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Isquierdo has worn out welcome at Sunnyside

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Isquierdo has worn out welcome at Sunnyside

Former school board member regrets approving contract

  • Isquierdo
    Sunnyside Unified School DistrictIsquierdo

In the five and a half years I was privileged to serve on the Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board, I cast many votes, but there are two votes I think of often - two yes votes regarding personnel that I greatly regret.

In both situations, I honestly believed that a 5-0 vote was important when hiring an employee. In my judgment, a new employee (or one with a new contract) would be best served by a unanimous vote of confidence. I hoped then that I was right, but I know now that I was wrong.

One of the two votes was in favor of an employee's in-district transfer. I supported the transfer even though I believed the more appropriate course of action was to dismiss the employee. It was a 5-0 vote. That employee left the district not long after.

The second vote concerned the extension of Dr. Manuel Isquierdo's contract as superintendent.

Taken on May 24, 2011, while hundreds of students, families and friends waited for the Board to adjourn a meeting in the Desert View High School library, so that the commencement ceremony would begin, I froze. The motion was made, I looked around for the District's attorney (who was not at the meeting), gave a confused look to one of my then-colleagues, and voted yes.

Dr. Isquierdo's $150,000 base salary is augmented by allowances throughout the contract.

This is common practice across the state to keep pay competitive. A more unconventional provision was a $75,000 allowance for the marketing of the Digital Advantage Program.

That's a lot of money for what some may argue falls within the scope of a superintendent's role. It is a lot of money when you consider the return on investment, or lack thereof. It is a lot of money when travel and expenses are often paid by sponsors, which in my opinion, violates the contract (I'm no attorney, so by all means, please read paragraph 4k).

A majority of the discussion concerning this contract took place in executive session. Those conversations, by law, cannot be discussed with any person who was not a member of the Board when those conversations took place. What CAN be discussed is how Sunnyside will proceed.

The first clear opportunity to revisit the superintendent's contract came when Isquierdo failed to meet deadlines regarding performance pay. I argued that he was in breach of contract and, therefore, should not be allowed to receive any pay for the periods where he missed the deadline. In the end, the Board approved a settlement by a 4-1 vote.

Recently, Isquierdo was named the lone finalist for a superintendent position in San Antonio. He has since withdrawn his name from consideration. I followed the story closely, as I was hopeful that Isquierdo would move on, so that Sunnyside could move on, past the infamous Digital Advantage audit and Auditor General's investigation.

Now is the time to revisit Isquierdo's contract.

I voted to hire Isquierdo. I supported him through many difficult yet positive changes. The Blueprint for Success was an important step for Sunnyside. Isquierdo deserves recognition for that. The Digital Advantage Program is important as well.

Yet, at some point, we lost control of the wheel. "We moved too fast" became the stock explanation. I know it has long been my excuse to myself when I think about the 2011 meeting at which his contract was approved: It moved too fast.

What there should be from Sunnyside's Governing Board now is courage. Courage to work to regain the community's confidence. Courage to admit and correct the mistakes of the Board and the superintendent. Courage to discuss dismissal for good cause because not doing so is far less costly than a third failed budget override election.

Dr. Isquierdo's welcome at Sunnyside, like his contract as superintendent, has been over-extended one too many times.

Magdalena Barajas served on the Sunnyside Governing Board from January 2007-June 2012.

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