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On March 12, the Sweetwater Union High School District met in closed session to interview three candidates. They selected Phil Stover to serve as interim superintendent until the search for a new superintendent is completed.

Phil Stover

Phil Stover

In a statement released on Friday, March 13, board president Frank Tarantino said there were three qualified candidates but “the final decision to select Mr. Stover was based on the Board’s desire to ‘break’ from decisions made by past SUHSD Boards to appoint individuals to the interim superintendency with previous ties to the district.”

In 2011, when the previous school board sent Jesus Gandara packing, the trustees immediately selected Ed Brand as interim superintendent. Brand had previously served as Sweetwater’s superintendent from 1995 to 2005.

Stover retired from San Diego Unified School District in October of last year. In a March 13 interview, Stover told the Reader that he lives on a farm in Chihuahua, Mexico, where he grows pecans and has a vineyard of cabernet grapes. The ranch is located just south of El Paso, Texas.

When we spoke, Stover was in the process of getting his car repaired. He had just driven 13 hours from Chihuahua and said, “I brought everything in my car that I might need for four hours or four months. I got the most trouble at the border for all the books in my car.”

Aside from working in the public schools, Stover is an author. The books, he said, were mostly reference books to continue a writing project. He published a book in 2014 titled Religion and Revolution in Mexico’s North, Even Unto Death Tengamos Fe. His second book, Beyond the Classroom: the American Public School District, Dancing in the Mind Fields, is almost completed.

Stover said he had heard about Sweetwater and its “challenges” and that motivated him to apply for the position. “I’m a helper, a facilitator, I listen to staff and I know how to set the table for the district.”

April and May are important, according to Stover, because that is when budget decisions are made. Sweetwater could use some budget help.

The district has been operating with only the state-required minimum for reserve funds for several years. The district is also entangled in complicated property deals that have cost the district untold dollars in consultants' and legal fees dating back to the purchase of L Street property in 2005.

Another potential problem for Sweetwater was announced in a March 2 article in the Bond Buyer.

The article indicates the IRS is scrutinizing bonds used to purchase L Street. It opens:

“The Internal Revenue Service is asserting that $25.42 million of bonds issued by the California Statewide Communities Development Authority in 2005 is taxable private- activity bonds. The audit of the bonds, which were issued for the benefit of the Sweetwater Union High School District, was disclosed in an event notice posted on the Municipal Securities Rule making Board.”

According to Brad Waterman, the attorney engaged by Sweetwater in connection with the IRS tax-exempt bond function, the examination is still pending and both the district and the bond issuer “disagree with the analysis.”

Stover said he has a lot of bond and real estate experience in San Diego Unified. He was involved in the process of selling real estate to balance the budget for the district.

Tarantino wrote March 13 that Stover “will serve as interim superintendent until the current permanent superintendent search, being conducted by the Cosca Group, is completed in June.”

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oskidoll March 15, 2015 @ 10:52 a.m.

Welcome indeed! How refreshing to have someone from the outside. Mr. Stover will have a full plate. Let's hope the Sweetwater 'old guard' is ready to be dissolved, break ranks, and actually help undo the past 'bands of Brand'.

Interesting note about the IRS take on the bond sale...we knew it smelled fishy and so now do the Feds. Interesting also is the designation of the sale as 'taxable private activity'...so who are/were the private parties who would benefit? I'm guessing there is more to come as the real estate deals unravel.


erupting March 15, 2015 @ 9:17 p.m.

I'm afraid to hope. Welcome Mr. Stover.


anniej March 15, 2015 @ 9:26 p.m.

oskidoll - let us remember and NEVER FORGET all of those who preceeded Brand. This mess goes back at least 15 years, as the crow flys, based on my calculations.

I continue to ask for the facts regarding L street. I was there the night the County Board of Ed temp Board members advised us they had 'signed a lease' on Harold Place, so,,,,,, did we sign the lease or not? Inquiring minds AND anniej want to know.

*I am attempting to be respectful when I used the words 'advised us' - my humble opinion 'they sold us out'!!!!!!!!


oskidoll March 16, 2015 @ 11:11 a.m.

