Community Advocates Keep Pressure on Sweetwater board

May 15, 2015

Sweetwater district office not moving east

By Susan Luzzaro

Sweetwater School Board Members from left to right: Arturo Solis, Paula Hall, Nicholas Seguro, Superintendent Phillip Stover, and Frank Tarantino. Absent from this meeting was Kevin Pike.

Sweetwater School Board Members from left to right: Arturo Solis, Paula Hall, Nicholas Seguro, Superintendent Phillip Stover, and Frank Tarantino. Absent from this meeting was Kevin Pike.

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.”

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18 Responses to “Community Advocates Keep Pressure on Sweetwater board”

  1. eastlaker Says:

    We are beginning to see the cracks of sunlight breaking through to the Sweetwater hidden realms of darkness…

    Positive: Tom Calhoun gone.

    Positive: Harold Place gone.

    Questionable: The hiring of Moises Aguirre without an open application process. Furthermore, I am wondering about the stated experience with charter schools that Mr. Aguirre has. Does that mean that he will have a free hand to set up more charter schools in the district, or does it mean that he will be able to help sort out the charter school messes that Sweetwater has been left with, as part of the Brand “legacy”? (I.e., the legacy of bizarre and disastrous decision-making, supported by the three stooges McCann, Cartmill and Ricasa.

    I am very grateful for dedicated community activists who continue to watch carefully what is going on with Sweetwater’s leadership. There are so many problems that reasonable people can be overwhelmed, and it takes exceptionally astute and wise people to keep watch.

    Thanks, Susan, for this complete report.

    Isn’t it extremely curious that the “temporary” board said they entered into what was called a lease of the property on Harold Place when Mr. Stover said there was no lease. What was that bit of shenanigans all about?

    More proof that the County Board of Education’s temporary Sweetwater board members with the addition of John McCann were really not helping the situation at all. More political privileges being doled out? To whose advantage?

    Sure would be nice to know who really benefits from all these real estate deals, because it isn’t the public. It isn’t the students. It isn’t the teachers. It isn’t the taxpayers. Who are all these real estate people behind all these Sweetwater real estate deals? Why does nothing ever come to light? Why are clear departures from legal procedures tolerated and why are people who circumnavigate the law not brought up on charges?

  2. Annie J Says:

    Hallelujiah! yes these Board members, on the issue of Harold Place, as representatives of different areas, voted for the good of ALL. Lord knows, if this decision would have been brought forward to the old Board it would have passed – my guess vote of 3 to 2. Hopefully this will serve as a lesson that what was attempted to be done under cover of secrecy was exposed by ‘those cared enough to speak up’. The fact that one of the old Board members owns property that is within 500ft of Harold Place troubling; and unveiled just recently.

    Regarding Mr. Aguirre – as I sat and listened to Mr. Aguirre’s accolades I thought “anniej, why didn’t you apply – you are intelligent, a deep thinker, you are a good person – some (my grandchildren) call me brilliant (my husband might have a differing opinion) most know me to be analytical and I pride myself on being calm and respectful (exception – if I am lectured)”. But alas, there was NO process for application – and therein lies the problem. I believed this Board understood the community wanted transparency. The Interim had to APPLY, the Permanent Sup has to APPLY – why not the Asst. Sup?

    In my opinion (and, we all know what they say about opinions) I do not believe Mr. Aguirre is qualified – hopefully I WILL BE PROVEN WRONG. After all, I WAS WRONG in my INITIAL opinion of Dr. Alt – he proved himself to be of the HIGHEST integrity and one of the best hires of the past 15+ years (alas, his integrity proved to be his albatross and he was fired).

    In closing, I DONT MIND BEING WRONG (just don’t tell the husband) – for I have learned that with errors of opinion comes great growth.

    In closing, it is what it is and I will respect the fact that the Board has the power to vote as they see fit – they are not there to please me – they are there to vote their conscience.

  3. not amused Says:

    How could this be happening again…are we going backwards? It is amazing that Ms. Paula Hall has a lot to say on everything but on this particular item she wanted to move to the vote right away, Hey doesn’t Ms. Hall work at San Diego Unified shouldn’t she have recused herself? Ms. Luzarro do you have a copy of the resume could you post it with the job description so people can see both together. I am very intrigued to compare both of them side by side to see if he is qualified.

  4. joepublic Says:

    Many THANKS to the community advocates (once called “antagonists”) for their diligence. The new school board promised transparency and democracy, and it is the public’s responsibility to hold them to their word. Our community is lucky to have this dedicated group of activists who scrutinize the agenda and comment at board meetings on our behalf. Kudos to the school board for rejecting Harold Place. The last board (majority) had been pushing the move east with total disregard for transparency and public input. On the other hand, the process used to hire Mr. Aguirre is very troubling and goes against the promising new direction of our newly elected officials.

