Ed Brand stepped in after scandal-plagued Sweetwater High School District fired its superintendent. Now he faces 
the ire of community activists.
  • Ed Brand stepped in after scandal-plagued Sweetwater High School District fired its superintendent. Now he faces the ire of community activists.
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"The honeymoon might be over,” acknowledged Dr. Edward Brand, interim superintendent for Sweetwater Union High School District. Knee-deep in scandal, the Sweetwater school board on June 21 fired Superintendent Jesus Gandara. On June 22, Brand stepped into Gandara’s shoes, but people are already asking if the shoes fit too well.

“Sweetwater is in my DNA,” Brand said in an early September interview. Brand served as Sweetwater’s superintendent from 1995 to 2005. His return was welcomed by many.

Community activists were so pleased to be rid of Gandara, and so eager to see Sweetwater get back on its feet, they agreed to stop sharing scandals with the press. The truce ended on August 29.

The trigger was an incident at the school board’s workshop on teamwork. According to community activist Fran Brinkman, the combative board had been shouting over one another, and board president John McCann had been known to shut off the microphone of boardmember Bertha López. The workshop meeting began in the boardroom, but after 15 minutes, Brand announced a break. Later, it was discovered that Brand had reconvened the meeting in a back room — without the public.

Community activist Kathleen Cheers said she was “livid.” According to Cheers, she and Brinkman sat in the boardroom for over an hour waiting for the workshop to resume.

Activist Fran Brinkman believes a back-room meeting called by Brand was illegal.

Brinkman said that no one advised them that it had reconvened elsewhere. She said that a Brown Act violation has been filed against the district.

In the September interview, Brand said he had no intention of excluding the audience. His perspective was, “We wanted to do a workshop about teamwork. It wasn’t about making policy. We did a 15-minute overview in open session, and then we went from the boardroom to this back room because we were going to lay out charts. I had instructed our staff that if anybody [from the audience] wanted to observe, then they could be invited back. Somehow, that didn’t get communicated to the three or four people who showed up for the meeting.”

Brand admitted, however, that he really didn’t want the public to attend the teamwork powwow “because then the workshop discussion would not be as frank.”

Both Cheers and Brinkman had informed Brand of their desire to attend the workshop. Before it commenced, Cheers stated during public comment that she was looking forward to seeing the board “interact.”

Brinkman said she’d told Brand in a phone conversation the previous day, “I definitely want to be in attendance at the workshop.”

Brand remembered the phone conversation differently. “I don’t recall that she said, ‘I definitely want to be in there.’ What I heard her say was, ‘I’m definitely coming to the board workshop.’” Brand said no Brown Act violation occurred because policy was not discussed at the workshop.

At the school-board meeting the next evening, August 30, Brinkman told the board, “I thought Brand was the real deal. I am deeply disappointed.”

It’s no accident that the board was having a workshop on teamwork. In order to solve the district’s problems, Brand needs a cohesive board. Rumors have circulated that Brand will walk if he doesn’t get cooperation.

During the September interview, Brand responded to a question about the rumor. “Well, it’s like this, so the board asked me to help resolve some of these issues. Like any administrator, you try to bring forward ideas and recommendations, and the belief is that the majority of the time the board is going to adopt them.… If it ever gets to the point that they stop accepting my recommendations, then the good news from my perspective is, I have the wherewithal to say, ‘Thanks, it’s been fun.’ Now, do I want to do that? Heck, no, I love this place.”

Events at the August 30 board meeting suggest that the lessons on teamwork didn’t take. Issues from Gandara’s regime still fester, particularly his handsome severance package. Had Gandara been fired for cause — anything from fraud to moral turpitude — the district would not have been obliged to pay his salary from June to September, nor his retirement.

In the months before his departure, newspaper articles recounted the scandals, such as Gandara’s alleged abuse of his credit card or the invitations sent to employees of construction companies with district contracts to hang money on his daughter’s money tree at her bridal shower. The district attorney’s office is investigating numerous allegations.

Until the day Gandara was ousted, boardmember López alone had called for him to be put on leave. On August 30, López went renegade again. She expressed concern that, during the board’s deliberations on Gandara, board president McCann withheld a pertinent legal opinion.

