La prensa

Sweetwater board races provides an opportunity for a fresh start!

Created: 19 September, 2014
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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12 min read

Mid-Term elections will be held on Nov 4. Mail ballots will be sent out the first week of October.

This year the focus is on the Sweetwater Union High School District races which will usher in several first for the district and the community.

After years of controversy and the subsequent convictions of four of the five school board members, there is an opportunity for whole new board to provide a fresh perspective. It is an opportunity to turn the attention away from scandal and court cases back to focusing on the education of the students.

Not only will there be a new board, but there will be a new Superintendent, as the last Superintendent was released from his contract.

Also new to the district is how the board members will be elected.

For the first time ever there will be district elections. The newly elected board members will represent a specific district, five districts in all, and they will be elected by voters in their own districts.

Another change is campaign contribution limits. Contributions from any individual donors are limited to $750. There are no limits on independent expenditures.

With these changes to the Sweetwater elections, barriers to running for board seat have been lowered. This has resulted in a large number of candidates running in these five districts, 21 to be exact.

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In our attempt to bring to our readers a bit of information about the candidates running for office in the Sweetwater High School District, we sent out a questionnaire to the candidates along with a request for their bios. Not all candidates returned the questionnaire. For those candidates who did, we condensed their answers and are providing a short bio on their candidacy.

Sweetwater Union High – Trustee Area 1:

Trustee Area 1 has the fewest candidates running for office, 3: Burt Grossman, Jerome Torres, and Arturo Solis. Trustee Area 1 encompasses all of National City and stretches south along the bay corrider with I-805 as a boundary to L Street, and East to the 3rd Avenue boundary.

Jerome Torres
Jerome Torres

Candidate Jerome Torres:

Jerome Torres currently serves as a Sr. Management Analyst for the City of Coronado in the City Manager’s Office. Jerome has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. Jerome served as Board President for LULAC-Headstart, and as the Founder/President of the Latino Advisory Committee for the Superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District. From 1998 to 2001, he served as the Sr. Policy Analyst for the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education. At present in the City of Chula Vista, he is the Chairman for the recently created Districting Commission.

The #1 issue facing SUHSD in the near future is budgetary. Presently, SUHSD is looking at a potentially significant budget deficit by either the end of the current school year or by the end of SY 2016. This is due a confluence of two major factors: 1) the expiration and renegotiation of the current labor agreements; and 2) the district’s obligation to increase its funding of the CalSTRS pension liability. These two factors will wipe out the projected mandatory (2% and 1%) and discretionary reserves.

What qualities will you be looking for in hiring a superintendent?

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They are two-fold: 1) to be able to take direction by the school board and implement its policy decisions; and 2) to effectively collaborate with all stakeholders in the district so as to create a student-centered learning environment.

Board accountability has been lacking, how would you hold the board accountable?

I would implement a three-step process. The first step: training. The second step: addressing the by-laws and policies/regulations governing the conduct of the School Board. The final step: establish committees whereby School Board members would be required to serve on no less than two committees.This would change the structure and dynamics of Board governance.

What do you believe your role is in interacting with teachers, and/or what kinds of relationship do believe in building with teachers?

I believe my primary role is to be supportive. This includes maintaining an open line of communication at all times (even when we may disagree).

What are your financial priorities?

I would call for an independent audit of SUHSD’s finances. There is so much distrust among the labor bargaining units with regard to the financial condition of the district that we need to “clear the air” on this vital matter. I would look at implementing a sound monitoring system of the district-wide and site-based Local Control Funding Plans. I would call for an update and annual progress reports on how the District is fulfilling the 2011 goal established by the School Board that.

Candidate Burt Grossman:

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Burt Grossman did not respond to our questionnaire or provide a bio. What we do know of Grossman is that this is his second run for the Sweetwater Union High board. He first ran in 2012 against Berth Lopez. Grossman is assistant program director for Able-Disabled Advocacy. In 2013 Grossman ran a series of articles in La Prensa San Diego about the San Diego Chargers and professional football.

Candidate Arturo Solis:

Arturo Solis did not respond to our questionnaire or provide a bio. Arturo Solis is primarily known as the husband of National City council person Alejandra Sotelo-Solis. What we could find out about him on the web is almost non-existent. He is employed at a private school as a teacher.

Sweetwater Union High – Trustee Area 2:

Trustee Area 2 has the largest number of candidates running for office, five. These candidates include Kevin O’Neill, Adrian Arancibia, Kevin Pike, Dana Toogood, and ex-board member Bertha Lopez who plead guilty to illegally accepting gifts.
Trustee Area 2 includes Bonita, West of 54 Freeway to 3rd Ave, South to L/Telegraph Road, and East to the South Bay Express Way.

