Search firm that botched Texas schools chief hiring now looking for Tucson Unified's next boss

District is using same firm faulted in the vetting of Isquierdo in Texas
2013-04-14T00:00:00Z Search firm that botched Texas schools chief hiring now looking for Tucson Unified's next bossAlexis Huicochea and Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The search firm hired to find TUSD's next superintendent is the same one that recruited Sunnyside's Manuel Isquierdo to lead a San Antonio school district.

The San Antonio search ended with Isquierdo withdrawing his candidacy following a stream of damning media reports about his personal financial dealings, and the school board there questioning whether Isquierdo was properly vetted by the recruiters.

Now Tucson Unified School District leaders want assurance from PROACT Search that the same thing won't happen here as they seek a replacement for Superintendent John Pedicone, who announced his resignation last month.

The TUSD Governing Board awarded a contract to PROACT on Tuesday. Details have not been finalized, but the board agreed the cost is not to exceed $30,000. The San Antonio district paid PROACT $22,000, plus up to $9,000 in expenses, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Pedicone said the TUSD board knew about the San Antonio connection when it picked PROACT, but the onslaught of media coverage had not quite begun.

The board will meet with the firm at a special 5:30 p.m meeting next Tuesday.

"We will ask details on what they actually provided to the San Antonio board," said TUSD Board President Adelita Grijalva. "Was the information there, and they didn't appreciate how the community would react to it? I'm trying to assess that."

She plans to contact the San Antonio board as well.

The San Antonio Express-News has reported that the school board there had some, but not all, of the details that surfaced in media reports.

"We hired this agency to bring us quality people. … You're not going to bring me someone that has all this garbage behind them," one of board's trustees told the San Antonio newspaper.

TUSD Board Member Mark Stegeman said PROACT has some work to do before the school board here can comfortably move forward with the search firm.

"I certainly think that the outcome raises concerns, and we just need to be sure we set things up in a way that protects us from a similar outcome," Stegeman said. "That doesn't mean we shouldn't use this firm, we just need to have a high level of assurance regardless of who was at fault in San Antonio."

Gary Solomon, CEO of PROACT Search, said via email Saturday that his firm researched each candidate so San Antonio school officials "had the information, both positive and negative, to make decisions on candidates."

In Tucson, he wrote, "We are looking forward to setting up a transparent, equitable process with the board that provides for a deep and talented pool of superintendent candidates, and ultimately, a new superintendent."

Several allegations

Isquierdo's problems began after he was chosen as the lone finalist for the superintendent position with the San Antonio Independent School District.

Within days, the Express-News reported that Isquierdo owes more than $150,000 in taxes and had his driver's license suspended because of unpaid fines and failure to appear in court.

In addition, Isquierdo, who makes $305,000, is facing foreclosure on his Oro Valley home and could be evicted on May 21 unless he can work out a deal with his lenders, according to the Pima County Recorder's Office.

These revelations are among a litany of financial and legal issues that have plagued Isquierdo since he's been in Tucson:

• The Pima County Recorder's Office has records of two tax liens filed by the IRS. The first, filed on Feb. 18, 2011, says Isquierdo and his wife owed more than a $107,000 from 2007 and 2008. The second was filed in January 2012, for about $45,600 in taxes owed from 2009 and 2010.

• More than two months after the first tax lien was filed in 2011, Isquierdo bought a house in Oro Valley for $1.1 million. He made a $5,000 down payment in a deal financed by the owners rather than a bank. The house, on more than two acres on the golf course in the gated Cañada Hills neighborhood, was put on the market in September and is listed for $975,000. However, on Feb. 19 the lien holders filed a notice of trustee sale.

• In 2010, Isquierdo's driver's license was suspended for failure to appear in court or failure to pay fines, court records show. He had received other tickets, ranging from speeding to a red-light violation. His license was eventually reinstated.

• An accounting firm found in 2009 that Isquierdo made $12,545 in unallowable credit-card charges. The expenditures included meals, car rentals and a hotel stay in which he took his family along on a business trip to McAllen, Texas, in December 2008. Sunnyside Governing Board President Louie Gonzales attributed the error to district bookkeeping mistakes. Isquierdo reimbursed the district.

• In 2011, the state attorney general investigated the district after Sunnyside High School athletes were directed to pass out literature in support of a district bond election. The attorney general ordered district officials, including Isquierdo, to undergo state election laws training.

Results seen in district

Supporters of Isquierdo have stood by the superintendent, citing the district's improved graduation rates and implementation of its laptop program during his tenure. They said Isquierdo's results with the district matter more than his personal life.

"If those are the types of things that disqualify somebody, we'll never have anyone in public office," said Rick Gonzales, a founder of the Sunnyside Unified School District Foundation and a Sunnyside High School graduate.

But Yolanda Herrera, vice-president of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, said Isquierdo's transgressions set the wrong example for students in the district. "If San Antonio doesn't want him," she asked, "why would we want him here?"

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @Alexis Huicochea

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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