She told the packed boardroom, “I would like to request, in view of the fact that written information was withheld from me regarding the separation agreement with Dr. Gandara, and therefore not allowing me to make an informed decision…that all of the documents regarding Dr. Gandara’s separation agreement be sent to the attorney general for closer scrutiny.…”

Fran Brinkman had the same concerns. Last week, she filed a complaint against McCann with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging, “Mr. McCann protected Dr. Gandara from accountability…and withheld information to manipulate Board approval for a lucrative severance package he negotiated at tremendous taxpayer cost.”

Asked if he had seen the alleged attorney letter advising the board that Gandara could be fired for cause, Brand said, “Whether or not there were legal opinions out there, it’s a closed-session item, can’t be discussed. It’s a violation of the Brown Act to take something that’s discussed in closed session and have it made public.… I can neither confirm nor deny that there is [a letter].”

When asked if morale is low because of the district’s ongoing problems, Brand answered, “I know that the controversial items in the district don’t help people to feel good about themselves, but the way I look at it…Muhammad Ali got hit in the face a couple of times, but they still call him the champ. In my mind, we’re gonna get our swagger back.”

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Comments

Visduh Oct. 19, 2011 @ 2:40 p.m.

For a guy who was as clever at managing his administrative career and spending many years in charge of school districts, Brand can make some really stupid statements. Most liars lie convincingly. This character should have quit while he was ahead and stayed far, far away from the Sweetwater district. The board is chaotic, and incapable of providing real direction. About the only thing it does know how to do is hire and fire superintendents. One can only suppose that Brand hoped that he could step into the leadership void and land a multi-year contract to again head up the district. The precedent to give a fat payoff to fired "supes" is there, so he would have that as a fallback if a new board should decide to replace him. But first he needs to be hired as the permanent superintendent. That will probably never happen. The best thing that could befall the district would be for the various "feeder" elementary districts to unify and take the high schools away from Sweetwater. If a couple of them, perhaps starting with Chula Vista, were to unify, the others would soon follow.

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SurfPuppy619 Oct. 19, 2011 @ 8:09 p.m.

Brand is an idiot, and he was canned at San Marcos for hanky panky and I guess that is OK at SUHSD.

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Susan Luzzaro Oct. 19, 2011 @ 8:21 p.m.

The best thing that could befall the district would be for the various "feeder" elementary districts to unify and take the high schools away from Sweetwater.


Visduh, that is really an interesting idea, not easily followed, but it would align curriculum, create logical boundaries, etc.

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cvres Oct. 20, 2011 @ 9:14 a.m.

This is Gandara's retirement as stated in the UT:

"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."

In addition the contract was settled so he receives a retirement.

Is it possible that we taxpayers did not have to pay it?

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anniej Oct. 20, 2011 @ 11:25 a.m.

everyone in the south bay should remember that dr. brand reports to the board.

while i do not believe that he is in anyway intimidated by them, i do believe that he is trying to work with them in an effort to turn the district around.

dr. brand is a shrewd man, he should not be mistaken for a dummy, as he is anything but.

the only action that will truly alleviate the corruption at the district is the immediate resignation of mccann, cartmill, ricasa and quinones.

let us not forget who retired vs. FIRED the gandara - it was mccann, quinones, cartmill, and quinones. ms. bertha lopez had called for his termination, but she was outmanned.

all of the taxpayers in the south bay should be demanding the 4 board members resignation. let us not forget the investigations that have occurred (and found us negligent), and are continuing to go forward i.e. district attorney, fbi, state, attorney general.

this is an embarrassment to us all, and yet our board is simply skipping along as if all is well in paradise.

what was not mentioned in this article is the fact that a previous 'team work seminar' that cost thousands (of our taxpayers monies) resulted in nothing more than a group beat up session on ms. bertha lopez -

all one had to do was to look at the situation objectively - mccann, cartmill, and ricasa are dead set on getting lopez off of the board. she makes them look bad, as she is the only board member who has fought for the students and the taxpayers. judge for yourself - all board meetings are taped and there is audio available for your review on the district website. take a listen, there you will find the truth in what i say.

historical votes have been consistent 4-0 - 0 is lopez vote. over, and over, and over again.

thank goodness for the reader and particularly the fine reporting of ms luzzaro - this news organization is proving that you will not be intimidated - you will report the truth, no matter where it may lead.

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joepublic Oct. 20, 2011 @ 4:56 p.m.

Right on anniej! This school board, excluding Ms Lopez has to go. It's too bad they're not up for reelection soon. They would learn as did the Southwestern school board, that the masses are not the asses as they like to think , but in fact we are very aware of their politically motivated misdeeds and would vote them out. We might have to wait, but their time will come. Meanwhile I hope all the community and employee activists keep the pressure up and that the press continues to keep us informed.

