Tue, Jun 28 2011 03:04 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampite
Jesus Gandara, who served as the Sweetwater Union High School District's superintendent since 2006, was placed on administrative leave early Tuesday morning by fellow board members after more than seven hours of closed-session discussion of his evaluation.
Since the beginning of the year Gandara, who leads the largest high school district in the state, has come under fire after media reports revealed he invited contractors to his daughter's bridal shower and used a district credit card to pay for meals despite receiving a generous expense account.
Gandara will receive $416,675 in severance compensation, an amount equal to 18 months of his salary including sick time and vacation pay, said district spokeswoman Lillian Leopold.
In a radio interview with KPBS Tuesday afternoon, board president John McCann said 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."
More than 500 people showed up at the Southwest High School gymnasium to attend the district's board meeting Monday night.
Throughout the meeting Gandara sat stone faced as people from the crowd chanted, "Fire him!" and "Go back to Texas!"
Longtime Chula Vista resident and outspoken critic of Gandara, Stewart Payne said his initial reaction to the board's decision was joy and elation.
"Now that Gandara is gone, the district needs to begin the process of healing wounds," he said. "We need to start getting back to the real business of the district."
"The biggest thing is, we need to restore integrity and trust in the district," he said. "We're going to focus on students' academic success."
Until the board's decision early Tuesday morning, board member Bertha Lopez was the only trustee to publicly question Gandara's ethics and decision-making.
During a press conference she held last week, Lopez characterized the district as being in a state of crisis under Gandara's tenure.
During his slightly more than four years at the district, Gandara had also directed the district's general counsel to hire public-relations contractors without board knowledge.
Discrepancies involving one public relations firm, discovered by The Union Tribune's Watchdog team in April, are currently being investigated by the District Attorney's Office.
More recently, issues came to light regarding grade changing and alleged forgery by principals who were promoted to be top administrators at the district. The district said it was a mistake and the grade changes occurred because the wrong form was used to record credit-recovery classes.
The school board on Tuesday night appointed Ed Brand as interim superintendent.
Brand is a familiar face to Sweetwater Union High School District parents and teachers. He served as superintendent of Sweetwater Union High School District from 1995 to 2005.
In July 2005 Brand jumped to San Marcos High School District, where he served as superintendent before abruptly resigning one year later.
© 2009 The Star-News