A year ago, I furiously fought against the three-year contract extension given to Manuel Isquierdo to continue as superintendent of the Sunnyside Unified School District.
The contract was passed by the majority of the school board with members Daniel Hernandez and me voting against it. I publicly railed against it as giving Isquierdo a potential golden parachute severance agreement, even if he were fired for cause.
I thought then and still do that it was the most one-sided contract that I have ever seen.
The successful recall of two board members — largely because of their continued support for Isquierdo — made it clear that the board needed to make a decision about Isquierdo’s continued employment by the district.
I viewed the situation as similar to having a cancer that will kill you unless you remove it quickly. You have to cut it out now. Yes, you will have an injury that will take time to heal. Yes, it will cost you much more than you want to pay. However, if you do not do it, you die.
I think the Sunnyside board had to quickly remove Isquierdo before the district was destroyed.
What were some of the alternatives we could have done in this case?
We could let things go as they were, pay him for the next two years and have him serve as superintendent. Isquierdo would have gotten about $600,000 and it would have cost the district almost $800,000 with benefits, insurance, etc.
We could keep him as superintendent but assign him to home and pay him out. We would not be able to hire a superintendent for two years and one month, because under state law you can only have one. This was not an option I could support.
We could assign Isquierdo to market the district’s Digital Advantage program, which would have brought in $150,000 to $200,000, by Isquierdo’s estimate. This option would incur additional cost to the district because our staff would service this program. The proposed payout estimate for this option was slightly less than $700,000 to Isquierdo, probably costing the district on the high side of $900,000. This is the option that the previous board president publicly supported.
There were several other options, but Isquierdo was unwilling to consider them.
The contract agreed to by Isquierdo and three board members (Bobby Garcia, Louis Gonzales and me) was an 18-month contract to replace the remaining 24 months on the 2013-2016 contract. The cost turns out to be slightly less than three-quarters of the full contract payout because of reduced matching costs since Isquierdo will no longer be an employee. By my calculations, he will be paid about $430,000, but I could be missing some fine points on it. The critical point for me was that we were able to cap the total cost to the district at $499,500, period.
If we had fought the settlement in court as many community members wanted to do, we ran the risk of having to pay the full contract, penalties, court costs and lawyer fees. This could have been upwards of a million dollars and the real winners would have been the lawyers.
I made the calculation that we had to get Isquierdo out of the Sunnyside district as quickly as possible so the new board could get to the business of appointing an interim superintendent to bring peace to the district, and get it stabilized and back on track.
I think I made the right choice. You can feel the difference when you walk into the administration building — even the building seems to be breathing again. The healing has begun.