Kevin O'Neill
Kevin O’Neill

Candidate Kevin O’Neill:

Kevin O’Neill is a general contractor who has a history of serving in Chula Vista on the Planning Commission, the Growth Management Oversight Commission, and the Task Force on Schools. He has served as a member of the Bond Oversight Committee for both Sweetwater and the Chula Vista Elementary School District. O’Neill is a graduate from Hilltop High.

What do you believe is the number one issue with the district?

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Re-establish the lost goodwill and respect within the community.

What qualities will you be looking for in hiring a superintendent?

I believe that before the qualifications for the new superintendent can be established, the residents and business’ within the District as well as teachers and staff should be brought together to set the vision for what they want the District to be in 10 years. Once the goal is set, the skills needed for carrying out that vision can be established.

Board accountability has been lacking, how would you hold the board accountable?

By conducting the public’s business in the open.

What do you believe your role is in interacting with teachers, and/or what kinds of relationship do believe in building with teachers?

A school board member should ensure that Teachers be given maximum control over how they teach. I would hope that the Board and Teachers reach a point where they share pride in the quality of the educational experience offered to ALL students as well as mutual respect. As a board member, my allegiance must be to the institution as a whole and not to a single area or any particular class of employee or parent.

What are your financial priorities?

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I want a top to bottom audit of the District accounts in order to determine the depth and breadth of any holes. Once those are identified the Board should meet with teachers, staff, and residents to determine the measures necessary to bring the District back to a firm financial footing. I would propose that the District establish both a regular reserve and a rainy day reserve. The latter could be used to provide security and consistency of staffing during times the State underfunds education.

Kevin O’Neill web site: www.oneill4sweetwater.com

Adrian Arancibia
Adrian Arancibia

Candidate Adrian Arancibia

Arancibia is a resident of Bonita and a graduate of Bonita Vista High School. He received his Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees from UC San Diego. He has been an educator for the past 23 years. Adrian is co-founder of the Taco Shop Poets and later the performance space, Voz Alta.

What do you believe is the number one issue with the district?

I would argue that the number one issue that the district faces is establishing a vision that the public can trust. For many years, the community of parents and teachers has been excluded from any type of dialogue on transparency, budgets and vision for the district. Thus, there has been a general leadership void. There has been no real discussion of educational issues or priorities, instead, it has been a consistent attempt to spin discussion while back room deals were made. In order to gain the trust of the district, we must establish a vision that will lead our district into the future. This vision must have participation of all parties to gain the trust of our community.

What qualities will you be looking for in hiring a superintendent?

I am looking for a new vision for the district. I hope to find a leader in the region that understands the strengths and challenges of our district. I would hope that this individual would have an understanding of our student population while also working towards improving student achievement. This leader must also be willing to work with all stakeholders. These include parents, teachers and community members. Further, this ethical leader must work hard to be transparent with the community so as to gain the support and respect of all constituents.

Article - Uber

Board accountability has been lacking, how would you hold the board accountable?

All board members must refrain from taking any and all gifts. They must never vote on issues where there are conflicts of interests. Board members must always work in the interests of students in the district.

What do you believe your role is in interacting with teachers, and/or what kinds of relationship do believe in building with teachers?

Teachers are the interface of the district with the community. They are the difference makers in our children’s lives. We should work with them to better our district. This means that we should offer them a chance to help us plot out the vision of the district.

What are your financial priorities?

My financial priorities are to make the district economically sustainable for the future. In order to do this, we must have an audit to assure the long-term sustainability of the district, but also to be transparent to the community moving forward. We must also work to minimize the costs of the district while at the same time working to assure that we can recruit and maintain our teachers.

Adrian Arancibia web site: adrianforsweetwater.com

Candidate Dana Toogood:

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Ms. Toogood did not respond to our questionnaire. What we do know of Ms Toogood we derived from her website. Ms. Toogood taught in the high school district for 10 years, 1993-2003, after which she left to open a Subway sandwich store. She now owns four Subways in Chula Vista.

Candidate Kevin Pike

Mr Pike was sent the questionnaire late so we are extending his deadline to reply. If Mr Pike responds to the questioner we will include his responses next week. What we do know of Mr Pike we found on his facebook page. Mr Pike is a retired police officer, at one time was a teacher, and he enjoys coaching his grandson’s t-ball team.

Candidate Bertha Lopez:

Disgraced former Sweetwater trustee Bertha Lopez plead guilty to hiding gifts she accepted from contractors who did business with the district. We have editorialized that we believe Lopez epitomizes the problems with the previous Sweetwater Board. Bertha Lopez was removed from office due to her guilty plea. Bertha Lopez has the audacity to run for her former seat, a mere couple of months after she was removed from office. We feel that this was a cynical thing for her to do and she shows a definite lack of respect for the community she used to represent by seeking office again. Therefore, we chose not to invite her to answer our questionnaire. You can read our editorial opinion here: http://laprensa-sandiego.org/?p=28280

Next week we will continue our look at the candidates for Trustee Areas 3, 4, and 5.

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