Sweetwater Schools Chief Walks Away Before Q&A on Dirt

On August 17, the district stated that levels of pesticides and lead in soil dumped at Southwest High were too low to pose a threat. (L-R: Thomas Calhoun, Ed Brand)
  • On August 17, the district stated that levels of pesticides and lead in soil dumped at Southwest High were too low to pose a threat. (L-R: Thomas Calhoun, Ed Brand)

The dirt pile on Southwest High School’s athletic field will be gone by Monday, August 20, but the mound of questions raised about the Sweetwater Union High School District’s leadership remains undiminished.

On Friday, August 17, the district called a press conference on the football field at Southwest. The point of the conference was to address the 10,000 tons of potentially toxic dirt dumped on the campus in the spring of 2010.

In June 2012, 10News reported records showing that “Out of 14 samples, 10 show elevated levels of lead, pesticides — including DDT — or petroleum hydrocarbons linked to underground gasoline storage tanks.”

On August 17, the district reported the levels of pesticides and lead were too low to pose a threat to students or residential neighbors. Meanwhile, Southwest students have not had access to their athletic facilities for over a year because of the dirt pile.

Although interim superintendent Ed Brand initially addressed the media gathering, as soon as the question-and-answer period began, Brand walked off the field, leaving the new director of grants and communications, the new facilities director, and the new school principal to respond.

Interim superintendent Ed Brand left the press conference before his colleagues on August 17.

Interim superintendent Ed Brand left the press conference before his colleagues on August 17.

The good news is that the dirt will be gone and the students will be able to use the entirety of their track and football field. The bad news is that it’s costing the district half a million dollars to take the dirt away unless the district can find a way to claim it through an insurance policy.

The dirt originated from a Logan Avenue and 43rd Street reconfiguration project. According to Southland Paving Inc’s website, it is a $3,959,595.50 project, contracted by the City of San Diego. Southland Paving was invited to dump the dirt at Southwest High by a former coach and authorized by a former principal. According to the district, neither of those two people are employed by the district any longer.

However, up until recently, former Southwest High principal Maria Armstrong, who allegedly authorized the dirt to be dumped, was listed as a founding board member of Sweetwater’s new Stephen W. Hawking’s charter school.

A contradiction in the district’s press conference information and district board meeting documents also exists. Was the dirt tested prior to being moved from Logan Avenue to Southwest High? At the press conference, chief facilities executive Thomas Calhoun said the dirt was tested shortly before it was moved.

However, on the March 2012 school-board agenda, interim superintendent Brand recommended that the district receive an emergency waiver to avoid having to bid for contracts to remove the soil. The justification, according to agenda minutes, was “the Southwest High School administration had an enormous amount of untested soil placed on the edge of the football field....”

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The dirty lies the district has expounded over what has become known as Mt. Armstrong or Lake Armstrong depending on the season was totally unnecessary. Brand inherited the problem from Gandara. Brand's mistake was trying to cover up the situation with his infamous lies. He would have served the public and the district better with the truth. But I guess once you get in the habit it's hard to break.

Erupting: i am really looking forward to hearing tomorrow nights board meeting. surely john mccann and jim cartmill will be squirming in their seats. all of those neighbors, whose votes they have valued so much, will, for second time, get to see the real mccann and cartmill. those neighbors will learn that mccann and cartmill were all in favor of cutting the bus transportation and that neither one of these gentlemen spoke up against taking down the boundaries which has resulted in massive overcrowding ( wasn't there suppose to be a vote before that could be done?) AND, their will be two, yes 2 folks, opportunities for public comment hot diggity dogs!!!!!!!!! lets see, can quinones limit public comment to as low as 30 seconds? sure she can she is the pres, pres in name only she is a puppet and the strings are being pulled by brand because brand does not trust her ability to run a meeting. do i wonder why? ah, that would be a no, have you ever witnessed her attempting to sit at the head of that table? if the mess at sweetwater wasn't so serious, i am sure a female comedian could make a tons of money impersonating the dysfunction of quinones.

not really worrying about quinones or ricasa, in my opinion, after the trial which begins in january of 2013, the only board these two will be sitting on is the cafeteria table board at lunch time at a state prison.

"oh the evil web we weave when we practice to deceive" - and that is just what happened in this case. rather than come out and speak the truth, tell exactly what happened brand chose to begin to spin the web of lies. first to channel 10 - he claimed he really did not know how the dirt got there - sure he did, he was told by those who were district office administrators at the time. he then has the new pr person become complicit to the lies when she states that dirt had been tested before it was ever delivered; mr.. calhoun, the gentleman featured in the articles picture made the same statement, it had been tested before it was ever delivered. HOWEVER, in the districts own statement given to the county board of ed in the request for emergency funds to cover the extraction the district conceded the dirt had not initially been tested. mr. calhoun, do not allow your reputation to be tainted by all that is currently sweetwater. they will use you like they used mr. bradley, then when you start to go down they will walk away and let you drown.

now let me ask all of you a very simple question - what do you think are the chances of getting free pre tested dirt OFF OF FREAKIN' CRAIGS LIST??????????????

the lies connected with this story unfortunately are a true reflection of the majority of leadership at sweetwater. we have a superintendent who ran out of sweetwater a few years back on the heels of a grand jury investigation - brand also ran out of his position as superintendent in the north county. he said he was leaving for personal reasons; however news articles allege their were instances of his using undo influence with committees that had been charged with filling certain positions as well as alleged personal involvement in the political process of filling board seats.

and to who do we owe the favor of bringing brand back - well lets all give a round of applause to john mccann - thanks for replacing one incompetent superintendent with another. mccann failed us BIG TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AS HAS quinones, ricasa, and cartmill.

