The Sweetwater Union High School District School Board voted unanimously last month to terminate Superintendent Jesus Gandara after months of negative publicity regarding his use of a district credit card and decisionmaking.
He was replaced by a familiar face. Dr. Ed Brand will serve as the interim for one year or until a permanent superintendent can be hired. Brand is already known to parents and teachers, having served as superintendent of the district from 1995 to 2005.
He came out of a five-year retirement and restoring his 1966 Alpine Sunbeam after receiving an unexpected phone call from board president John McCann. McCann said the decision was made because the district needed a change.
“We wanted to make sure the district has high integrity and a return to trust,” he said. “We’re going to give the district a fresh start.”
Brand said there’s no other place he’d rather be.
“It feels like coming home to a member of the family,” he said. “I consider it an honor and privilege to come back to assist with the transition. Sweetwater is in my blood and hopefully that’s plain to see.”
Critics of Gandara appeared to be pleased with the board’s decision.
“I think he’s setting realistic expectations,” said parent Stewart Payne. “I’m willing to give him an opportunity to do the right thing.”
Payne said he recently had two, one-on-one meetings with Brand.
“I found him to be open, honest and taking the concerns with the community very seriously,” he said. “So far so good.”
Brand was the first to be named Superintendent of the Year by the California League of High Schools for creating a guaranteed admission program to San Diego State University for Sweetwater graduates who meet academic benchmarks beginning in seventh grade.
In July 2005 Brand left for San Marcos High School District, where he served as superintendent before abruptly resigning one year later, saying it wasn’t a good fit.
Chula Vista resident Maty Adato is familiar with Brand since she has two children who graduated from the district. She said with school opening in such a short period of time, Brand was chosen as a sort of default.
“I think he knows the district and there could be continuity so the students don’t feel any bumps,” she said.
“But if the board would have reacted seven months ago, they wouldn’t had to have acted quickly and Gandara wouldn’t have walked away with $500,000.”
Brand said he wants to make absolutely sure that the board hears what the community is saying loud and clear and will hold an education summit this summer where parents, students and community leaders can hear the state of the district.
“We don’t want to sweep anything under the table,” he said. “The only way to operate is to be up front. Sometimes you make mistakes and you need to own up to them and make things right.”
In the last several months, Gandara came under fire after media reports revealed he invited contractors to his daughter’s bridal shower, used a district credit card to pay for meals despite a generous expense account and hiring public-relations contractors without board knowledge.
Last week, The Union-Tribune reported that Brand was also guilty of abusing a district credit card during his tenure, stating he spent $60,000 in five years, $600 on smoothies alone.
Brand said that’s something he wouldn’t do today and added that the $600 in smoothies was spent during teacher appreciation week to say thank you.
“In ’95 at that time it was common for business expenses and mileage — the board was receptive to it,” he said. “But different times demand different things.”
He will receive a $20,000 monthly salary with no money for mileage and no district credit card.