People are wondering: What was the board thinking when they hired former Sweetwater Union High School District superintendent Jesus Gandara? Did the executive search committee not provide boardmembers with enough information? And how many superintendents will the district have to buy out?
In 1991, former Sweetwater superintendent Anthony Trujillo was bought out by Sweetwater trustees and departed for Ysleta, Texas. According to the local La Prensa newspaper, Trujillo was forced to resign “under a cloud of corruption, [and] Grand Jury investigations, which were leading to criminal charges.”
In circumstances similar to Gandara's exit, Trujillo was given a handsome bye-bye package: The Los Angeles Times reported Trujillo was given $116,000 annual salary from January through August 1991. The district also “set up an early retirement plan and continued medical benefits for both Trujillo and his wife.”
When Trujillo landed a job as superintendent in Ysleta Texas, he began to work with…Jesus Gandara. Gandara worked for Ysleta in several positions during the 1990s, including associate superintendent. Gandara even acknowledged Trujillo in his doctoral thesis (titled “Ethnically Diverse Principals and Male Hispanic Superintendents’ Perceptions of the Superintendent’s Leadership”).
According to La Prensa, Trujillo was fired by the Ysleta board in 1998 “on the advice of a Texas Education Agency.”
In 2005, when Gandara was a finalist for superintendent in the El Paso Independent School District, the El Paso Times wrote about Gandara’s tenure in Ysleta: “Former Ysleta Trustee Michael Portillo, who often sided with the group that opposed former Superintendent Trujillo, said he had many questions about the purchasing and bidding process when Gandara was in charge of operations in the district.”
In 2006, the executive search company Hazard, Young and Attea & Associates was paid by Sweetwater over $30,000 to bring Gandara to Trujillo’s old stomping ground. Prior to hiring Gandara, boardmembers Jim Cartmill and Arlie Ricasa flew to Texas to interview Gandara.
In June 2011, the Sweetwater board gave Gandara his walking papers and a generous severance package. On January 4, 2012, he was charged with eight felony counts by the San Diego district attorney’s office.
Activists have questioned whether Gandara might have been terminated for cause and thus saved the public money.