Manuel Isquierdo asks Sunnyside board to buy out contract - Tucson News Now

Sunnyside superintendent breaks down, asks board to buy out contract

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Manuel Isquierdo Manuel Isquierdo
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The superintendent of Sunnyside Unified School District broke down during a public hearing Friday night at district headquarters, saying he had enough, and pleaded with board members to buy him out of his contract.

Manuel Isquierdo had been accused of fudging graduation rates earlier this week by school board member Buck Crouch.

At a school board meeting earlier in the week, Crouch questioned the graduation numbers presented by the school district, saying they didn't match up with graduation numbers posted on the Arizona Department of Education's website.

Isquierdo called Crouch's allegations an insult to him, all the teachers, parents and students who had worked hard to graduate next week.

"I have given this district the best years of my career and I'm proud of it, but this was the straw that broke my back and I really want you to consider to buy me out.  I'm done.  I'm tired," Isquierdo said.

Several people in the crowd started yelling, "Don't go.  We need you."

Gina Franco, a parent whose son is graduating from the STAR Academy held up a poster in support of the new graduates, and wiped tears from her eyes as Isquierdo broke down.

"Don't leave us.  What you have started has just begun, please don't leave us," Franco pleaded.

She added, "I'm upset because the man that supported my child who has epilepsy and is graduating this year has been ridiculed."

A state official addressed the board members and community during Friday's hearing, explaining that the numbers listed on the state website did not reflect the students who took more than four years to graduate.

SUSD officials explained the graduation number they had included the number of students who had taken five or six years to graduate, and those who were graduating from the district's alternative school, the STAR program. 

Isquierdo said he was appalled that a board member would make such allegations against those who had worked hard to help students graduate.

"When he threw the vicious gauntlet down of undermining the integrity of this district, my staff, and graduation, he made it personal," Isquierdo said.

Isquierdo asked the board how they felt about asking the Attorney General's office to investigate a violation of "open meeting laws," when Crouch had questioned the graduation rates, and called for Isquierdo to submit his resignation.

He also asked the three present board members if they felt he should proceed with filing a complaint with the civil rights commission for derogatory comments he said Crouch had made against him, and other staff members. Isquierdo felt Crouch was being racist.

Board members Daniel Hernandez and Crouch were not present at the public hearing.

"I feel Mr. Crouch was reckless, uninhibited toward his board members who happen to be Latino, he was disrespectful to a Latino superintendent. I have earned the right to be in this chair," Isquierdo said.

When Isquierdo asked the board to buy out his contract, board member Louis Gonzales said that was out of the question.

All of this comes as four of the five board members are facing a recall election next Tuesday.

Isquierdo said if his supporters are ousted in the recall election and replaced by those who oppose his leadership, he would be done with the district.

"Let them go back to their pencils and papers.  The old south-side way of doing things.  We have made so many advancements since I have been superintendent," Isquierdo said.

Tucson News Now reached out to Crouch for a comment.  Crouch called us back saying he was in Nebraska, attending his grandson's high school graduation.  When we asked him to comment about the civil rights complaint that was about to be filed against him, Crouch sent us this statement via email:

"When I heard that the superintendent and his board of three were accusing me of being a racist, I thought it was a joke, that even they could not sink that low. But alas, they have and are apparently filing a civil rights violation lawsuit against me. If I were racist, would I choose to live in the Sunnyside school district? Would I be a member and current president of the Kino Rotary Club of South Tucson? The majority of people I choose to associate with are of one or more minority groups.  I am prejudice against bigots and idiots, but not against any racial or ethnic group. It is interesting that they made this attack at an emergency special board meeting after verifying that I am out of state at my grandson's graduation and Daniel Hernandez is out of state on business."

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