Four out of five Sunnyside Unified School District’s governing board members are facing the prospect of recall elections, which is an issue that many say is dividing the community.
The only board member not facing recall is Eva Carrillo Dong, who is up for re-election in 2014. Louie Gonzales, Bobby Garcia, David Hernandez and Buck Crouch are facing possible recall elections.
Richard Hernandez - the force behind the recall campaign against board president Gonzales and board member Garcia - began his efforts in July by collecting signatures after the two board members and Dong voted to renew the contract of Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo.
“It was obvious when a packed room full of people at the board meeting were sharing with the community and the board, saying they did not want Isquierdo back as superintendent,” Hernandez said. “And that’s what started my quest for the recall.”
Last spring, Isquierdo almost left Sunnyside for a position in San Antonio, Texas.
“He was vetted there and they found that his behavior was unbecoming,” said Hernandez, who is not related to board member Daniel Hernandez Jr.
Before the Sunnyside board renewed the superintendent’s contract, information about his bankruptcy as well as other legal and financial issues surfaced.
Photo: Fernanda Echavarri
Sunnyside School District Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo.
Hernandez said that’s not the only reason he started the recall for board members who extended Isquierdo’s contract. Hernandez said he has documentation to prove the board members’ corruption and inappropriate behavior.
The recalls are a reflection of the divisive politics at the national level, Isquierdo said.
“They said, ‘You know Isquierdo’s contributions have been result-oriented and significant enough and we want it to continue’,” he said. “There’s no secret that two of the board members didn’t agree with it.”
The two members who voted against Isquierdo’s contract renewal were Daniel Hernandez Jr. and Crouch.
Isquierdo said he understands that not all board members are going to agree and that the democratic process is what needs to be recognized.
“As a result of the two members’ reluctance to accept the decision, I think that the community conversations continued and unfortunately, allegations and criticism perused,” Isquierdo said. “And as a result, recalls became the name of the game.”
Sunnyside’s board president, Gonzales, has been trying to recall two fellow board members, Hernandez Jr. and Crouch.
“Just to get public attention, because we had not gotten that,” Gonzales said. “We went out and recalled the other two and all of the sudden the media was at our door.”
In paperwork filed with the Pima County School Superintendent’s Office, the committee seeking to recall Gonzales and Garcia, said the two fail to respect the views of the district staff and represent voters in the districts.
“It’s about change, It’s about the kids and it’s about the teachers,” said Richard Hernandez the chair of the committee.
Hernandez has been walking door to door on the streets of Tucson’s South Side to get people to sign the recall petition. He doesn’t always tell people at the door the names of the board members he wants to recall or the reasons for the recall.
“I try to keep it positive because there’s enough negativity out there and all of it is justified,” he said. “But if somebody asks me specifically, I will answer specifically. I know about the nepotism. I know about the corruption but if not, I don’t find a reason to make it worse.”
Hernandez said by recalling two board members who support the superintendent, the board majority will shift.
Isquierdo said there are no issues at Sunnyside and the recall elections are unnecessary.
“It’s unfortunate because both recalls have taken us from the important work,” Isquierdo said.
As the district’s superintendent, Isquierdo said he will try to get all five board members to find common ground.
Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, recently attended a public meeting in Sunnyside and offered to work as a mediator for the board.
Hernandez said he already has more than 1,500 signatures for each of the two recall efforts he’s leading.