Yes anniej, we should remember well the perfidy that began in the Trujillo era, in the 1980's with the computers-to Mexico shenanigans; then in 1990, Sandoval and Cartmill were elected to the Board, quickly engineering the firing of then superintendent, the late John Rindone.

Soon thereafter the reign of Brand I began....when the law got too close, he abandoned ship for a gig in North County, and was followed in the superintendent's office by Gandara, another crook...and for the past several years we had another era of Brand II, thanks to board members Ricasa, Sandoval, Quinones and Cartmill, all of whom pleaded guilty to their self-dealing, corruption and other sins in Superior Court last year. John McCann was surely complicit even if he was 'come lately' and evaded indictment.

So if we tote it up, it's more like 25-plus years of perfidy to the detriment of the entire South County.

An entire generation of SuHSD administrators and others have learned 'the Sweetwater way', which is shameful indeed and characterized by cronyism and self-dealing.

It will take an entire culture change to right the ship and will not happen overnight and will take continued vigilance by the entire community.

As you say, 'just my opinion'


Susan Luzzaro March 16, 2015 @ 8:11 a.m.

Oskidoll, Essentially, as I understand it, when the district purchased L Street there were a certain number of for-profit enterprises that were supposed to be phased out, but never have been. The IRS is looking to see, rather seems to be asserting there are too many, and they have gone on too long to justify the bond status. It's such a strange assortment of buildings there. The district even rented to its security company, JDS, for awhile. All of this during the Brand, Gandara, Brand eras. As you say, what a full plate the new board has inherited. The more they shovel, the deeper it gets.

Another knot for Stover to pick at, though the district has hired a hire-powered attorney.


Susan Luzzaro March 16, 2015 @ 8:16 a.m.

anniej, your comments about the Harold Place rental perhaps hint at the mysterious report out from one of the recent closed sessions. It seemed like a contract the district was trying to get out of...


eastlaker March 22, 2015 @ 8:15 a.m.

That would make sense to me. And then perhaps we could get some answers regarding why this thing was pushed along as it was? Who profited from this one? The County Board of Education was a willing participant in this deal, despite all the public outcry. Which does sort of lead to the "collusion conclusion"!

Why was (is) it so difficult to oust all the bad players in Sweetwater?

Because the corruption and collusion are endemic--the atmosphere is somehow ripe for the growth of corruption in Sweetwater. Why?

Why was it so difficult getting anyone to listen?

Because some entity or entities had "arrangements"?

I phoned or emailed every single politician that represented me, when the Sweetwater mess was at its most egregious, and got ZERO response. Marty Block's office said they had no say, jurisdiction, power--and why was that?

It almost looks to me like the politicians had already sold public education down the river, like it was a done deal, dead.

Yet, there is life in the old girl yet, as many people are waking up to realize that they do not just want to go along with what is happening with private corporations draining all the school funds, testing becoming overly dominant and teachers being blamed for socio-economic problems they are dealing with, yet did not cause.

So, thank goodness a few good people were paying attention--the early warning system of responsible citizens here in Sweetwater might have spawned awareness that is vital to the survival of the public schools in this country. Just think what it would be like if people such as anniej had decided to take up tennis instead!!


eastlaker March 16, 2015 @ 11:13 a.m.

Blessings and salutations, Mr. Stover. I am hoping he is a very good judge of character, can cut through excuses and nonsense quickly and is willing to really get to the bottom of all the disastrous messes that have been hidden in the Sweetwater swamp.

Since we have been watching San Ysidro make progress, I'd like to think that Sweetwater can dig out.

I am also hoping that Chula Vista Elementary School District and South Bay Elementary School District are not heading for the kinds of problems San Ysidro and Sweetwater are trying to solve. Those constituents need to take a good, hard look at what is going on in their neighborhoods and ask if it is really what they want.

There are some very greedy operators at work.


anniej March 16, 2015 @ 1:08 p.m.

oskidoll - one of the first signs of aging is the inability to gadge the past - it appears I have reached that first sign. The 'crow' in my mind was flying a little slow - 25 years, that bell rings truer.


shirleyberan March 16, 2015 @ 1:26 p.m.

