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Gandara’s ouster deal solidifies pension
Sweetwater contract calls for 18 months severance; superintendent wasn’t fired for cause
By Ashly McGlone
June 21, 2011
The terms of Superintendent Jesus Gandara’s severance from the Sweetwater Union High School District on will allow him to vest in his pension, a benefit he would not have received had he been fired outright.
Gandara, 54, will use accumulated sick and vacation days, plus administrative leave, to keep him on the payroll through Sept. 1, when he will achieve five years of service with the district.
He will also receive 18 months of severance pay, an amount district officials placed at $376,380, plus $40,295 in vacation and sick-leave payout -- for a total of $416,675.
Gandara’s $750-a-month auto allowance and his $800-a-month district expense allowance will halt immediately, according to a news release.
The district’s contract with Gandara says he can be fired for cause for “any act of dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation, or other acts of moral turpitude.”
Instead of invoking that clause, the school board early Tuesday morning terminated him “at will,” a process that requires the 18 months pay by contract.
The district’s outside lawyer, Bonifacio Garcia, said, “The separation is effective Sept. 1. He is going to be using up his vacation pay and he will be on administrative leave until Sept. 1 to the extent that he is entitled under his current contract. The current agreement is 18 months plus whatever his vacation pay is, and the net effect is he gets the same even though his employment will terminate on Sept. 1.”
The value of Gandara’s health benefits will be deducted from his severance pay, according to the news release.
Details of Gandara’s pension were not immediately available. However, previous reporting by The Watchdog indicates that a pension for a five-year employee leaving at age 55 would be 7 percent of salary.
The Watchdog has contacted district officials and the California State Teachers Retirement System to seek a more solid number.
In response to the deal, teacher’s union president Alex Anguiano said, “I do believe that it was time for him to go. What it appears was that the district was moving to ensure he was vested in STRS. At that point in time he will be vested and he will be receiving a retirement package that really in my opinion was undeserved. He has really only been our state four and a half years. It essentially amounts to the plundering of our retirement system.
“I do think it is time to move forward and at the same time I think is it time for a good house cleaning.”
Gandara's 18-month severance will be calculated based on his $250,000 salary, spokeswoman Lillian Leopold said. He was paid $245,000 in the current fiscal year, because of furloughs. But, Leopold said, "There are no furloughs for management" in the fiscal year that starts July 1, so his severance will be calculated based on the higher amount.
Gandara was fired by a 5-0 vote of the school board early Tuesday morning.
Gandara came under fire after a series of Watchdog reports in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The newspaper revealed Gandara’s charging of hundreds of meals to a district credit card, even though he is paid the $800 a month allowance for such expenses. The credit card was canceled in response to the report.
Another report revealed that Gandara invited district contractors and employees to his daughter’s bridal shower, complete with a “money tree” for contributions. He defended the invitations as evidence of his personal management style.
Discrepancies involving a public-relations firm, also exposed by the newspaper, are being investigated by the District Attorney’s Office. The P.R. professional, Scott Alevy, says that people disputing the bills he submitted to the district had to deny the meetings happened because of confidentiality concerns, a claim they deny.
The Watchdog also reported that the district’s plan to borrow $58 million against bond money, for operating expenses, was a possible violation of the state Constitution, which requires bonds to be spent for the purposes voters approve. The borrowing was canceled.
More recently, the paper revealed issues with grade changing and alleged forgery by principals who have been promoted to be top administrators at the district. The district says the alleged forgery was a simple mistake in using a boilerplate letter, and the grade changes were a matter of using the wrong form to record credit-recovery classes.
Last week, the newspaper reported that the district’s food-service director markets brands from her outside company at campus food courts. The administrator, Nancy Stewart, said she takes no money for the district’s use of the brands.