Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda — the district’s fifth school chief in a decade when he was hired two years ago — will likely become the next superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District.
Both districts announced Friday that Banda is the lone finalist for the California job.
The Seattle School Board will meet behind closed doors early next week to talk about a temporary replacement for Banda and the search for his successor.
The Sacramento School Board won’t vote to confirm Banda until July 17, but that board’s president said of the six candidates board members interviewed and ranked, Banda is their choice.
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“He is our finalist, and we don’t have another one,” said board President Patrick Kennedy.
Sacramento board members will be in Seattle next week to meet with district, board, union and parent representatives. They want to essentially confirm what they believe to be true about Banda’s leadership.
Sacramento City Unified serves about 43,000 students, while Seattle Public Schools’ enrollment is about 51,000 and growing.
Banda, who has a year left on his current three-year contract, expects to take a pay cut.
Banda, 57, has 30 years of experience as an educator and administrator in California schools and he has family ties in the state, primarily in Bakersfield.
He said being closer to his family was one of the main reasons he’s seeking the job.
He said the search firm hired by the Sacramento school district sought him out — not the other way around — about six weeks ago. He’d had conversations with other districts during his time in Seattle, he said, including with another California district earlier this year.
“I was approached before and I would say ‘no, no,’ ” Banda said. “And then this one came up and I said, ‘maybe this is the one I need to take a look at.’ ”
Seattle School Board President Sharon Peaslee said Sacramento’s gain would be Seattle’s loss.
Two years ago, Banda replaced Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield, who moved on to run Highline Public Schools. Banda arrived to find Seattle still reeling from turnover among the district’s top administrators and the firing of Enfield’s predecessor, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, amid a financial scandal.
“We were in turmoil and we were losing our best talent,” Peaslee said. “José pulled us all together, stabilized the district, assembled the team and led the creation of our strategic plan, which is the blueprint for our progress over the next five years.
“He did this very quietly without much fanfare and few people were aware of his hard work and his leadership.”
Banda previously was superintendent of the Anaheim (Calif.) City School District, an elementary school-only district about half the size of Seattle.
One of his first jobs in Seattle was to help the school district pass two levies in 2013 totaling $1.25 billion for operating expenses and school construction. Together they were the largest public-school request in the city’s history.
But he’s also had to contend with a school district that has long struggled to find the right balance between the School Board’s authority and the superintendent’s responsibilities. That tension was evident last fall when Banda’s staff and the board went back and forth over how to redraw school boundaries to account for swelling enrollment and lack of space.
Frustration over the ever-evolving plan grew so intense that the night before the board vote on the final plan, the Seattle Council of Parent, Teacher and Student Associations blasted an email to some 10,000 members calling on School Board members to ditch the long-term plan and approve changes only for the next year.
Tensions flared again earlier this month when the School Board voted 4 to 3 to buy a math textbook for the district’s 28,000 elementary-school students that’s nearly twice as expensive as the one favored by an advisory committee that had spent several months weighing the alternatives.
The last-minute change of direction caught district staff, elementary-school principals and many parents off guard.
Katherine Schomer, PTSA president, said the district hasn’t always gotten it right, but parents are getting blindsided when the board makes sudden course changes right before crucial votes.
“It’s really hard to tell who’s running the show, but I was getting the feeling that (Banda) was just starting to figure it out,” Schomer said. “I’m disappointed that we’re losing yet another superintendent.”
Banda is not known for taking a strong public stand on controversial issues. Last year, he spent months negotiating with community groups occupying the Horace Mann building illegally and delaying renovation work for several weeks at district expense.
In February when the victorious Seattle Seahawks planned a Super Bowl victory parade on a school day, Banda told parents their children wouldn’t receive excused absences if they attended.
But in the face of withering criticism, he left it up to the district’s principals to decide for their own schools how to handle absences.
Banda took a firm stand with Olympia, however, pushing lawmakers to grant millions of dollars in federal “turnaround” aid to the long-maligned Rainier Beach High School in South Seattle.
“He’s been a tremendous supporter of Rainier Beach, but new leadership doesn’t worry me,” said Principal Dwane Chappelle.
Most leaders in large, urban districts — or very small ones — stay about three years, though in the last decade the overall national average has been closer to five or six years, said Noelle Ellerson of The School Superintendents Association.
But their tenure often depends on the role they were hired to fulfill, and leaving after only two years is not uncommon — especially in large, urban districts, she said.
“Are they coming in as a change agent, to clean up a mess, to be the bad guy and make tough decisions?” she said. “Whatever emerges as the driving factor, that can contribute to how long you stay. It depends on a litany of factors.”
Sacramento’s previous superintendent, Jonathan Raymond, resigned in December to return to the East Coast to be closer to immediate family, according to the district.
Raymond’s total pay was $272,000, which was $245,000 in salary plus perks and other benefits. Raymond also received a one-time, $30,000 payment for moving expenses in 2009, according to the Sacramento district (Banda received $18,000 for moving expenses in his Seattle contract).
Banda’s current salary is $270,000, plus an annual $22,000 contribution to a tax-sheltered annuity plan and other perks, according to his contract.
Seattle Times staff reporter Claudia Rowe contributed to this report.
John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @jhigginsST