direct appointment with their approval. The district has been in crisis and the district is very short-handed in leadership.”
“I’ve known Aguirre for ten years, I’ve watched him work at Unified, he’s a brilliant leader—calm, with very good analytic skills. We don’t need another technically competent person, we have those in our department heads; he has to bring them together and create a team.
“For example, we have a $400,000 deficit in our child nutrition program. He’s got to work with the nutrition expert to put together a budget to break even next year, and he can do that. He has a lot of financial budgeting experience. I know what he did at Unified, he was relied on tremendously in that regard.”
Stover said he recommended Aguirre before he was aware that trustee Solis knew him. “I about fell out of my chair when I learned that they knew each other, when I introduced his name Mr. Solis said, “Well, I’m going to have to recuse myself. They apparently went to high school together and Aguirre is the godfather of Solis’s son.”
While there was frustration at the May `11 board meeting—there was also relief. Under the leadership of former superintendent Ed Brand, and former facilities manager Tom Calhoun, the district pursued moving the district headquarters to the east side of Chula Vista, the Leviton Building at 860 Harold Place.
Many stakeholders, including three of the newly elected trustees opposed the location. The primary reason for opposing the location was that it was not accessible to district areas. Trustee Paula Hall pointed out that people who lived in Imperial Beach, and might not have a car, would face hours on the bus to arrive at the district office. Additionally, an independent financial report by Keyser-Marston found that it was financially risky for the district to pursue a lease/purchase option for the Leviton building.
Nevertheless, Harold Street Place reappeared on the closed session agenda for the last several months. Community members repeatedly asked Why?
The Leviton building issue was over when trustees voted to cease and desist negotiations with the owners of Leviton.
Stover said the reason it kept reappearing on the agenda was because “the board was never sure about what staff was actually doing at Harold Place in the sense of talking to the brokers who were trying to broker a deal between us [Sweetwater] and the landlords there, so I’ve been trying to dig into it, this past Monday night I was able to take to the board the documentation toward constructing a lease—there never was actually a signed lease.”