You won’t see a job description for “principal on special assignment” on the San Diego Unified School District website.

But that’s not to say the job doesn’t exist.

The special assignment position became public knowledge after La Jolla High School principal Dana Shelburne was given the title late last month.

Shelburne’s reassignment comes in the wake of a damning audit that found, among other things, that more than $200,000 in donations wasn’t backed up by any receipts.

Shelburne told U-T San Diego “the audit has nothing to do with this,” and school board trustee Scott Barnett also denied that Shelburne’s reassignment was related to the audit.

Now that this high-profile principal has been reassigned, let’s take a look at what, exactly he’ll be doing.

What does the title mean?

Principals at the district are placed on special assignment by the superintendent, without approval from the school board.

They remain employees of the district. Shelburne will report to a yet-to-be-named director of special projects in the central office. He’s currently the lone principal on special assignment in San Diego, but there have been others in the past.

Ruth Peshkoff, a former chief human resources officer for San Diego Unified, said other potential special assignments could include:

– Overseeing a new student information system for tracking students as technology gets old

– Managing a grant that the school received in order to make sure the money is spent properly

– Substituting at other schools

Has this ‘special assignment’ been taken before?

Shelburne will officially be working as the district’s “school construction liaison.”

He’s not the first principal to hold that position.

Former Lincoln High principal Wendell Bass had the same assignment during the roll-out of Proposition MM, a bond passed in 1998 to renovate existing schools and construct new ones.

Bass, who has since retired, was given the job while Lincoln was being rebuilt in 2004. He said Wednesday that the position was created the year before he took it.

Cheryl James-Ward, an assistant professor of educational leadership at San Diego State University, said that these special assignments can last from six months to several years. Bass held the job for four years until Prop. MM work ended in 2008.

Cynthia Reed-Porter, a spokeswoman for San Diego Unified, said there hasn’t been a need for a school construction liaison since 2008, because so far, Proposition S — a bond passed in 2008 to finish off school repairs and renovations begun under Proposition MM and to upgrade technology in classrooms — has dealt with mostly technology and isolated construction. By contrast, Proposition Z will focus on campus-wide construction, she said.

What will Shelburne be doing, exactly?

Reed-Porter said that in the coming school year, 40 new principals will be starting at campuses and that some of those principals may have never dealt with construction at their schools.

New bond projects could benefit, then, from a principal who is familiar with construction occurring on campuses, said Reed-Porter. That’s where Shelburne will come in.

Lee Dulgeroff, who oversees the district’s bond programs, said Shelburne’s new duties will include coordinating construction and renovation projects, providing design input, coordinating meetings, developing classroom specifications and coordinating construction activities to minimize classroom disruption.

Why was Shelburne given this assignment?

James-Ward said that, in general, principals on special assignment usually have some expertise in the position they are assigned to.

In a newsletter to parents the day after the appointment, Shelburne said his background of involvement with construction projects at “La Jolla High School, Muirlands and elsewhere” made him a good fit for the role.

District officials  said that Shelburne’s past experiences overseeing the construction of a pool, athletic field and science building among other projects at La Jolla high and elsewhere made him an ideal candidate for the job.

Where is Shelburne’s salary coming from?

When Bass held the position that Shelburne will be taking, he was paid using Prop. MM funds.

Shelburne will also be paid out of bond money.

Normally, district employees can’t be paid with bond money, unless they’re working directly on bond-related projects, as Shelburne will be.

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Alex Corey is a reporting intern at Voice of San Diego. You can contact him directly at

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