SAN DIEGO — The Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula
Vista, California, is putting the past behind it after receiving $8.2
million as part of a pay-to-play legal settlement involving two
Gilbane Building Company and SGI Construction Management, two
Northern California-based construction companies, will pay Sweetwater
for their alleged involvement in the scandal. In exchange, the school
district will drop its pending lawsuits against them.
Diego Union-Tribune reported that 17 trustees,
contractors and educators pleaded guilty to more than 200
misdemeanors and felonies in the South Bay school scandal, which
involved school officials allegedly receiving gifts from construction
companies that wanted to work with the district.
Gilbane and SGI were hired for a joint construction venture in
2007 under former the former high-school district superintendent,
Jesus Gandara, according to a report
by the Star Times. Gandara and Greg Sandoval, a former school-board
member, served time in custody, the Union-Tribune reported.
Gilbane and SGI have argued that their gift-giving is protected
under the First Amendment. The
Star News reported on Feb. 4 that the case was
pending in the California Supreme Court.
However, Sweetwater Union is ready to leave the lawsuits in the
past. Manuel Rubio, director of grants and communications for
Sweetwater under new Superintendent Dr. Karen Janney, told the
Northern California Record that “the ultimate goal of the
school board and current superintendent is moving on and going
Rubio says that the first step is making sure the community has
full insight to the school district’s fiscal plans.
“As we’re looking to apply for another school bond measure,
potentially in the next few years, we want to make sure the process
is as transparent as possible,” he said, also stating that
“‘transparency’ is a bit of a buzz word, but this school board
takes it very seriously and wants to walk the talk.”
Rubio also said the board wants to make sure that the settlement
money goes back into the school system to serve the most pressing
needs of the students, teachers, and community. For example, he
pointed out a plan to improve the heating, ventilation and
air-conditioning systems throughout the school district. The air
conditioning is a particularly pressing need.
“You can’t tell me global warming isn’t real,” Rubio said,
“because it feels warmer every year… We want students to be able
to learn, and do it in a comfortable and welcoming environment.”
Currently, 80 percent of the district's classrooms are
air-conditioned, Rubio said, but the goal is to have 98-99 percent
coverage by the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
Rubio also discussed “responsibility as far as tax-payer dollars
are concerned.” He said that Sweetwater continues to communicate
with each individual community in order to make a personalized
assessment of its needs.
“We’ve continued to go back to all our communities and say,
‘What do you need,’ while recognizing that each school is
probably very different,” Rubio said.
It’s all part of Sweetwater’s plan to leave the drama in the
“We want to make sure we’re doing the right things for our
community and our students especially,” Rubio said.