Sunnyside recall certified for the ballot

2014-01-04T00:00:00Z Sunnyside recall certified for the ballotBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

After months of collecting signatures and having the names reviewed and verified by county officials, a group of Sunnyside citizens can move forward with a recall election of two school district Governing Board members.

The Pima County Recorder’s Office certified the signatures this week, clearing the final hurdle in Sunnyside Recall 2013’s  quest to recall Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board President Louie Gonzales and board member Bobby Garcia.

The group needed 1,345 signatures for each board member, but turned in more than 2,100 names for each of them in November.

The Pima County School Superintendent’s Office had to review the completeness of the signatures before handing the names to Pima County Recorder’s Office.

Officials from the Recorder’s Office whittled the signatures down to 1,455 for Gonzales and 1,417 for Garcia after invalidating some names, which still left more than enough to force the election.

The School Superintendent’s Office sent letters to the two board members Friday to notify them of the impending recall election.

The cost of the election, which will be held on an as-yet undetermined date this spring, is unknown, but the school district will have to pay for it.

Once Garcia and Gonzales are officially notified, they will have five days to resign or 10 days to submit a statement defending their position.

The recall group wants to oust Gonzales and Garcia because the two board members, along with board member Eva Carrillo Dong, support embattled Sunnyside Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo.

The three board members approved a contract extension for Isquierdo last summer, which drew the ire of many district residents and parents and some employees, while prompting the recall group to start a petition drive.

Dong was left out of the recall effort because she is already up for re-election this year.

Members of the recall group, along with others in the community, objected to Isquierdo’s contract extension, citing a litany of personal and legal problems that surfaced last spring when he became a finalist for the superintendent’s job in San Antonio.

The problems include unpaid taxes, a driver’s license suspension and filing for bankruptcy before he was scheduled to lose his Oro Valley home to foreclosure.

Isquierdo has had other troubles since he took helm of the district in 2007, including having to repay thousands of dollars for questionable charges on a district credit card.

Board members Daniel Hernandez Jr. and Buck Crouch have also criticized Isquierdo’s leadership, accusing him and his supporters of nepotism, bullying and corruption.

Sunnyside voters have rejected three consecutive budget overrides since the superintendent arrived.

As a result, the district is in the midst of deep budget cuts, including two potential school closures.

Isquierdo’s supporters, including Gonzales, Garcia and Dong, point to the district’s improved graduation rates, increased student access to laptops and other technology initiatives that have drawn national attention.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan lauded Sunnyside for its technology innovations during a visit to the district last fall.

Gonzales said he voted to extend Isquierdo’s contract because the superintendent was already familiar with the district’s challenges, both financially and academically.

On Friday, Gonzales said he hadn’t received any notification yet of the recall but plans on running against any challengers who want his seat.

“What did we do that was wrong? The contract extension? That doesn’t constitute a recall,” he said.

It’s unclear if Garcia will fight to keep his seat. He didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday.

Richard Hernandez, chairman of Sunnyside Recall 2013, said the group will meet Jan. 12 to discuss potential candidates to run against Gonzales and Garcia.

The meeting will take place at 2 p.m. at the Valencia Library, 202 W. Valencia Road.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

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