  5. Fran Brinkman Says:

    I’m hoping that we get a new supt.in place by June. Mr. Stover reminds me of Dr. Brand.He brought Mr. Aguirre to Sweetwater and is paying him an unprecedented salary. Mr. Stover also picked out a new legal beagle from San Diego Unified to hire. Why is an interim supt hiring a new staff for our district. Staff says it’s because our new board is afraid to make decisions on their own. All of the new board members ran on transparency,but that has not been the case thus far. The County Board was responsible for the Harold Place debacle yet this board chose not to be transparent and unfortunately resembles our past board. With the IRS mess and the Third St. Property looming,and now the district being in all the news papers again,I feel we are heading down a familiar path. I along with the public was truly shocked that Paula Hall did not abstain from voting for Aguirre as well as Segura because of the connection with a certain board member from San Diego Unified that connects all three. But had they done that Aguirre would not be coming to Sweetwater. These same board members voted to remove principal Zumudio from Hilltop High then turned around and are allowing him to stay in the district at OlympianHigh instead of getting rid of him as requested by numerous teachers,SEA,and the public. A vote of 4:1 to keep Zumudio. What changed their minds?

  6. John Stark Says:

    In my opinion, I don’t think that the salary that the new Assistant superintendent is going to receive is excessive compared to other positions in the same district and other district’s. For example in SUHSD the Chief Facilities Executive starts at $172,896, the Chief Financial Officer Starts at $189,328. In Chula Vista Elementary the Assistant Super/Bus Services makes $191,529. South Bay Assistant Superintendents make around $156,000.

    Now, for qualifications I think that the Master’s in Public Administration meets the minimum educational requirements for this position. And as far for him being appointed, many Superintendents have that power per their contract to be able to appoint cabinet-level personnel. While yes, I would agree that posting the position and having interviews would have been better, the reality is that there is a need for different leadership at at the cabinet level.

    I believe that we need to give Moises Aguirre a chance to be successful in this new role,




  7. oskidoll Says:

    I tend to agree with John Stark with regard to the Aguirre appointment. While the process seems puzzling and might have been vetted more thoroughly, I think it is a good thing that the new interim Superintendent Stover has a ‘wing man’ he knows and trusts in this very important position. Certainly better than R. Leyba or Dianne what’s – her- name, or other Brand henchpeople.

    So glad the Eastlake so-called lease could be undone, and it now looks like there was some duplicity with the characterization of that ‘deal’, doesn’t it? The former ‘appointed’ interim board from the CBOE has some ‘splainin’ to do.

    Also glad to learn that Calhoun is history, as his track record was littered with half-truths at best.

    Aguirre will have to live up to Stover’s expectations and take the District forward to untangle the real estate and other business messes.

    Hope they can get around to fixing the broken educational school sites and bring them up to par.

  8. Annie J Says:

    John Stark – the dark history of the SUHSD is well documented. During the campaign process, transparency was promised, cronyism abhorred. It would have better served our Board IF they would have retained the control vs. turning over the hiring to an ‘Interim’ – an ‘Interim’ who by the Boards words will be leaving in a few short weeks. Our Board made it clear, the Interim would serve ONLY until the new PERMANENTS Sup was hired. THIS VERY MONTH the interview process will begin for a new PERMANENT SUP.

    Yes, I personally take issue with the salary offered Mr. Aguirre. I do so based on lack of documentED, proven success in the position. The audio of Board Docs on the item clearly indicates no factual successful data was used to justify the ‘appointment’ – if one listens they will hear ‘I feel, I believe, deep thinker, intelligent, very nice’ – Mr. Stark, when a community is asked to support such an appointment they are deserving of successful data regarding the appointee to justify the ‘appointment’. You offer the opinion of ‘Minimum Educational Requirement for this position’ – maybe that is part of the controversy, we are being asked to ‘settle’ for minimum while paying the maximum. Call me funny, but I, as a taxpayer, have great difficulty paying an Asst Sup, or Permanent Sup more than we pay the Governor of the entire State –

    There is a connection that justifies the communities call for answers. Mr. Stover, Mr Aguirre, Ms. Hall either current employee or recent employees od City Schools – Mr. Solis the Godfather of Mr. Aguirre’s child. Thinking out loud here, but IF this same, exact action would have been taken by the past 2 Boards and Sups all 5 of our current Board members would have used it in their campaign speeches – in my opinion.

    Our new Permanent Superintendent should have been respected enough, by our Board, to have been given the opportunity to take part in the decision of who was hired for Assts Sup – as I asked of the Board, why not wait see IF the NEW PERMANENT Sup agrees with the candidate. WHY THE RUSH?

    When you know better, you do better – hopefully the near future will bring an end to this controversy and allow us to focus on our new PERMANENT Sup – and a new beginning. Like you Mr. Stark I too hope Mr. Aguiire’s appointment proves to be successful – for the alternative option would mean that the students, employees and taxpayers had been short changed yet again in favor of pleasing ‘others’.

