Sunnyside board names interim leader after buying out Isquierdo's contract

2014-06-04T00:00:00Z 2014-06-04T10:00:41Z Sunnyside board names interim leader after buying out Isquierdo's contractBy Veronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Sunnyside Assistant Superintendent Eugenia Favela was appointed interim superintendent Tuesday night, one day after controversial superintendent Manuel Isquierdo was bought out of his contract for nearly $500,000.

The district’s board voted 5-0 Tuesday night to name Favela to the post. Favela will be paid $125,000 a year, up from the $100,000 she would have been paid starting July 1 as assistant superintendent for student services.

Her appointment came after a seven-hour-long executive session Monday in which the board voted 3-2 to adopt a separation of employment and settlement agreement regarding Isquierdo. (See document at azstarnet.com)

One board member said the board was held “hostage” by the terms of Isquierdo’s contract that stated he was to be paid in full if he was fired.

According to the agreement, the buyout will cost the Sunnyside Unified School District $499,500. Isquierdo will be paid in equal payments over the course of 18 months.

Isquierdo will remain superintendent through July 2 and will be assigned to home or “such other work status” beginning June 7, the document states.

Between June 10 and June 20, Isquierdo will submit his written resignation to the district, which will state he is “resigning for personal reasons” and will be effective July 2, according to the agreement.

The agreement also says Isquierdo can only communicate with Favela or district employees she authorizes him to speak with. The agreement also allows Isquierdo to attend two educational conferences in late June in Atlanta at district expense.

Isquierdo refused to comment.

Favela, who is in her 29th year with Sunnyside, said after her appointment, “We have to focus on what the positive things are in this district. And we also have to conduct our business with focus, as I said before, on children, and children are watching how we do business.”

Board member Buck Crouch, who has been critical of Isquierdo, made the motion to adopt the agreement and voted in favor of it along with former board clerk Louie Gonzales and member Bobby Garcia, who were both ousted in a May recall election.

Beki Quintero and Eric Giffin, who unseated Garcia and Gonzales, were sworn in at Tuesday’s meeting in the boardroom where the portraits of Isquierdo, Gonzales and Garcia had already been removed.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors certified the results of the recall election at its meeting Tuesday, which showed Quintero received 59 percent of the vote in her race against Garcia and Giffin received nearly 75 percent of the votes in his race against Gonzales.

Board President Eva Carrillo Dong, who voted to extend Isquierdo’s contract last year after he withdrew as the lone candidate for a superintendent position in San Antonio, voted against the buyout Monday, calling it “fiscally irresponsible.”

“I truly believe that this is not in the best interest of the district to send somebody home with $499,500 and then not have it expected for him to do anything,” she said.

She said Isquierdo wanted to continue to work with the new board as his first option.

Another option considered would have kept Isquierdo employed in a different position, marketing the district’s Digital Advantage program, which would have brought in an estimated $150,000 to $200,000, Dong said.

Crouch said he would have preferred a less expensive option, but getting rid of Isquierdo was in the best interest of the district.

“We don’t want him around. He’s poison to the district, he’s toxic to people,” Crouch said. “We need him out so we can start healing, so we can start rebuilding the district.”

Board member Daniel Hernandez Jr. said Isquierdo’s contract did not protect the district because it stated he would be paid if he was terminated with or without cause.

“Ms. Dong started detailing the different plans, but at the end of the day it was a hostage negotiation because he came in here and said, ‘These are the only things that I’m willing to accept’ and it’s hard for us to do anything else because the contract that was agreed upon last year by the old board was such that we couldn’t really get out of it,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said Isquierdo would not take a lump-sum payment, because most of it would have gone toward Isquierdo’s unpaid taxes.

Isquierdo owes more than $294,000 in back federal and state taxes, according to a document filed in bankruptcy court that shows his unsecured priority claims.

Dong said she called the meeting Monday, and did not wait until the new board members were sworn in to address the issue, because she heard that the new board was planning to buy out Isquierdo’s contract for the full remaining 24 months, which was estimated to cost the district more than $526,000.

Crouch said the new board was more than willing to take the buyout issue to court rather than pay the full amount.

Giffin said the board would likely look for local candidates to fill the superintendent position.

“It’s quite expensive to conduct a national search, and we did with Dr. Isquierdo and look what we got.”

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.

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

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