The San Ysidro School District got its ninth superintendent in five years when the school board voted unanimously Thursday night to hire a Lemon Grove educator to head the district.

Why this matters

The San Ysidro School District, which serves some of the poorest students in San Diego County, has been roiled by scandal and superintendent turnover since 2013.

Gina Potter, a deputy superintendent in the Lemon Grove School District, will be the first permanent superintendent in San Ysidro since Superintendent Julio Fonseca resigned abruptly in September amid allegations of financial misdeeds.

Fonseca’s resignation set off months of turmoil in the district, including the resignation of his deputy, Jose Arturo Sanchez-Macias, who briefly served as interim superintendent.

Potter is joining a district that continues to undergo an “extraordinary audit” by the state. San Diego County Schools Superintendent Paul Gothold asked the state to conduct the audit into payments made to Fonseca and Sanchez-Macias. A state official said the investigation is expected to be completed soon.

Some board members have asked for the District Attorney’s Office to investigate the district’s finances.

Potter said she embraces the challenges facing the district.

“The sky’s the limit for the amount of stability and success that we, together, will bring as a community of staff and parents and leaders,” she said. “We are going to become an incredible school district.”

Potter said she has nearly three decades of education experience, including the past 16 years in the Lemon Grove district. She started there as a principal at Mount Vernon Elementary before becoming the district’s top finance officer. She later became the deputy superintendent for business services. Potter said she earned a joint doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of California San Diego, San Diego State University and California State University San Marcos.

Potter said the makeup of San Ysidro’s student body — it’s 90 percent Hispanic, according to state education data — was one of the factors that attracted her to the superintendent’s job.

“This is a school district that’s absolutely a gateway to the American dream for students who have immigrated to America,” she said.

A Chula Vista High School graduate, Potter said she has deep roots in South Bay education. Her father started five adult schools for the Sweetwater Union High School District, including the San Ysidro Adult School, she said. Her mother is a retired South Bay teacher.

“I could not be more excited to be coming back home,” Potter said.

Board President Rosaleah Pallasigue said Potter’s experience and community roots made her a standout candidate.

“She has a proven track record with fiscal stabilization, with bridging community relationships, with parent relationships, and we’re really blessed to receive her,” Pallasigue said.

Her priorities for the new superintendent include addressing San Ysidro’s budget deficit and the state audit.

The district serves about 4,800 students in grades kindergarten through eighth, with many among the poorest in San Diego County. For the 2016-17 school year, 36 percent were homeless and 81 percent received free or reduced price lunch.

Potter’s salary and start date are expected to be decided at next month’s school board meeting. The job was advertised with an annual salary of $180,000 to $200,000. In fiscal 2016, the Lemon Grove district paid Potter more than $189,000, including salary and benefits, according to Transparent California, a nonprofit think tank that compiles public employees’ pay and pension information.

The San Ysidro School Board also voted unanimously Thursday to approve a contract for interim Superintendent Edward Velasquez. He’ll be paid $1,000 a day, up to $43,000, and will be reimbursed no more than $12,000 in travel and lodging expenses.

The contract was effective to March 12, three days after the board voted 3-2 to hire Velasquez until a permanent replacement could take over.

Velasquez replaced interim Superintendent Mary Willis, who left the district when her contract expired on March 9.

San Ysidro’s superintendents since 2013
Gina Potter will be the ninth person to hold the top administrator’s post at the San Ysidro School District since 2013. Here’s a rundown of the former superintendents from the past five years.

Manuel Paul (permanent): Resigned in 2013 after being indicted on corruption charges. He pleaded guilty in 2015 as part of a pay-to-play scheme and was sentenced to two months in federal jail.
Gloria Madera (interim): An assistant superintendent who took over for Paul. She resigned in 2014 after the county Office of Education said the district might not be able to meet its financial obligations.
George Cameron (interim): A retired National School District superintendent who was brought in as the district began to face possible bankruptcy and a state takeover. He resigned in 2015.
Edward Velasquez (interim): A retired Los Angeles-area educator who was credited with helping stabilize the San Ysidro district’s finances during his four-month stint. He left in 2015 when the district when the district hired a permanent replacement.
Julio Fonseca (permanent): A former Los Angeles-area educator took over in July 2015. He resigned this past September amid allegation of financial misdeeds.
Jose Arturo Sanchez-Macias (interim): Fonseca’s top deputy took over when his boss resigned. He stepped down two months later amid questions about payments made to himself and Fonseca.
Mary Willis (interim): A retired Los Angeles-area educator hired in November a few days before an “extraordinary audit” of the district’s finances was announced. Her contract with the district ended in March.
Edward Velasquez (interim): The retired L.A.-area educator hired in March for a second stint as interim superintendent. His contract was approved April 12, the same day Potter was selected.

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We’ll let you know when big things happen.

Leonardo Castañeda was a reporter and economic analyst for inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email leocastaneda [at] inewsource [dot] org.