Despite angry crowd, Sunnyside extends Isquierdo's contract
Two months ago, he was riding off into the sunset, or at least eastward to Texas. Now, he's staying put, for at least three more years.
The Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to extend the contract of Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo until 2016. The new contract includes the same base pay — $150,000 — and more than $80,000 in perks as did the previous, but dropped the $75,000 Isquierdo was paid to sell educational program sales to other districts.
The extension was controversial, with two Board members — Buck Crouch and Daniel Hernandez — publicly outspoken in their opposition to extending the contract, and many Sunnyside employees and parents voiced disapproval.
In April, Isquierdo was ready to take over the San Antonio Independent School District, but that opportunity "blew up," in his words, when questions were raised about his owing $150,000 in back taxes, having his drivers license suspended because of unpaid fines and a failure to appear in court, and facing foreclosure on his Oro Valley home.
Isquierdo withdrew his candidacy, and began pursing an extension at Sunnyside instead.
Tuesday night, the Sunnyside Board spent about an hour in executive session discussing the superintendent's contract. Prior to the Board's leaving the room, Crouch moved to hold a call to the audience. That motion was shot down because an opportunity for public input had not been placed on the meeting agenda 24 hours in advance.
As the Board left the room, the crowd of about 75 chanted "shame" and "we are going to recall you."
Going into the special board meeting, Isquierdo had one year left on his contract. Now with the extension, the contract runs until June 30, 2016.
Boardmember Bobby Garcia had been widely considered the swing vote on the contract, but was the first to vote to approve it, much to the displeasure of the crowd.
Garcia's vote came after a 20-minute explanation that wandered into criticisms of the Arizona Daily Star's coverage of the district.
As audience members yelled "you're a puppet," Garcia said his vote was based on a "93 percent performance goal rating" that the Board gave the superintendent at their last meeting.
"You know what I will be up front with all of you. What I tell you is what I stand behind and you can say I am two-faced, you can say I have my own agenda, I don't have any agenda," Garcia said. "I have been in this district for 49 years, and I am a true citizen of Sunnyside school district and I am not a puppet."
Hernandez joined with Crouch in voting no on the extension; Garcia voted with Eva Carillo Dong and Louie Gonzales to approve the contract.
"I am not surprised but incredibly disappointed and dismayed," said Esperanza Duarte, who has two children in Sunnyside schools. "Dr. Isquierdo has very obviously have not put the students of this district first and I am not surprised that he received the three votes necessary to extend his contract."
Isquirdo's new contract has a base salary of $150,000 with $87,500 in additional pay, along with a $300,000 life insurance policy. Eliminated is a provision paying him $75,000 to promote the district's Digital Advantage laptop program.
The contract includes $40,000 for annuities, and $20,000 each for a car allowance and business expenses. It provides 50 days of personal time off and six days for consulting and professional engagement.
Isquirdo's previous contract gave him a base salary of $150,000 with reported extra allowances totaling more than $86,000, plus the $300,000 life insurance policy.
Going into Tuesday evening's meeting, there were widespread complaints about Isquierdo's leadership style. There have been reports of him using fear and intimidation to keep his staff in line, and questions about his financial management, both professionally and personally.
"I think his leadership style is not right for the district, it is not good for the district," said Crouch, who has said that Isquierdo has threatened to retaliate against him. "There is too much intimidation and fear, it is not appropriate for Sunnyside."
Since coming to the district in 2007, Isquierdo has increased the number of graduates from 550 in 2007 to more than 880 last year, said a press release prepared by district spokeswoman Mary Veres.
"It is very rare for a superintendent to be in a school district for five or more years, I am in my sixth year," Isquierdo said. "And I believe right now, in three more years, we will offer the greatest opportunity for not only sustainability of leadership but for improvement in a progressive community and a community that's innovative and a community that fights for its children."
Isquierdo said he applied for the San Antonio position because "we were on a national stage, we had people saying 'how are you doing it? you have no money,' because Arizona has no money."
"We fund education 49th out of 50; Texas funds it better — they have better salaries and they were saying 'come and show us what you have done,'" he said.
"So I said to my board, 'I really want to try it, my wife is traveling too much, I don't want to do that and family is in Texas, my wife's family is in Texas.'"
"So we tried it and it blew up as you know," Isquierdo said.
"So you know what I did, I did what anybody would do, I came home. I came home to my community that I have called home for six years and I want to call home for another three or six."