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Pearl Quinones fighting for what she believes in!

Created: 19 October, 2012
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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7 min read

Sweetwater school board candidate, Pearl Quinones.

Board meetings at the Sweetwater Union High School District have been nothing less than raucous, from name calling, yelling insults, to a police presence to keep the board members and community members at arm’s length. And that is not the worst of it.

The Sweetwater district has been at odds with the community since the days of Ed Brand’s first stint as superintendent when he left under a cloud of suspicion of corruption and distrust. Enter Jesus Gandara who for a couple of years ran the district in what is now considered quieter times, and to the delight of the Board, school scores were on the rise. There were hiccups in the administration, but the district moved forward. This was the quiet before the storm.

All hell was to break loose when Superintendent Gandara was exposed hosting a money tree at a wedding party for his daughter locally, even though the daughter resided in and was getting married in Texas. The invite list looked like a who’s who of local contractors and the implications were obvious. This led to greater scrutiny which culminated with Gandara being fired. Disgruntled parents pushed for further investigations and in turn several of the board members had their homes raided and charged with perjury and falsifying documents.

Pearl Quinones is now running for re-election for the Sweetwater Union High School District Board.

So the question that is being begged to be asked: Why? Why run with all the issues, all the hate, with the ordeal of a pending trial? Why not just get out and cut your losses?

Pearl Quinones responds: Because I am not guilty!

I believe in what I am doing, I am proud of my accomplishments, and I believe in myself. I want to continue to be the voice for the people, for the students, and staff. I want to continue to fight for them. That is why I ran for the board in 2000. I want to continue to be their advocate.

The problem is that the community does not see you as an individual or independent, they just see you as a part of the whole Board, making Board decisions, a part of the problem.

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Quinones: Many of the issues that I am getting blamed for, I voted against in closed door session and at the board meetings like the busing issue, votes that the community don’t know about or seem to have forgotten. But like I tell everyone look at my voting record, my vote is my voice… see how I vote before you judge me.

Q: For example?

Quinones: The credit card issue with Gandara for example the board gave him the credit card and the discretion to use it in order to be more visible in the public. I was in favor of the public presence but, I wasn’t in favor of the credit card. I was outvoted. The other time when Gandara applied for a position in Texas and he should have been fired for violating his contract, again I was in favor of the firing for cause then, but I was outvoted. One thing people have to remember I am only one vote, if the board majority votes in favor of something I have to accept it and move on. That is the democratic way.

Even when Brand was Superintendent, and after that Jesus Gandara, often times (former board member) Jaime Mercado and myself were on the losing end of 3/2 votes. Gandara wanted a friendlier board and that was when he first supported Bertha Lopez over the more defiant Mercado.

I am often on the short end of a 3/2 vote, but I will continue to fight for what I believe in.

Q: Another recent issue with Gandara was the buyout package. What happened there?

Quinones: We received a legal opinion that we couldn’t fire him for cause. Our only option was to buy out his contract. We had to buy out 18 months, those were the terms of the contract.

Q: What happened with vacation time and sick days?

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Quinones: The sick days and vacation days were included, which vested Gandara with STRS retirement program. As I understand it STRS is now looking into this and they may disqualify him from the retirement program.

Q: From Gandara to Brand, how did this come about? There was a lot of support for a new Superintendent.

Quinones: After separating from Gandara we had to find a replacement that same day to get us through the transition. We didn’t feel there was anybody in-house who could fill the position. John McCann then suggested Ed Brand.

At the time it seemed like a good idea. It was to be only for six months and Brand wouldn’t need any on the job training, it would be a smooth transition.

Q. How did Brand become permanent?

Quinones: The very first time I heard about going in this direction was in November when McCann brought it up. This was after I was put in charge of heading a search committee for a Superintendent but McCann, who was Board president then, never gave the go-ahead to start the process.

Q. Didn’t Brand quit? Why didn’t the Board accept his resignation?

Quinones: As Board president I had accepted his resignation. He was not showing up to work so as far as I was concerned he was done and we were moving on. When someone quits you move forward, but the board majority did not want to accept the resignation. So once again, with majority rule we moved forward with a contract offer.

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Q: Back to our original question, why run for office after all this?

Quinones: I honestly believe in what I am doing. I am one of the few board members who’s hands on, who has implemented programs, who has brought back a lot of best practices from other organizations. I am the one doing all that, and I love doing it.

I am a dropout specialist and I love helping people and I love making a difference.

Q: Examples of you helping the District and students.

Quinones: I started the first teenage pregnancy prevention program. I was one of the first to get involved with the obesity issue at the district, working on nutrition for children. The district’s test scores have risen with graduation rates reaching 90% and there has been a 120% increase in SDSU admissions through Compact for Success, decrease in dropout rates.

One of the most important programs that’s coming to fruition under my term is the High School Re-Design Program where students will not only be college ready but have the opportunity to be career ready. Young adults will have the choice to going to college or go into business, become a nurse for example, start your own business, become a contractor or plumber. That is what School Re-Design is about, giving the students a choice.

That is what an education is about, a well-rounded program. We can’t just let them graduate with diploma and say that is it. Our kids need the skills to work after high school, be it working to pay their way through school or, find a job to support themselves. This is my baby and I want to see it grow.

Q: There is a group there at every Board meeting that is loud, that is hostile to toward the Board. If you had a chance to sit and talk with them without the hostility, what would you say to them?

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Quinones: I would tell them to talk to me, work with me. If we have a problem, fine, we are not perfect, the district is not perfect. Tell us what the problem is and let’s work toward a solution. Tell me what we are doing wrong and I will try and fix it. But don’t sit out there and call me names. Tell me what the problem is and we can work together to fix it.

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