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Tear down the high school district Jauhn Hinkle | Fri, Feb 28 2014 12:00 PM

To paraphrase Thomas Payne’s most lucid argument for the 1776 American Revolution against Great Britain, “How does it make Common Sense for an island to govern a continent?”  And so it is with the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) that I think Councilwomann Mary Salas has recently reminded us that the solution to the ongoing cancer of ethics and efficacy in this strange “ Unified High School District” has been right there in front of us all along; unification.

Some backstory; In 2003 as an assistant principal at Sweetwater High School I was deposed by both a San Diego Grand Jury investigating allegations of district corruption in regards to contracts with kick backs from vendors.  In the same year I was questioned by counsel in an ongoing civil case of the SUHSD creating a hostile workplace for whistleblowers, a case that the SUHSD employee/plaintiff eventually won.

I knew firsthand of corruption at the district level and the professional blowback for speaking up about it. I eventually took a step back (ie. quit) when public interest waned. Luckily, more well informed and tenacious critics and bold advocates for truth have since stood up and filled the void by working directly with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who eventually brought felony bribery and corruption charges against those board members, superintendent and contractors.

The “pay for play” culture of Superintendent Ed Brand’s, and then his successor Jesus Gandara’s, is not a new phenomenon.  But the corruption is now so endemic in the very DNA of the district that any hope of installing a new board or passing ethics policy or engaging parents to grass roots reforms, holding special elections or striking for justice is just pouring more time and energy down a vast rat hole.  This district is a strangely gerrymandered anomaly that currently governs 10 middle schools, 10 high schools and multiple alternative ed. campuses in five different municipalities over 30 square miles and no longer serves student and parents needs adequately.

Consider the fact that if you live in National City, Imperial Beach or South San Diego you have had no tenable voice on the current school board for the last 15 years.  All five current board members live in Bonita or Eastlake and easily collect enough votes from constituents in those areas to stay elected year after unbelievable year.  Consider the fact that people from Eastlake and Otay Ranch continually have no clue wear their Mello Roos money goes and have unanswered suspicions that they are being asked to shoulder financial burdens of communities in different zip codes with different priorities and less taxes.  I don’t know of anyone, rich, poor or other, who is served satisfactorily by the current SUHSD board. So why does it still exist?

In the late 90s two separate unification initiatives attempted to return the middle and high schools to their own South Bay’s local communities, but a massive scare tactic campaign coordinated by the SUHSD, run by call centers where faculty and administrators were strong armed into participation, crushed the initiative efforts handily. How could voters argue with teachers?  Besides being of questionable ethics and a conflict of interest for a public school district to influence a public election, we were also, as it turned out, wrong. So very wrong!

All of the arguments against unification were, and still are, vacuous;

1. “Sports would suffer.” Wrong, the Metro League could continue as it is.

2. “Special Ed students would not have as many choices if schools now open to them were closed because of new school boundaries.” Or, perhaps the new K-12 district would figure out how to serve their own communities special ed. needs like the majority of school districts in California are mandated to do.

3. “Students being underserved in an ‘improvement school’ according to the No Child Left Behind statutes would have fewer choices to flea the blight of their home school.”

Or…they could restructure the schools closest to them via charterization or other parent lead “trigger” reforms without the interference of a jealous SUHSD that has failed the lower income Southwest and Sweetwater Highs of our district time and time again.

4. The proposed new K-12 districts would not be able to take advantage of the massive ‘economies of scale’ that a district of SUHSD’s size is afforded.”

After all of the kickbacks and unreported gifts listed in the indictments of board members and contractors does anyone still think the SUHSD is an effective or ethical manager of tax payer monies in the form of property taxes or special construction bonds?  All of the current districts (with the exception of San Ysidro) South Bay, San Diego, Chula Vista and National City have years of unblemished and competent transportation, human resource and fiscal accounting departments in place to do a greatly improved job of what the SUHSD has done in a most disgraceful manner over the last 20 years.

Mary Salas’ daughter and I both got a great education at Bonita Vista High back in the 80s.  Parent support, community involvement and three board members in our zip code were no small part of that success story.  Every child in the South Bay deserves an education equal to the “Bonita” educational experience that we received.

When will citizens of the South Bay stop permitting a small isolated island of corruption and incompetence on 1130 5th Ave. rule their very different and distant communities with graft, tyranny and indifference?  The minute they unify school governance back to the communities that those schools belong to.

Time to dismantle the SUHSD and return control of the middle and high school’s to their local communities.

The time for unification is now.

Hinkle is a teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District and a National City resident.

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sosocal Says:

Sun, Mar 02 2014 06:22 PM

No, Mr. Cassell, Sweetwater is not doing "just fine". Sweetwater is almost broke. Sweetwater has approx. $100 million in missing funds (that has been identified).

Sweetwater can't seem to follow the rules in so many areas, one wonders just what some of these administrators are doing. Ohhh, yes--they are buying real estate via processes that manage to go around the stipulations which are supposed to be followed.

Ed Brand has reneged on agreements with the teachers. He is an untrustworthy individual who is more interested in empire building and finding jobs for friends than he is in educating the young people of this district.

Ed Brand's bullying and other behaviors that are beyond petty and closer to vindictive have lead him to make decisions that are not in the best interest of this school district and our community.

Sweetwater needs an intervention, and fast. I can't say that I believe a word you say, Mr. Cassell.

