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.
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.”