On Wednesday, the San Diego County Board of Education (SDCOE) voted unanimously to appoint Eddie Velasquez to serve as Interim County Superintendent.
Velasquez was among four candidates interviewed by the school board to serve in a temporary position in place of long-time Superintendent Dr. Randy Ward. Dr. Ward was placed on paid administrative leave on July 14 after a taxpayer group filed a lawsuit claiming Ward was engaged in self-dealing while serving as the county chief of schools.
After the interviews, the Board deliberated privately for approximately 40 minutes before announcing its decision. Board President Dr. Gregg Robinson described Velasquez as “the total candidate” that showed “all around excellence in the areas of our concern” and “experience precisely with an interim position.”
“I’m honored by the trust the Board showed in selecting me to help deal with the immediate issues facing the County Office of Education,” Velasquez said after his selection. “I will work to get to the bottom of what caused the issues and help find ways to get the District back on track,” Velasquez added.
During his interview, Velasquez was asked by the Board if he had experience in dealing with students like the at-risk population served by the county district.
“I was one of them,” he responded, explaining that he was a teen father that grew up in the troubled neighborhood of Boyle Heights, just East of downtown Los Angeles. He also explained his past work as a teacher, administrator, and Superintendent, in addition to positions as a police officer and probation officer working with at-risk kids.
Velasquez worked for 30 years in the Montebello School District in Los Angeles County, working his way up from teacher and principal to eventually serving as both the Superintendent and Police Chief. Then in 2010, Mr. Velasquez was recruited to serve as the Interim leader of Lynwood Unified School District, which at the time faced a $26 million deficit and risked financial insolvency. Velasquez helped restore financial stability to the District, and stayed on until his retirement in 2013.
After his retirement, Velasquez continued to serve as a reserve officer with the Los Angeles County Probation Department and also help conduct Superintendent searchers for several districts.
But in the past two years, Velasquez was called into service himself as Interim Superintendent for three local San Diego school districts: San Ysidro School District in 2015, Alpine School District, and Poway School District this year.
At San Ysidro, Velasquez was instrumental in discovering the misappropriation of millions of dollars that would have put the District into state-receivership. That turn around led to San Ysidro’s current budget surplus and improved relationship with its teachers. This year, Velasquez served for three months at Alpine to help that district in its search for a permanent Superintendent.
Last month, Velasquez was selected to serve as Interim Superintendent at Poway School District after its leader, John Collins, was suspended then terminated for cashing out vacation time in excess of what he was owed. Velasquez officially began that assignment on Monday of this week. His short-term contract called for him to help start the process to select a permanent leader.
Before interviewing for the County position, Velasquez sought the consent of the Poway Board that had just recently hired him.
“While our board is sorry to see Mr. Velasquez leave Poway Unified, it is frankly no surprise that a man of his experience and unique skill set is highly sought after,” said Kimberly Beatty, a Trustee of the Poway Unified School District. “He apprised us of his possible move to the County, and he will no doubt make a significant contribution there – overseeing 42 school districts, including Poway – as well as serving our county’s most vulnerable students,” Beatty added.
Velasquez has established himself as the “go-to guy” to help struggling districts in times of need. Under the state retirement system, Velasquez is limited in how much income he can earn from state agencies, including school districts. In each of the interim assignments he has accepted, Velasquez has limited the time and income so as to not exceed the $40,173 state limit that would then begin to reduce his pension.
Under the proposed Interim Superintendent position at the County, Velasquez would be paid a
per diem of approximately $750 per day, plus travel reimbursements. That amount would allow him enough time to evaluate and recommend necessary changes at the District. His contract will be negotiated during the next week and is expected to be approved at the next board meeting on August 10. His official start date is yet to be determined.
Dr. Ward’s current salary is over $331,000 per year, plus several benefits. Ward has been on paid administrative leave since July 14, and he has been restricted from communicating with county staff by phone, email, or in person while the District conducts a forensic audit and review.
The San Diego County Office of Education oversees the budgets of all 42 school districts in the County, as well as providing educational services to students in foster care, homeless and disabled students, and kids in the juvenile justice system. The SDCOE manages an annual budget of over $600 million dollars.