Can we even begin to count the lies that surround this mess?

Knowing how the district (Brand and all who kowtow to him) has handled the dirt dump, is there anyone drawing breath who has any trust in the judgement and integrity of Brand, McCann, Quinones, Ricasa and Cartmill?

I would venture to say no.

And then we have all the other issues that demonstrate incompetence and/or self-serving decision-making: iPads for 7th graders, misuse of Mello-Roos funds, pink-slipped teachers while the district spends profligately on non-essentials, open boundaries, cancelling bus routes...can they do anything right?

If any of the aforementioned individuals had been considered capable at one time, they apparently felt the need to go out of their way to demonstrate complete ineptitude. For the love of all things great and good, can we please clear out the deadwood?

Eastlaker: since brand is no longer able to double dip - i.e. can not receive his $20 grand a months plus collect his retirement - well it appears that he now wants the title of superintendent made permanent - and i can just imagine all of the perks he will want added to his contract. SEE CLOSED SESSION ITEM 5.

mccann, the conservative - NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! let us not forget it was john mccann who brought brand back.

Oh--and nice job with the cut and run, Brand. Is it humanly possibly for this individual to stoop any lower?

Well, instead of walking off the field and leaving his minions to take the heat, he could have crawled. Being the crawly creature he is, that would have been no surprise.

Or maybe all that hot sun was getting to him and his bald head. Who decided to have a press conference on the football field? With the nasty hot and humid weather we've been suffering for going on a month now, anyone with an ounce of brains would have held the briefing inside or at least under cover.

This district and its board and administration gets more detached from reality with every passing day.

Eastlaker: hopefully those who find themselves lying for him will STOP. ignorance/i was told to is no excuse when the men in black suv's get involved.

So, Brand abruptly leaves the press conference without as much as a so long, sorry, but something more important's come up...? This man is paid $20,000 a month to answer questions when consulted. Would any other employee be given a pass for this behavior?

Joepublic: $20,000.00 plus his retirement. oh, but that is right he is no longer going to be able to double dip - darn those activists and their letters

"Never give up, never, never, never give up!" --Winston Churchill

H. L. Mencken said something like "The journalist's job is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." Don't forget that either. Make a "scene" RIGHT THERE ON THE SPOT! Zero tolerance for "no comment" from ALL public officials.

Twister: WOW, your comment is exactly what is needed at this time. Time for the masses to show up, speak up, and draw a line in the parking lot asphalt - symbolically stating ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

i will offer another thought regarding taking our district and right to speak back:


if all else fails, well there were enough of us that went to jail back in the 60's and 70's because we were demanding change - and we did it peacefully. desperate times call for desperate measures.

respectfully submitted.

In RE: Brown Act violations - I find it simply outrageous and bizarre that the board's own attorney makes the specious opinion that the board may determine when the Brown Act is 'convenient' for them.

The Brown Act is a LAW, and its provision for public comment is not discretionary or an option if the Board 'feels like' following it or if it is 'convenient' for the conduct of the meeting of the public agency.

It seems the SUHSD continues to play fast and loose with both the law itself and its spirit : "The public's business shall be done in public."

Oskidoll: the Star News definitely made a blunder when they did not seek comment from one who specializes in Brown Act violations. for the record the attorney interviewed answered the questions as they were put to him - you can not fault him for that.

There is no leadership, no sense of judgement, and no integrity left when it comes to Ed Brand and four of the five Board of Trustees. Dr. Brand should do the honorable thing and keep on walking, not only off the Southwest football field, but right out of the District. There can no healing at SUHSD as long as Brand and his four School Board puppets rule the day.

All: i am hearing that brand and certain members of the board are most concerned that many will show up this evening. allegedly brand is scurrying around trying to set up meetings with parents that will affect attendance.

brand needs to focus on his responsibilities as superintendent, perhaps if he spent more time at the district office doing student business and less time dabbling in politics we could eliminate many of the issues we are now plagued with.

if brand wants to be a politician, then do it - but for now you are a superintendent so stick to superintending. besides too much muddy water under his bridge - opponents would have a field day.

For the record, I DO fault the SUHSD attorney for his specious opinion about SUHSD Brown Act violations and what the board is entitled, and NOT ENTITLED, to do as they attempt to abrogate the public's right with regard to public comment. He is a relatively smart lawyer and knows better! As a long-time provider of legal advice to school districts, he certainly knows (or should know) the details of the Brown Act. Please do not give him a 'pass' for not being a Brown Act expert. That law is relatively easy even for lay people to interpret.

Go to meetings, but stand outside. Be specific, be brief, but be complete. When your own speakers begin to wander, babble, or just pop off, use a sense of the group vote to determine the length of time each speaker can speak, but let anyone speak for one minute. This will help control plants and fifth-columnists from eroding group credibility. Take the high road, but don't get sucked into spin.

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