AnnieJ - that's an astonishing number of years that an astounding number of San Diego administrators on every level looked away and didn't take their responsibility there to heart.


MyFavoriteTeacher March 16, 2015 @ 1:55 p.m.

Hi Mr. Stover! I sure hope you like teachers! We have had an epidemic of administrators, board members and supers who HATE TEACHERS, and we are almost afraid to hope for any respect from SUHSD...


Bvavsvavev March 16, 2015 @ 6:16 p.m.

Its great to see the new interim Supt has no SUHSD ties. But remember that Jesus Gandera didn't either. Im not implying that Stover will be anywhere near the criminal Gandera was. However, the moral to the story is that our community needs to hold the Trustees accountable, and they in turn need to oversee the Supt. It appears the Trustees are working hard, and they have a lot of skeletons that will be falling out of the closets they will have to deal with. If the IRS finds any criminal acts committed by prior administrators (Gandera, Brand, Russo), my hope is criminal charges will be pursued.


eastlaker March 17, 2015 @ 6:15 a.m.

Actually, here is the connection: Trujillo was Gandara's mentor. Not a joke. Last I heard, Trujillo is still out there as an "educational consultant".

So that's something to contemplate.

The depth and complexity of the corruption of Sweetwater is astounding.


Visduh March 18, 2015 @ 7:24 a.m.

In many districts, the board members believe that they cannot and should not keep the superintendent under tight control, or watch the details of the operation. They hired that overpriced administrator--who knows much more about running schools than they will ever know--to take care of it. And so, it is very possible to have an out-of-control administration in any district where the board fears being accused of "micromanaging" the district operations. ("Everyone" knows that micromanaging is bad, right?) Actually the boards should be looking at details, and from time to time voting down proposals made by the superintendent. Again, many of them don't want to fail to support the superintendent when he/she is going astray. It's that sort of attitude that started SUHSD down the path to corruption, funny secret property deals, looted funds, and board members being sentenced like common criminals (which is what they were.) There is a fine line between being a meddlesome board and an out-of-touch board. At SUHSD, I'd prefer to see one that gets too much detail and acts on it, rather than an Olympian board that sees only the big picture, and misses all the warts.


oneoftheteachers March 16, 2015 @ 6:19 p.m.

The first thing he's going to need to learn is to NOT listen to staff. They'll lead him down a well-worn path.


anniej March 18, 2015 @ 7:46 a.m.

Visduh - for far too long the poor choices of Superintendents by our historically dysfunctional, rubber stamping Board has resulted in alleged corruption, a good old boy monopoly and free spending.

I have said it before and I will say it again - WE do not vote for the SUPER - WE vote for the Board members - so, until and unless it is the other way around I WILL EXPECT AS MUCH MANAGING BY OUR BOARD MEMBERS AS IT TAKES, even if that means MICROmanaging.

There is much damage to be corrected by our new Board and Super, and that is going to take a hands on Board.

I would like to draw everyone's attention to the Budget meeting tomorrow at L street - at the L. street site. Take some time to take a look at where the monies are being proposed to be spent. Do we really want the current cast of characters at the District making these decisions - or should new positions be reviewed by the Board and Mr. Stover ( who I am happy to say is rumored to have a sharp pencil? ) prior to being put before the public? AND,,,, what about the additional monies going to facilities - that definitely needs to be brought to a halt.

AND, why have 2 additional meeting s if the decisions have already been made - this is case in point, and example of WHAT MUST BE CHANGED!!!!


Susan Luzzaro March 18, 2015 @ 9:08 a.m.

Visduh, you make an important point. One of the new trustees mentioned awhile back, in an unrelated conversation, that he--or she--had already been warned against micromanaging by one of the long time staff. Voters made their wishes known quite clearly about these candidates. Voters want council members to be the the horses not the wagon.


Visduh March 18, 2015 @ 5:34 p.m.

