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Sweetwater cancels superintendent's district credit card Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Apr 09 2011 12:10 PM

The Sweetwater Union High School District has confiscated Superintendent Jesus Gandara's district credit card.

According to records, he spent $11,500 on meals in three years. Gandara said he has no other district credit cards.

"We have made a joint decision to eliminate the credit card," Board President John McCann said. "It was returned as of today. It was the best thing to do for the district."

Gandara said money used for lunch and dinner meetings focuses on community outreach to help promote the county's second-largest high school district.

"Maybe I should have cut it (the credit card) this year but I was on a roll," Gandara said. "I don't use the credit card with contractors or people who want to make money with the district. I use it to lead members of the community."

He said that between 2009 and 2010 he was asked by the board to focus more on outreach as one of his goals. "At the time, we needed it-it was the right thing to do," he said.

In addition to his $250,000 annual salary, Gandara receives an $800 expense reimbursement for meals and other incidental expenses and a $750 a month auto allowance.

One thing Gandara said the public doesn't understand is that the $800 stipend isn't strictly for meals. It's also for personal cell phones and printers, fax machines and laptops, none of which he said he has.

Chula Vista resident Stewart Payne said he is tired of the lack of transparency to the public from Sweetwater board members and Gandara, who "is financing his lifestyle with tax payer money."

In an email to the board Thursday, Payne suggested holding Tuesday's meeting at a larger venue.

"It is time to tell (the board) that we (the public) have had enough," he said.

Payne said he anticipates a bigger crowd due to controversy with the District including Gandara's credit card expenses, a bridal shower/money tree event held for Gandara's daughter at a local restaurant and board member Arlie Ricasa's fine from the Fair and Political Practices Commission for failing to report and repay a loan for her campaign for state assembly.

Gandara said the decision to take back the credit card was fair.

"The day I leave Sweetwater I'll be judged on the academia," he said. "This is just a distraction. I'm very proud of what we've accomplished."

 "Almost every superintendent is going to offend someone at some point," Gandara said. "When you make decisions, not everyone will be satisfied but I get that."

Gandara admits to making mistakes. "I'm not perfect, I accept that," he said. "Will there be hiccups? Yes. But I hope the parents feel the students are getting a world-class education. And If I have to take hits for that, so be it."

Gandara said he would like to focus on the success of the district and the students. "We want to go back to the focus of the students," he said. "This takes away from that. I just wanted to bring closure to this issue."

McCann agreed. "It's a team effort and we should all be focused on the same thing, which is our students."

Gandara was elected to run the Chula Vista-based district five years ago and oversees 41,454 students and 5,257 employees. 

 This story was updated at 6:16 p.m. April 8, 2011.

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