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Founder Oct. 20, 2011 @ 6:31 p.m.

What is with All the educational monkey business, ... in South San Diego County?

Susan is really making a name for herself, ... With so many outrageous stories to report on!

Don't STOP!

Seems the Educational Public Trust is now, ... Nothing more than another bank account to pilfer!

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anniej Oct. 20, 2011 @ 6:55 p.m.

Joepublic:

i respectfully disagree in regards to bertha lopez. i have followed the board meetings and she is the only board member who has consistently cast a vote that benefits the student or protects the hard working tax payers.

i am hoping when the board members i question run again, that the community remembers the thousands of dollars that the prop o management company, and the newly fired district legal counsel poured into their past campaigns. and least we forget all of those contractors that received the contracts under prop o. ask yourself the question why would any company pump thousands of dollars into a 'school board election'? but then i am asking a question that we all know the answer to.

the same prop o management company also ran the southwestern bond improvements, and i understand that southwestern has called for an investigation of said firm - something to do with 'freebies'.

oh, when will it end? hopefully one by one the voters will vote them out. and to think ricasa and mccann are looking to seek the office of assembly. holy moly!!!!! ricasa, who was fined because she was found to be using new campaign dollars to pay off old campaign debts - but that is right, she called it a minor error. r i g h t !!!!!

Joepublic, if you live in the south bay you are needed at the board meetings.

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anniej Oct. 20, 2011 @ 7:07 p.m.

Founder:

yes you are right, the entire community owes the reader and ms. luzzaro a debt of thanks.

where would we be without such reporting? in the dark, right where the board wants us!

yes, the sweetwater board has been up to no good for several years now. in retrospect, cartmill and ricasa traveling to socorro, texas to interview and then hire 'the gandara' was the worst thing that ever happened to the students and taxpayers in the south bay.

'the gandara', the same superintendent who wined and dined newly voted in (at the time) mccann, ricasa, cartmill, and quinones on our dime. all of that money that SHOULD HAVE SPENT ON THE STUDENTS.

but then ricasa, mccann, cartmill and quinones have a different way of looking at things. they saw nothing wrong with 'the gandara' using a credit card, they claimed to have no knowledge of, for breaking bread and drinking.

oh, the credit card, i am still in shock over 'the gandara' using a high school districts credit card at none other than HOOTERS IN ARIZONA.

and what did the board do, did they fire him for cause? that would be a NO, instead they retired him on our tax dollars. only at sweetwater folks.

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Founder Oct. 21, 2011 @ 7:54 a.m.

Thanks Like you and hopefully thousands of students and or parents of students; getting a clear picture of what is happening is THE most important first step in fixing the problems that the South County student now face!

It is comments like yours that will help expose what is really happening, please continue to post your observations. I hope to read many more comments from students and or Faculty in the upcoming months!

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SurfPuppy619 Oct. 20, 2011 @ 8:05 p.m.

Sweetwater is such a fantastic school district with such great kids, it really is.

They, the kids, deserve much better. Brand IMO is a joke, and they need a much better leader than Ed Brand, and they could easily find a much better leader.

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Founder Oct. 21, 2011 @ 7:57 a.m.

SP No surprise here, poor Boards choose POOR leaders since they want someone that will play Ball with them, instead of someone that will challenge them to excel as the public and students should demand!

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SurfPuppy619 Oct. 23, 2011 @ 2:08 p.m.

I lovbe Sweetwater-I hope for the kids sake it improves soon. Best place i ever worked, not withstandiong brand and other clown buddies of brand-like Luis Maestra...........

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Susan Luzzaro Oct. 21, 2011 @ 12:14 a.m.

One of the interesting things at the board meeting Monday night is that several speakers asked where is the report/investigation assigned to special attorney Vega months and months ago on the possibly misspent money. I had almost forgotten that report.

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Founder Oct. 21, 2011 @ 8 a.m.

Susan Lets hope that many more Students, Faculty, Staff and tax payers will start asking about that and many other questions at every future Board meeting!

Posting of future meeting agenda's is the first big step in getting more folks to attend!

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joepublic Oct. 21, 2011 @ 9:50 a.m.

