Dr. Ed Brand is in his third round as the Sweetwater Union High School District's superintendent. Following a seven-hour closed session meeting at the district administration building Monday, the board voted 3-2 to award him a two-year, $252,000 annual contract.
The decision comes after his resignation Aug. 31 following a one-year contract with the district ending June 30. His first day back was Tuesday.
Retired teacher Fran Brinkman asked why the board would keep Brand when he left the district after a 10-year run in 2005 on the heels of a grand jury investigation.
“What a nightmare this is,” Brinkman said Monday during public comment. “That you could consider hiring a man who is on a spending frenzy … a man that lifted boundaries without your vote...”
The new contract upset but didn’t surprise critics, which include dozens of parents, teachers, community members and some students disappointed with the way Brand has run the district.
Board President Pearl Quinones and trustee Bertha Lopez opposed the contract, which they called lucrative — consisting of a $750 monthly stipend for mileage, 28 paid vacation days, and a potential buyout of his remaining contract if he’s terminated before the two years are up.
“I cannot morally justify giving him this is kind of contract in these times,” Quinones said. “We’re down to the bare bones.”
“What I’m mostly irritated at is that our students, teachers, classified and everyone that works in the district received furlough days and they made the sacrifice during this lean, economic time and yet they gave them a very lucrative contract,” she said.
Increase in Mello-Roos for Chula Vista’s east side, approximately 7,000 iPads for seventh graders, severe cuts to teachers and programs and impacted classrooms are at the center of issue.
“I believe our vote last night memorialized what we unanimously agreed to in December 2011, which was a three-year contract offer,” Trustee Jim Cartmill said. “…Right now, it really is a crisis mode because of the budget. And unfortunately that is the driver behind many of the decisions we’ve been forced to make.”
Despite Cartmill and Brand saying the board was set to vote in December, Quinones said that wasn’t the case.
“We never said we were going to vote in December,” she said. “There was never a 5-0 on that. We never got to meet.
We said we would talk about it and discuss the situation.”
Cartmill said Brand has helped increase enrollment.
“The district is up 650 students … because of his creative educational initiatives for students,” he said.
However, Lopez and others say it’s created a scheduling nightmare.
“This impacted the schools being overcrowded, students not having enough time to eat lunch and teachers having more than 40 students in their classes,” she said.
Lopez said Tuesday that a search should have occurred.
“My 37 years in public schools and my experience as a board member in another district for 10 years lets me know that this is not a standard practice,” Lopez said. “No posting, no search process and no interviews is not the right thing to do.”
Monday night, speakers urged board members not to rehire Brand.
“I’ve been watching you for two years and I don’t understand why you’re not making decisions within the best interest of the kids,” Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee member Bernardo Vasquez said. “What I’ve seen in the last 16 months is that Ed Brand doesn’t have it in him to do what’s right.”
Long-term district teacher Melanie Morton said her initial faith in Brand is now gone.
“We had high hopes for Dr. Brand, but to put it mildly, he has failed,” she said. “…If you hire Brand tonight expect an ongoing fight.”
Prior to the meeting, critics of Brand called a news conference.
Committee chair Nick Marinovich questioned Brand’s decision to buy the iPads.
“How are they going to be maintained?” he posed the question during the news conference. “What if they break?”
Vasquez discussed the issue of Brand’s decision on Mello-Roos, saying that $68 million of it was used for administration costs.
“What we’re starting to believe is that Ed Brand is not willing to answer to his decisions that he’s made,” he said.
Cartmill said that increased Mello-Roos is a reality he signed up for when he purchased his home.
“Now that we have a complete management team as far as a facilities director and finance, we’re gonna be able to get the data that the community is requesting concerning Mello-Roos and whether it was appropriate,” Cartmill said.
Going forward, Quinones said Brand should meet with the public concerning issues in the district.
“I think it’s important that he meets with the community and explains why those decisions were made,” she said.
“They have a right to know.”
Lopez said a rocky roads lies ahead for Brand.
“The teachers have spoken,” she said. “The bond oversight committee has spoken. The Eastlake community has spoken and he’s gonna have a tough challenge bringing them all together to try and prove that his leadership is the right one for the district,” Lopez said.
Cartmill said it’s a matter of getting everyone on the same page.
“I’m hopeful that we can start a healing process with those that were opposed to Dr. Brand’s appointment and begin to move forward.”
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