Absolutely correct. In fact, a good first step would be to remove that member of the long time staff. After the many, many years of running the district as it was run, "long time staff" members have been doing things wrong for so long that they think it is right. A board member should take that warning as a warning NOT to listen to the person delivering the warning. Instead, take steps to replace that staffer.


oskidoll March 18, 2015 @ 10:25 a.m.

I agree that the new Board of Trustees must be vigilant and detail oriented, and especially wary of proposals and programs that percolate up thru the staff, the 'old guard' as it were. IF the District had not been riddled with sleight-of-hand, outright corruption and other perfidy, it would be a different story and the Board might take a lighter hand. Sadly, the District has been 'managed' --- and I use that word cautiously --- by those whose interests seem not to be objective or in the best public interest--- and the current "Sweetwater way" should be closely watched, even with a suspicious eye.

I do hope the Interim Superintendent, and whoever follows him in that office, will HELP the Board direct and when necessary even micromanage the renegade staff who have been running the asylum for their own purposes for too long.

As anniej says, "Just my Opinion".


Visduh March 18, 2015 @ 5:06 p.m.

One way the interim supe can avoid being misled by the staff is to begin to replace all of the staff members who were henchmen/women for Eddie and Jesus. The county board members and the previous interim supe could have started, or even completed, that process. As long as they allow anyone who was part of the fraud, mismanagement, bullying, and lying that went on in those administrations to stay on, the danger of backsliding is there. That's my opinion.


oskidoll March 19, 2015 @ 10:32 a.m.

Agreed, Visduh....that is exactly why I had hoped the Board might issue a 'blanket' March 15 that would apply to each and every member of the District staff until the new superintendent has an opportunity to evaluate their potential, as well as their past ties to Fast Eddie, the Gandara and the legacy of perfidy.

As it is now, the District is 'stuck' with all of these administrators or will have to buy out their contracts if and when the superintendent and/or board determines they are not part of the solution!


Visduh March 19, 2015 @ 1:28 p.m.

I've noted that San Ysidro is suing Dan "Shineon's" law firm for malpractice. As it turns out, that firm enjoys a near-monopoly on school district work all round the county. But now, with this lawsuit pending, the COE is not going to give them more work, and is supposedly advising all the local districts to stop sending cases to the firm. That's a big blow to them, and they can't really do anything about it. But when you sleep with snakes and pigs, you do get slimy and dirty. Maybe there will be a little bit of justice done soon.


eastlaker March 20, 2015 @ 3:11 p.m.

The real estate schemes might be the biggest difficulty for this board to contend with. I am truly hoping that Mr. Stover is ready and willing to unwind the tangled web that was woven by Ed Brand and all those who were and are complicit. Just as a reminder--at least one deal gives the 1/3 of the profit to a "partner", a Mr. Litchman, I believe his name is. There are quite a few properties, all bought ostensibly to be the new district headquarters. But--why would a district need 3 - 4 "headquarters"?

Then there is the plan to foist high-density housing on the neighborhood where currently Sweetwater has the bus yard and the district office. The city of Chula Vista is apparently ok with that, because they said that there would be no additional impact on water and sewer lines if approx. 300 some units go in. Which doesn't make any sense to me.

Yes, there are deals within deals, and wheels within wheels. And some of the admin types really want all these real estate deals to happen. The question is, why?? Who is behind all this?


eastlaker March 20, 2015 @ 9:32 p.m.

P.S. I love that San Ysidro is solvent--or should be declared solvent by the County Board of Education, unless there is some hidden agenda on the part of the CBoE, according to a recent article in the UT. Let us hope we are all on the trail to honesty, solvency and reasonable expenditures!


anniej March 20, 2015 @ 10:17 p.m.

Perhaps it is time for an audit of the County Board of Ed's books! Let us take pause and remember, it was the County that certified San Ysidro was fine as they did SUHSD. Curious, very curious!


oskidoll March 21, 2015 @ 10:39 a.m.

Watch very closely Lora Duzyk, assistant superintendent business (money stuff) at CBOE...reputed buddy of Ed Brand and Dianne Russo. The plot thickens!


eastlaker March 21, 2015 @ 1:01 p.m.

