Inside San Diego Unified’s Brain Drain

Inside San Diego Unified’s Brain Drain

Photos by Sam Hodgson

Phil Stover, Bernie Rhinerson, Stan Dobbs

Cindy Marten taking the helm as superintendent isn’t the only change in the upper echelons of the San Diego Unified School District.

Since Marten took over, at least five high-ranking officials at the district have left San Diego Unified, either retiring or moving on to other districts. A couple of other senior staffers have also moved out of their positions to new leadership roles, and one more is due to retire next year.

Here’s a quick recap of the old and new faces at the district.

Chief of Staff Bernie Rhinerson

Reason for leaving: Retired

Replaced by: Staci Monreal

The first big name to leave the district after Marten’s arrival was its chief of staff, spokesman and all-around district mover-and-shaker, Bernie Rhinerson.

Rhinerson had only worked at city schools for five years, but he had made his mark, revamping the district’s web presence and carefully controlling its public image during his tenure.

Rhinerson, a long-time public relations professional, was the go-to guy for journalists covering the district, primarily because he wanted to keep a tight rein on the information being shared with the public.

He has been replaced by Monreal, a former principal at Marshall Elementary School in City Heights, just down the road from Marten’s former school, Central Elementary.

Monreal joined San Diego Unified in 1989 and, apart from a couple of brief stints in Los Angeles and Flint, Mich., she’s been with the district ever since. Unlike Rhinerson, however, she doesn’t have a PR background, so it’s going to be interesting to see how much of a role she plays in shaping the public perception of the district.

Deputy Superintendent, School Support Services Nellie Meyer

Reason for leaving: Took a job leading the Mt. Diablo School District

Replaced by: N/A

Longtime city schools administrator Meyer, who spent more than 30 years at the district, left two months ago to lead the Mt. Diablo School District in the Bay Area.

Meyer used to be the joint No. 2 in charge at the district. She and Phil Stover were Superintendent Bill Kowba’s lieutenants, responsible, respectively, for “school support services” (Meyer) and “business” (Stover).

Meyer’s position has been melded into the new organizational structure at the district, said district spokeswoman Linda Zintz.

The district’s area superintendents, who oversee different parts of the district, used to report to Meyer, Zintz said. They will now report directly to Marten.

“All the other pieces of her job have gone to other executive directors or cabinet members,” Zintz said.

Chief Financial Officer Stan Dobbs

Reason for leaving: Took a job at the Hayward School District

Replaced by: Interim CFO Jenny Salkeld

Ah, “Data” Dobbs! Where to start?

After a brief and tumultuous tenure at the district, Dobbs was hired earlier this year as interim superintendent at the Hayward School District in the Bay Area, the district where he had been working directly before coming to San Diego Unified.

Dobbs, a former Navy officer, was the third CFO to leave the district in three years.

His six-month stint in San Diego caused quite a stir, notably when Dobbs told VOSD that the district had “hundreds of excess employees.” Dobbs later apologized to the teachers union for his comments.

Salkeld, who has arguably inherited one of the toughest and least-popular jobs in San Diego education, formerly served as the district’s controller. According to her bio on the district’s website, she has a Master’s degree in business administration, a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of La Verne and is a member of the Institute of Management Accountants.

Salkeld is currently only the interim CFO. If she gets the permanent job, let’s see if she lasts more than a year.

General Counsel Larry Schoenke

Reason for leaving: Retired

Replaced by: Andra Donovan

Schoenke retired from San Diego Unified in June after a little more than two years at the district. His LinkedIn profile says he is still working as an adviser for the district (we’ve requested his contract and invoices), and he’s currently working for the law firm Dannis Woliver Kelly in San Francisco.

Schoenke led the district through some tricky legal times. He advised the board throughout the last couple of years of tough labor negotiations and helped defend the district from a big lawsuit against its use of bond money (the district lost and is considering an appeal).

Donovan, who was formerly Schoenke’s deputy, has been with San Diego Unified for about four years. She’ll need the experience if she’s to survive a forthcoming labor negotiations season and increased scrutiny of the district’s bond spending.

Honorable Mentions: Phil Stover, Lamont Jackson

Deputy Superintendent of Business Phil Stover was never meant to stay at the district long.

He was hired as a consultant back in 2006, but the last remaining top staffer at the district is still going strong. But Stover said he’s planning to retire next year to a pecan farm in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Lamont Jackson, who headed the district’s human resources department earlier this year, has been moved to the position of area superintendent for Area 2, which includes the Mira Mesa and Morse clusters (there’s a list of schools in those clusters here).

Zintz said despite the number of high-ranking officials leaving, the new leaders will bring their own experiences.

“With regards to institutional knowledge, every one of the folks brought into these positions was already working in some capacity in the district,” Zintz said.

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Will Carless

Will Carless

Will Carless is the former head of investigations at Voice of San Diego. He currently lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he is a freelance foreign correspondent and occasional contributor to VOSD. You can reach him at will.carless.work@gmail.com.

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3 comments
mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

I notice these are all Ed Center big wigs.

Please note there are only 14 certificated teacher librarians left in the entire district. Only one of them is National Board Certified.

By June 2015, the number will probably be less than 10.

There's your brain drain.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

I notice these are all Ed Center big wigs.

Please note there are only 14 certificated teacher librarians left in the entire district. Only one of them is National Board Certified.

By June 2015, the number will probably be less than 10.

There's your brain drain.

DDunn
DDunn

Mr. Carless, Think you've hit the tip of the iceberg with your description of Rhinerson - re: "...carefully controlling its public image during his tenure....primarily because he wanted to keep a tight rein on the information being shared with the public." Why would a public image need controlling or why a tight rein on public information? Sounds more like house cleaning or perhaps they saw something on the horizon and jumped ship? DD