Staff Editorial: Our new and improved expectations for the SUHSD board

As the Sweetwater Union High School District’s (SUHSD) new Board of trustees are sworn in SUHSD students look forwards to improved leadership and transparency. Bonita Vista High students will also experience the leadership of a news representative Adrian Arancibia, Ed.D. (Lucia Rivera)

Standing on the other side of the screen alongside his wife and mother, Adrian Arancibia, Ed.D. raised his right hand. He proceeded to repeat the words that officiated his new position as a Sweetwater Union High School District Board (SUHSD) of Trustee member. This was part of the Dec. 14 live streamed SUHSD Board of Trustees meeting during which SUHSD students witnessed their new board commit to their roles as responsible and caring community leaders.

This transition of power happens in the midst of several district crises, and although the pandemic has made it easier to forget, SUHSD students have been through a lot, and for no fault of their own.

Sweetwater Union High School District

In 2018, a deficit of over $30 million threw the district into disarray, resulting in unimaginable budget cuts. More recently, the San Diego County Office of Education and the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistant Team (FCMAT) released an extraordinary audit of the SUHSD that found “fraud, misappropriation of funds and/or assets, or other illegal fiscal practices may have occurred in the specific areas reviewed.”

This deficit, in part caused by fraud, found its way to the many pre-existing cracks throughout the district, such as old infrastructure and a lack of funds, exacerbating present problems and leaving little unaffected.

Nearly a year ago, 237 positions within the district were approved to be cut, removing students’ mentors and critical jobs from community members. 

These budget cuts reached the SUHSD learning centers, where at-risk students found solace and tangible solutions to problems like difficult medical conditions and homelessness that made the main campus incompatible with their socioemotional needs.

Students saw funds for summer school cut in half, the SUHSD International Baccalaureate program threatened and many more severe results of mismanagement by those at the top. 

But now, a new cycle of board members has begun, with Arancibia representing Trustee Area 2 after winning the election for Kevin Pike’s former position in November. Board of Trustees President Nicolas Segura will officially continue his role in this new cycle after replacing former President Frank Tarantino. Tarantino resigned in June following the placement of former Superintendent Karen Janney, Ed.D., on administrative leave, as he felt “that the board deserves a leader that supports this action.”

In a time of major disruption, uncertainty and distraught, Bonita Vista High (BVH) students need to feel capable of looking towards this new board with hope. The trend of fraud and mismanagement in SUHSD has gone on too long. Not only do students hope for a better district, but we expect it. 

We have higher expectations for the Board of Trustees and the greater SUHSD administration. We expect that the SUHSD “Beliefs” will be met, especially the belief “in a culture of trust based on integrity and transparency.”

Segura expressed his intent in the past to “put students first” as Vice President, and has continued to do so as President. He voted against the cut of over 200 positions, calling instead for transparency and cuts from the top. While our previous representative in the board, Pike, helped pass the resolution that laid off hundreds of educators, Arancibia should focus on collaborative solutions. 

It is our families’ money that has been mismanaged. It is our community members who have lost jobs. It is us, the students, who have feared or experienced damages to our deserved and free public education.

In March of this year, we called on the board and district to accept responsibility for their financial mismanagement. Now, with a newly sworn-in board, we make our expectations clear: in this critical time of student, staff and teacher need, our community wants to be heard, prioritized and truly put first. 

As most board members voted for in June by supporting Janney’s placement on administrative leave, students need their representatives to “provide a fair basis for holding the Superintendent accountable.” This is only one of the many outlined “Policies and Regulations” our Board of Trustees is guided by. 

One of the most relevant policies to our community at this time is the expectation that “The Board of Trustees accepts its critical responsibility for adopting a sound budget for each fiscal year which is aligned with the district’s vision, goals, and priorities.” As the board goes into 2021 with newly acquired funds, as an indirect result of the pandemic, students expect that our administration and board will properly manage these funds that we so desperately need.

Students and community members should do their part as well. They can contribute by attending board meetings to stay informed or by submitting public comments to make their voices heard. Students are also more than excited to collaborate with the new board, just as teachers and the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA) were willing to work with SUHSD administration when positions were on the chopping block.

The district itself outlined in the “Concepts and Roles” of the Board of Trustees that the board “desires to represent the community and provide leadership in addressing community issues related to education.” To do this, the board will “establish effective two-way communication systems between schools and the community.” 

By electing and re-electing the new Board of Trustees, the SUHSD and BVH community has given their first contribution to this two-way communication system. Now our elected representatives have the power to follow their own guidelines and contribute back to building a better community. We expect it of them.