Following Gov. Jerry Brown’s community forum about education in December, a rather morose projection of budgetary losses for our great state was made public. You see, California is in debt, and the amount of this debt is large, to say the least — nearly $9 billion must be cut from the state’s education budget this year alone.
Obviously, this is an era of tough decision-making. Less money means fewer teachers and a cheapened education for students, so one would assume superintendents are doing all they can with what little money they have left.
That is, unless you’re Sweetwater Union High School Superintendent Dr. Jesus Gandara. In a recent newsletter, Gandara boasted of cutting more than $42 million from his district since 2008, and warned readers of another expected $24 million in budget cuts in the near future. The fate of the budget didn’t look good, but there was hope. As Gandara said himself, “(The) key to our success will be our ability to remain proactive throughout the budget process.”
Well, folks, if there is anything Gandara would possess firsthand knowledge about, it’s “proactive” budgeting.
Gandara appeared in the news back in March after he hosted a bridal event for his daughter at a restaurant in Bonita. Remember when Proposition O was approved? Neither did I. What does a SUHSD official having a party for his daughter have to do with a ballot measure allocating $644 million to renovate old and decrepit school facilities?
Here is where the plot thickens, dear readers. Gandara, who had substantial influence in deciding how the aforementioned $644 million in taxpayer dollars was to be allocated, invited contractors who had a professional interest in the pursuit of Proposition O money. Let me be clear: These guys weren’t friends of Gandara, and according to Gandara himself, many of them didn’t even know his daughter personally. This didn’t stop Gandara from soliciting gifts and cash from these party guests, who were certainly in attendance through ethically questionable circumstances. The best part about this whole scenario is the unapologetic way in which Gandara handled media questions about this seemingly obvious conflict of interests.
According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, in a display of unmitigated ballsiness, Gandara said he was merely “sharing a personal moment with the community he represents.”
Fast forward to the present. Gandara, along with four other board members of the SUHSD, is facing felony charges including bribery, perjury and obtaining a thing of value to influence a member of a legislative body. Convictions for these charges could mean an extended vacation in state prison as well as hefty fines.
Even contractor Henry Amigable is facing criminal charges for attempting to reach out when Gandara’s daughter was competing for the Miss Texas title. Amigable stepped up and did his community a service by giving former Miss San Antonio USA Elizabeth Gandara a $1,000 scholarship. I mean, sure, Amigable worked for the Gilbane construction company, which had coincidentally been awarded a multimillion dollar contract related to Proposition O, but that doesn’t prove anything. It’s not like the district had made a list that rated the cost-effectiveness and overall quality of various contractors, and Gilbane wasn’t at the top of the list, but had somehow been awarded the contract anyway. Oh, wait. That is what happened. But there’s always more taxpayer money, right?
Listen, folks. Forget about educating the youth of America. Cutting classes in the CSU system, slashing programs for kids, and laying off employees at local high school districts just isn’t working out anymore. The taxpayers down in the SUHSD were only giving Gandara a starting salary of $240,000 and an additional $750 a month for his auto allowance. These kinds of numbers are unacceptable. The poor guy couldn’t even afford to throw a bridal party for his daughter without reaching out to the community for financial assistance. Clearly it’s time the taxpayers stop being so damn greedy, and for the media to stop ignoring the plight of these downtrodden public servants.
The latest development in this story took place last night, when the SUHSD convened a board meeting to determine whether or not to pay the legal fees for three current board members, and one former board member, who are being charged with multiple felonies. Yes, you read that right. Gandara has approached the school district to vote on whether or not they should use taxpayer dollars to cover up to $1.3 million of their own legal fees.
Board member Arlie Ricasa has even set up a legal defense fund to which people may donate money, just in case the board chooses not to cover her legal expenses.
So what should one take from this? If you’re worried about possible job prospects upon graduating and you have no issues with petty things such as morals, ethics and laws to cloud your decision-making, consider being a superintendent of a school district. Just be careful of the paper trail you leave.
—Kenneth Leonard is an English junior.