Oh yes, Ms. Duzyk, one of the friends Ed so loved to brag about. One of his "protectors".


anniej March 22, 2015 @ 11:11 a.m.

shirley - we have been victims for so long that we have become experts on 'their' play book. Sooner or later the stuff is going to hit the fan, and I have no doubt all eyes will be on the County Board of Ed Financials and again I say how do you certify a Districts financial viability and then the District is found to be near bankrupt?

Hopefully the Feds, State and DA are asking the same questions the taxpayers are!!!!


Visduh March 24, 2015 @ 8:30 a.m.

I'm not at all optimistic about any investigations or prosecutions coming out of these many scandals. The charges that the DA leveled a couple years ago, and which played out so disappointingly, were about as much as we can expect to see. While those cases were a partial resolution of some of the worst abuse, there is so much more that should be reviewed by all levels of government and the associated enforcement agencies.

As I've been saying all along, the only real resolution is at the ballot box, not in court. So, everyone should be looking at replacing their CBOE trustee, regardless of which part of the county in which they live. Of course, Ms. "Nylon" from So County needs replacement badly. But all the others were complicit in the failure to provide oversight and failure to even speak out.


Wabbitsd March 24, 2015 @ 4:35 p.m.

Let's all remember that a certain judge who disappointed us all is up for re-election in 2016...


shirleyberan March 22, 2015 @ 12:18 p.m.

AnnieJ - I'm so thankful to you and those who have stayed the course with Susan. Ed Brand has slithered out from under rock to rock and back under again and again.


anniej March 22, 2015 @ 8:24 p.m.

Shirley - oh CONTRAR, anniej believes he has run out of rocks - hopefully, the near future will bring new news.

Hope you are doing well!


eastlaker March 23, 2015 @ 11:35 a.m.

I hesitate to bring this up, as I have no real knowledge of it. But it has been thrown around that Diane Feinstein's husband is making lots of money from charter schools. Which might be one reason why California politicians and officials are unwilling to take up the charge against them. And, I guess it must be common knowledge that there is easy money to be made via charter schools...

Which is one more reason all those eligible to vote must make sure they do vote. If you don't vote, your complaints about the system and the politicians ring hollow.

And, thanks to whomever has read my response to a comment Susan made earlier in the thread--it was a rather late addition, and is easy to miss.


eastlaker March 23, 2015 @ 7:17 p.m.

Sorry, all, I seem to have misunderstood something. It seems Dianne Feinstein's husband is due to make huge amounts of money on the real estate deals accompanying the fast rail project.

Anyway, that is what I found when I did some minor looking into the matter.

Real estate deals. It seems they are everywhere.


oskidoll March 23, 2015 @ 12:26 p.m.

I agree with your comments of March 23 regarding the Harold Place property lease and the questions it generates. Good catch! I do see that the closed session items for the next board meeting include several for 'property valuations' and in all cases the district's named negotiator/point person is Calhoun,(a worry in itself); and the other named party is Voight... presumably that is a real estate company.

Does anyone know any of the particulars? Is Voight also the realtor representing the Harold Place property? Why Voight for all of the named properties? Did the District seek proposals from several real estate representatives? If not, how did Voight get all the work which would seem to generate handsome commissions?


Susan Luzzaro March 23, 2015 @ 6:32 p.m.

Thoughtful Readers, Friends & Enemies :-)

I have resigned from the Reader. My email [email protected] will remain the same. I will continue to do investigative work and hard writing and will let you know where you can expect to find it. Please keep in touch.

Thanks for all your incisive comments, Susan


eastlaker March 23, 2015 @ 7:20 p.m.

This is a surprise! I hope to see more of your work in print somewhere soon.

The Reader won't be the same!!!!!


oskidoll March 23, 2015 @ 7:48 p.m.

Wow! what a shock and surprise. Hope we will have the benefit of your reporting in another venue. Thanks for all you have done for us.


anniej March 24, 2015 @ 1 p.m.

This will be a MAJOR loss for The READER! You Ms. Luzzaro were responsible for thousands picking up or signing onto The READER.

So,,,,,, we will be waiting to see where you go from here - as we all shall follow.


Woodchuck March 24, 2015 @ 4:10 p.m.