Ben Cassel Says:

Sat, Mar 01 2014 02:37 PM

Hinkle's straw-man list:
1. Sports: I have not heard anyone mention sports as a possible casualty of the unification proposal.
2. The legitimate concerns regarding dismantling of special education programs and giving them over to districts with no experience or expertise in dealing with secondary SPED students is they would figure out how to serve their special ed needs. This magical thinking dismisses the people, programs, and processes in place, and replaces them with mist.
3. Students would have fewer choices in schools to attend as they flee the blight of their home schools. The problem in SUHSD is not as dire as you suggest, as it is central leadership that is blighted. But your solution is destructive and, quite frankly, either stupid or complicit in the kinds of corruption Brand et al have unleashed. Brand and the Board are great advocates of charterization and privatization, thereby diverting money from public schools to private, for-profit corporations with money skimmed from the top to pay huge salaries.
4. The proposed new K-12 districts would not be able to take advantage of the massive economies of scale that a district of SUHSD's size is afforded. This concern is legitimate, but it is also true that our corrupt managers have squandered the funding that could have been used to address that concern. But what you do not mention is that the rank-and-file of the district have been the ones exposing the corruption, and are on the verge in victory over it. I certainly hadn't heard Salas' and Hinkle's your voices weighing in until about three weeks ago.
Other more legitimate concerns:
1. All of the districts except CVCS are unable financially to subsume the secondary schools. CVCS does not have the expertise in managing secondary schools.
2. The secondary schools employees would suddenly be placed in a new district with no guarantee of maintaining their seniority rights.
3. It is very nearly certain that most secondary school employees' salaries would drop, particularly in the north and south ends of the district.
4. One of the strongest CTA locals in the state would be eliminated. It would be replaced by associations whose leadership does not have clue how secondary schools work.
5. Contracts that have language written thirty years ago that is still so reasonable and relevant that successor contract include it.

Our message to Cheryl Cox, Mary Salas, and Jauhn Hinkle: We're doing fine. With all due respect, you should get out of the way and let us fix our district. I am not at all interested in being your photo-op opportunity and/or your springboard to your new administrative or elective position.

sosocal Says:

Sat, Mar 01 2014 12:00 PM

Mr. Hinkle, well said.

For far too long, Sweetwater UHSD has been run with education being merely a sideline, while the larger concern of Ed Brand and the minions has been self-reward of the monetary variety.

A "churning" of assets, if you will, just like some of the less honest brokerages.

This must stop. I say it is time to put the big dogs on the hunt, if they aren't there already. Look for offshore accounts world-wide, because there has been such widespread countermining of regulation and open bookkeeping on the part of Sweetwater that odds are there are massive amounts to be tracked down.

The County Board of Education still needs to answer for their lack of action.

Yes, the respected, longtime representative had health issues, yet was kept in place. That was very much lacking in ethical behavior on the part of the board. Fast Eddy must have loved having a nice gentleman struggling with Alzheimer's Disease as the local county representative.

All the better to continue getting his way, with no one to question all the schemes. No one to say, "Why aren't you doing what you are supposed to be doing, instead of setting up extraneous bureaucracies left and right?"

The Ed Brand Era of stealing this district blind needs to end. All those who were in on the mess need to go as well.

Bernardo Vasquez Says:

Sat, Mar 01 2014 07:29 AM

Mr. Hinkle, thank you for sharing an insiders view of what many of us outsiders (ie parents) have suspected is still occuring at the district - graft, corruption and just flat out poor leadership by Ed Brand and the trustees in his pack pocket, John McCann, Jim Cartmill and sometimes Pearl Quinones.

Although unification may not be the answer due to the massive problems you mention (why would the CVESD want to unify with Sweetwater?), at least the discussion is shining a bright light where Ed Brand wants it least - on the pattern and practice of his leadership.

Only with this kind of constant attention paid on him and his cronies (robert Bleish comes to mind) can we ultimately pressure him to leave or the board to not renew his contract. Until we can get Ed Brand to leave and get new trustees on the board, our district will continue to flounder.

By the way, I attended Montgomery High in the 80's, and we too benefitted from overall good leadership. We had great programs which propelled many of us to college and vocational schools, and great professional and technical careers, we had great sports programs (kicked Bonita's butt my 3 years there), and there was a sense of pride and community.

Lets work as a community to make sure John McCann and Jim Cartmill do not get re elected. Lets keep the pressure on Ed Brand so he comes to a quick realization that it is time he move on.

anniej Says:

Fri, Feb 28 2014 01:39 PM

Mr. Hinkle: Soooo many excellent points raised in your article.

I live on the west side, and in the Montgomery area. A small area that is technically San Diego - the proposal raised by Ms. Salas concerns me - I wonder what would happen to my students? Become part of San Ysidro? Become part of San Diego - please tell me NO.

You voice the opinion that 'if you live in Natl City, IB or South San Diego you have had no tenable voice on the current school board. I would ask, and what have the voices that are on our current board done for the east side or west side of Chula? I have this Polyanna notion that persons should seek and hold public office with the intent of SERVING not USING! I, personally, have no problem being represented by someone who lives in a different zip vide than I. We are speaking of education, shouldn't all students receive the same education no matter who is casting the vote?

I Sir, have been heard - not listened to, but heard. For the past 4+ years I have attended every Board meeting. Watched as the majority of the current group voted SUHSD Into a deficit and added to, rather than decreased the number of our schools added to the Program improvement list. The only board member who has consistently voted in favor of education has been Lopez. What of John McCann and all of his campaign promises? HOT AIR. Financially we are in worst shape than we were when he took office, he has alienated those who call for change and has chosen to follow Ed brand vs. lead. In my humble opinion we are where we are due to apathy - the majority of parents are simply NOT aware of the mess of SUHSD - hard to believe but true.

Our true challenge is EDUCATING THE VOTERS - each and everyone of us needs to do our part.

CLEAN up our Board, replace Brand - then all come together for the benefit of our students! That is our mission!!!!!

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