The Sweetwater Union High School District superintendent invited construction contractors who might benefit from his decisions to a bridal shower for his daughter that mentioned a money tree on the invitation, the Union-Tribune reported today.

Arguing that there was nothing wrong with inviting them, Superintendent Jesus Gandara told the Union-Tribune that he doesn’t have final say over which companies are chosen for school district projects; the school board does. The U-T reported:

According to district policy, the superintendent and his staff have the ability to reject contract bids and to accept them, subject to board approval. He is also required to “provide guidance to the board to assist in decision-making.”

As part of guiding the school board, Gandara has made his preferences for construction companies known in the past. A few years ago, we reported that Sweetwater had repeatedly chosen companies that weren’t ranked highest by their own staff. Twice Gandara had weighed in, once pushing for an architect that built schools he liked, once on which program manager to pick:

Nick Marinovich, a community member who sat on the oversight committee for an earlier school construction bond, complained about the process for picking the new program manager, Gilbane/Seville Group Inc., which had ranked lower than another company.

“The superintendent steered it the way he wanted it to go. It was bogus,” said Marinovich, who has worked for more than a dozen years as a project manager with the county of San Diego and briefly for the losing company. …

Gandara said Sweetwater had good reasons for weighing other factors besides Harris Gafcon’s ranking. He was displeased with renovations done under the last bond at Sweetwater High School. Stucco around new windows didn’t match the surrounding building. Rain gutters on the buildings were twisted.

So while the school board does make the final decision, the superintendent can influence that decision — and in the past his input has been important in deciding companies’ fates.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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