  9. Annie J Says:

    eastlaker – Thank You for pointing out the positive Board actions! The positives need to be heralded as loudly as the opinions that raise concerns.

    Other positives – THIS BOARD demanded a neutral auditor for our Prop O Performance Audit – and interestingly enough after several years of glowing reviews – there were issues found.

    Our Board has allotted speakers courtesies they have not known in the past 5 years I have attended Board meetings.

    Our Board no longer accepts agenda items calling for ‘ratification’ and they have gone on record demanding back up documentation on ALL agenda items.

    A new 7-11 committee.

    Again, it is important to acknowledge the good – let us remind ourselves – in the past 15 years, under the old Boards were there any positives?

    AH YES, THERE WERE 18 GUILTY AND PLEA DEALS, 2 Supers gone and an entire Board. (McCann, while not missed, did not leave due to the legal cases.)

  10. John Brickly Says:

    “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.” Philip Stover

    Really Mr. Stover? We don’t need an expert??? You say we need leader who knows nothing about what he needs to know to effectively lead a team of experts? Somehow you think this “leader” will bring a team of knowledgeable people to a consensus on a subject he knows nothing about. You sir are a fool!

  11. Fran Brinkman Says:

    I didn’t attend the board mtg.but was told that the supt.was talking about changing from PERS to STRS then he stopped and dropped the issue. That bothered me because Stover retired under PERS. If he goes to STRS he has to work I believe 5 yrs to be vested in STRS. The question is where will he put that time in. The rumor staff is circulating is he will become Asst.Supt. of Operations or some other title to cover the missing Calhoun position and fill the gap that Aguirre is not qualified to do. I’m concerned because Stover told the Cabinet that Richard Barrera had suggested that Aguirre would be a good fit at Sweetwater and presto he’s hired. I can’t remember the attorney’s name from SanDiego that Stover wants to bring to our district as well. There is a picture circulating of Aguirre,Labor Union people and Sweetwater staff taken last week. I’m trying to locate it. Too many coincidences in my opinion. We obviously have a board that willingly surrenders it’s power because they can’t make decisions on their own.

  12. susan Says:

    not amused, here is Mr. Aguirre’s resume:


    As i understand it, he is close to receiving a doctorate in educational leadership. I’ll see if I can come back with the job description in a while.

  13. susan Says:

    John Stark, Your measured comments are useful, and the links are helpful. There have been
    unpopular hires before who went on to become respected and well liked.

    Listening to people, what I hear is that they are incensed not by Aguirre as a person, rather as you mention–the process. Several speakers ended their comments to the board members asking them to let them keep the trust that was beginning to grow.

    If you go back in time, it’s not just the former superintendents Brand and Gandara. It was the interim supe and board who agreed to a lease/purchase on Harold St.

    There’s a lot of wariness among those I’ve spoken to….

  14. Not Amused Says:

    Me Luzzaro thank you for posting the resume I have gone to the district website to find the job description (boy they make it hard) and it was posted two meetings ago. I can say now with no doubt what were these people thinking. His resume has NOTHING to do with his job description. So my only conclusion is favors were owed and friends were hired. This board has just taken a million steps back, what are they thinking.? All of the trust they acquired they just lost all because they didn’t follow process. Maybe Mr Aguirre would have been the best one for the job but one will never know and there will always be a dark cloud hanging over him and the board. This board in one decision has managed to throw all of their integrity and moral compasses to the wind. Everything they said they would never happen again is. Ms Hall and Mr Segura, Solis and Tarantino you have managed to go back on your word and now will be perceived as being just another dirty corrupt politician with no regard to promises made, what a shame. You should have done the right thing and put this job out to the general public, you people really blew it. I can’t tell you how disappointed we are in all of you.

  15. oskidoll Says:

    “The board was never sure what staff were actually doing (with regard to brokering) with the lease at Harold Place”
    So glad Calhoun is gone.
    Does anyone know who the landlord at Harold Place is? Who would have benefitted financially from a lease with SUHSD?

  16. Annie J Says:

    oskidoll – while cant claim benefit, it is fact that one of the old Board members does/did own property within 500 ft of Haold Place. Coincidence, HMMMMM?

    In any event, we can chalk up Harold Place as another one of the SUHSD’s old guards blunders, and it was THIS Board who resolved it – so kudos to them.

  17. susan Says:

    Oskidoll–I think you have asked a very interesting question. While Voit was brokering along with Calhoun–I say that based on an email from Calhoun–I’ve only heard the word “agent”
    bandied about in regards to Leviton. I do know the city of Chula Vista gave incentives to Leviton…

  18. oskidoll Says:

    County tax records would reveal the owner of the Harold Place property, I believe that is public information.

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