At 3:06 on the morning of September 25, the Sweetwater Union High School District board of trustees voted 3-2 to award Ed Brand a two-year contract with a compensation package higher than the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District.
Like many meetings in the past year, there was an overflow crowd — out the door and down the outside ramp. Students, parents, teachers, and activists by turns reasoned with, yelled at, or begged the board not to hire Brand, but trustees John McCann, Arlie Ricasa, and Jim Cartmill voted for Brand’s contract and had nothing but praise for his recent tenure in the district.
The board deliberated in closed session from 5:30 p.m. until approximately 2:00 a.m. When the audience had dissipated significantly, copies of the proposed contract were distributed. The audience, dazed by the time and the generous contract, was given 20 minutes to review it before they were allowed to share their perceptions with the board.
While McCann, Ricasa, and Cartmill emphasized Brand’s success and the need for stability, trustees Bertha Lopez and Pearl Quiñones both said that the generous concessions in the contract came off the backs of all the other employees in the district. The classified employees, the teachers, and the students have endured a number of furlough days to balance the budget.
Specifically referring to the buyout in the contract, Lopez said, “Hey, you become the superintendent, you win the lottery.”
If the board decides to terminate Brand in year one “without alleging cause…the District shall pay the Superintendent a maximum cash settlement, concurrently with the termination of the Superintendent’s contract, in an amount equal to twelve (12) months' compensation.” If the Board seeks to terminate in the second year, the golden parachute is “a maximum cash settlement, concurrently with the termination…in an amount equal to the remaining months left under the two-year agreement.”
Lopez helped the audience cut to the core of the contract because the audience had such limited time to view it: “The compensation package is not just $252,000 [annual salary], it’s actually $295,000 after everything — the health plan, the monthly allowance, the disability insurance, the life insurance, and to top things off, 28 days' vacation versus 24 that management usually gets — these additional vacation days could have paid for another bus driver for our kids. We are paying for his health benefits until the age of 65, a nice little perk.”
Then Lopez made the point that every teacher or classified employee has to have a health exam prior to being employed: “I want to make this point to all of you — we are only requiring Dr. Brand to take a tuberculosis test.”
Prior to the contract award, public comment, which was held at about 2:30 a.m., captured the state of the district:
Advanced-placement students told the board they had no texts for their Spanish-literature class. A parent complained that his son’s eyes were burned in a chemistry lab and he hasn’t been able to get the district, or the superintendent, to respond to him. Another parent said his son was “lost in the system,” counted absent when he was not, suspended, and then the records regarding the suspension were lost. An Eastlake chemistry teacher addressed the overcrowding in classrooms due to “open boundaries” and said that her school had seven chemistry teachers, four classrooms, and two sets of lab equipment.
By the time the board recessed at 3:06, they had dealt with one item of the lengthy agenda.