Susan, K. Cheers notified me of your decision. All good things must come to an end?? All of your many fans will respect your decision and look forward to any other media source that you choose. It has been a great run and highly beneficial to Chula Vista. Respectfully, D


Wabbitsd March 24, 2015 @ 4:29 p.m.

Oh, My gosh!

Ms. Luzzaro, you have been the light that opened things in the South Bay. I cannot tell you how many, many times I wished you covered the areas of my concern here in San Diego.

I hope there is an opportunity for you to continue your investigative work.

Thank you for all you have done.


Ensenadamaria March 24, 2015 @ 10:20 p.m.

Ed, Dianne, Jim, Arlie, John, Ramon, Jose, Tom and the rest are celebrating no doubt. Your community should be concerned how will the truth be reported now?


oldchulares March 25, 2015 @ 6 a.m.

Few reporters actually provide factual, data based news. Luzzaro will be missed. One by one real news reporters are leaving our city. Goodbye Reader!


eastlaker March 25, 2015 @ 1:04 p.m.

It is very sad to learn that Susan Luzzaro will be leaving the Reader. I wonder what that will mean in terms of all of the civic issues she has covered? Does that mean that the Reader is aiming for soft coverage and food reviews only?


eastlaker March 26, 2015 @ 10:38 a.m.

Too broad a swipe at the Reader, perhaps--but is there someone who is starting to be offended by what Ms. Luzzaro is uncovering? The monied interests who have learned how to manipulate various charter statutes for their own benefit? Creating Big Business where there used to be education, with a small e.

It is very sad to think that people are so very willing to undermine democracy by turning education into a revenue stream for those already in the upper echelon, leaving the lower ranks to pay the price monetarily and with reduced futures for themselves and their children.

It sickens me.


drilsdc March 25, 2015 @ 6:49 p.m.

So sorry to hear you are leaving, Susan. You ARE The Reader! Thank you for your invaluable contribution to our community. I want to also personally express my gratitude to you for taking an interest in my daughter and her friend, cheerleaders wronged by Brand and SUHSD, when no one else appeared to care - except of course the warrior ladies, one in particular and you know who you are. You will be sorely missed, Susan!! Look forward to viewing and supporting your work on your new horizons. Best to you, Dear Lady!


shirleyberan March 26, 2015 @ 1:13 p.m.

Used to believe in Reader free minded press because of Susan. No more. Where's Luzzaro listed as even a past writer. True colors, unfair censorship.


oldchulares March 26, 2015 @ 3:24 p.m.

shirleyberan. This is a sad time. Curious that Luzzaro did not make mention of retiring, perhaps moving to a new paper? Where she goes those who want news will follow.


shirleyberan March 26, 2015 @ 4:48 p.m.

oldchulares - Good to know you. I can't imagine who wouldn't just Love a woman who loves humanity that much. It's not over, far from it. Any enemy of Susan is also an enemy of mine. She's being bullied somehow and that's Not OK.


shirleyberan March 27, 2015 @ 1:31 p.m.

Love to you Susan. You are a Great Truth-Teller but Take Care of your health first.


joepublic March 27, 2015 @ 2:51 p.m.

Susan- It looks like you're getting more comments on your quitting announcement than others are on the stories they've written! I wish you well. Check your email, please.


eastlaker March 29, 2015 @ 10:14 p.m.

So does it really need to be reduced to this: big politics will control everything, even local schools?

What about the educated constituency, who are supposed to shape their communities?

What exactly is the problem with having rational individuals who want their tax dollars spent wisely, speaking out?

What is the problem with getting the truth out to the public?


Visduh April 12, 2015 @ 9:46 a.m.

Let's give the Reader a chance to get someone on the So County beat who knows the place, and knows about the skeletons. I don't believe anyone knows enough about the reasons for Susan's departure to draw conclusions. The Reader has reporters who are doing a bang-up job in exposing chicanery and abuses in SD city government and at the county level. That said, I do miss seeing a new piece from her with a new bit of craziness revealed every few days.

Has anyone heard of where Susan is? Is she reporting on-line? Susan, where are you?


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