Posted by joepublic

anniej:

I think you might have misread the first sentence of my comment. "This school board, excluding Ms Lopez, has to go". I agree with you regarding Ms Lopez. Her presence on the board gives the public a fighting chance. If it wasn't for Ms Lopez, we wouldn't know that important information regarding Gandara's separation agreement might've been withheld from her (and therefore us). Maybe when it all comes out, we'll be able to save a lot of money (if it's not too late). We need Ms Lopez. It's the other four who will hopefully be shown the door. I do follow the actions of this school board and hope to attend some meetings.

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Founder Oct. 21, 2011 @ 10:17 a.m.

Thanks Joe Like you many folks need to start attending these Board meetings and demanding answers... Ms Lopez needs all the support she can get, to push through real change.

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anniej Oct. 21, 2011 @ 1:52 p.m.

sorry about that Joepublic, yes, i did misread the sentence.

regarding the 'vega report' where is it?

someone on one of these blogs has suggested that perhaps it is time that the taxpayers begin looking into the elementary school district absorbing sweetwater. goodness know chula elementary would probably do a far better job than our current board has.

with all of the money the district has wasted, it is no wonder that the district is in the financial mess they are in.

some points of interest:

the management company overseeing prop o was paid 20% of the $644 million dollars to MANAGE. yet, the contractor at montgomery high, southwest middle, and southwest high were let go. the change order rate is being manipulated, surprise surprise.

the principal and asb ap apparently borrowed close to $100,000.00 dollars that the district is now having to lend them. the ut is reporting that the football team is being told they must repay the loan. someone help me with this - why would the football team have to repay a loan to replace monies that were borrowed from the very administrators that ran the school? why doesn't/didn't the district go after said administrators for the funds?

at the last board meeting the teachers union president enlightened the board with the following: apparently over 100 teachers have failed to be replaced. if you remember the district offered early retirement - those positions that retired were apparently never filled. why does this matter, well the district has failed to take their salaries off of the books - so if you have approximately 100 teachers making about $60,000.00 a year that would be quite a savings. what am i saying here, well the budget that the district provided failed to subtract those salaries. but hey, that is how they do it down at sweetwater - they are masters at cooking the books - maybe they should have their own show on the cooking channel so they can show us all of their little tricks. but not to worry, this little tactic of theirs along with others has scratched the curiosity of many who are now going to be focusing on the truth.

then after the president of the teachers union exposes this 'mistake, typo' or whatever they are calling it now - the board announces that MASSIVE layoffs are upcoming.

i could go on and on, but heck you all have lives to get back to.

so, in closing i would like to recommend that all south bay voters/parents become involved in what is happening at the sweetwater school board - we do not have to watch crime on tv we have it in our own back yard under the disguise of education.

remember we, the voters, have the power to clean up this district. but it is going to take more than the familiar few i see at the board meetings and hear on the audio.

think about it. if you want change, get involved.

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Founder Oct. 21, 2011 @ 4:33 p.m.

anniej My hats off to you for a great post!

IMO, it is post like yours that will get others involved.

All it takes is one committed Board member to provide the "access" that all interested tax payers can then build upon...

With Susan providing the upcoming notices and the Board meeting highlights, there is no reason that by next election the public will be far more educated about what their elected Officials have been up to!

I suggest that everyone make themselves familiar with the Brown Act*, as it governs how ALL public meetings must be run in order to provide "Sunshine" and prevent back room dealings!

+Don't let the title confuse you, the Ralph M. Brown Act is State Wide and should be mentioned often to get those elected officials to not only do the "right" thing but also give notice that anyone can see their yearly REQUIRED filing (Form 700) that is mandatory for each elected Official...

It is time that everyone that pays taxes in South County get educated about what is happening to their tax dollars, especially when they should be used to better student education instead of padding anyones pockets or bottom line!

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Susan Luzzaro Oct. 24, 2011 @ 7:58 p.m.

Thank you anniej and Founder for the good words, they feel as solid as coins in the hand.

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Visduh Oct. 27, 2011 @ 9:12 a.m.

Since I've seen no new blog on the matter, I'll add that it is now reported that Diego Ochoa, who was demoted by Brand from a district office administrative job, is suffering for his mismanagement. He was to be hired in San Bernardino to some top-level admin slot, but now the board is reconsidering it and is likely withdrawing the offer. Reason given is that they knew nothing of the reasons he left Sweetwater, and especially the misappropriation of student funds at Castle Park High.

This is amusing because Ochoa was always the posturing "macho" man principal. He was at Orange Glen High just before going to Sweetwater and Castle Park High. The big, tough guy is coming down several notches, and he may find it really hard to get hired again anywhere. There is some little justice in some of these situations.

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