A revolving door of San Bruno Park School District administrators continues to swing as its new superintendent, Jose Espinoza, prepares to depart from the district in January, further stoking uncertainty for the struggling institution.
“We need to develop a plan and we need to lay out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to support the superintendent and our commitments and we need to do that quickly,” Trustee Andriana Shea said during a Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday.
Espinoza, an educator of 25 years, was appointed as the district’s superintendent May 2020. Since then, Espinoza has helped the district through remote learning, a transition back to in-person classes and a contentious budget process.
Additional focus has been dedicated to developing the district’s Strategic Plan, a guiding document which sets key priorities, one being how to increase faculty wages to better attract and retain staff.
But after a year and a half in the new role, Espinoza is set to leave the district before the end of the school year and parents and community members have pointed blame at the district’s Board of Trustees.
Pushing for reform
Bryan Vander Lugt, a former member of the San Bruno Education Foundation, accused trustees of failing to build a collaborative organizational culture which he considers a primary responsibility of the board.
He pointed to the number of administrators who have left the district over the years as an example of serial “broken relationships” that have been “cascading down” the chain of faculty. He challenged the officials to use the district Strategic Plan process to determine how they intend on mending the strained relations and preventing further discontent.
“In the system that’s broken, it’s impossible for anyone to come in and succeed without the appropriate support systems, without our board standing behind administrators,” Vander Lugt said. “In that most basic function of setting direction, I believe the board has failed.”
Dena Lin, a parent at the district for six years, also implored trustees to reevaluate their roles in the constant shuffle of leadership, suggesting a pattern of poor staff selections was not the source of the issue.
Lin noted that the students are most harmed under the dysfunction and called on trustees to make changes that could change the district’s reputation from “not a good one” to one of stability and growth.
“I encourage you all to really think about who really suffers from the lack of stability and the transitions of leadership here, the children. They’re the ones suffering,” Lin said. “Time is of the essence and now is the time to be more introspective.”
The district has had four different superintendents at the helm since 2015, not including officials who stepped in the interim while the boards searched for someone to permanently fill the role. Espinoza has not yet addressed the news of his departure, which was shared online by a trustee ahead of a Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday.
Still, Shea spoke to the announcement on Wednesday by calling for a special meeting where the board can discuss what they are looking for in a new superintendent and how they intend on retaining the administrator once they’ve found them.
Shea’s suggestion gained full support of the board which faces additional organizational issues, whether or not to amend a censure of Trustee Jennifer Blanco who’s been barred from committee assignments and other official conduct since last June.
Trustees revisited the censure Wednesday to discuss whether to amend the punishment to allow Blanco back onto committee assignments. Specifically, Trustee Teri Chavez questioned whether the district had interests in continuing to host its Day of the Child celebration given that Blanco has years of experience planning the event but would not be permitted to contribute to it under the censure.
Trustee Henry Sanchez brought forward the censure last year, citing inappropriate and bullying behavior of staff and board members as justification for the punishment. On Wednesday, Sanchez was not persuaded to roll back the censure, instead accusing Blanco of not changing her behavior and suggesting she resign. Defending herself, Blanco requested Sanchez produce evidence to back his claims, adding, “I’ll be more than happy to resign if you resign first.”
Without support from Sanchez, the remaining trustees came to a consensus on bringing the issue back as an action item at an upcoming meeting for further discussion.
Parcel tax lacks support
During Wednesday’s meeting, the board was also delivered disappointing news about a potential parcel tax measure which would ask the public to chip in $48 per parcel to support district initiatives. The measure would have infused the district, which is the only elementary school district in the county without a parcel tax, with an additional $1.1 million annually.
But a recent survey conducted for the district by the firm, Isom Advisors, shows that while 80% of surveyed San Bruno residents believe communities need to do more to support school districts, only about 61% supported a potential parcel tax.
Ultimately, the firm advised against placing a parcel tax measure on the June 2022 ballot and suggested district officials continue with educational outreach of the matter to increase support, dulling hopes the district could soon use the funds to increase teacher wages.
“I do feel that we may be going uphill on this,” Blanco said. “I am a proponent of the parcel tax. I was and will continue to be supportive of it but there’s going to be a lot of work that we’re going to need to do as a community.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106