Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda has been named the finalist for superintendent of Sacramento City Unified School District. If Banda accepts the position, he would be leaving Seattle after two years, with two years left on his current contract.
The move would return him to his home state of California to a district nearly as large as Seattle. Banda earned $270,000 in Seattle last year. His contract expires in July 2016.
“I think there’s never a good time to leave,” Banda said in an exclusive interview with KUOW.
“Sacramento is an opportunity to go back to California, an opportunity to be closer to family,” Banda said. “As I near the latter part of my career, it’s an opportunity to get back into the retirement system that I spent almost my entire career in.”
Banda said he would look forward to returning to California, which has a generous pension program for state employees. It’s where he lived for most of his life and where his family lives.
Seattle School Board President Sharon Peaslee said that news of Banda's Sacramento aspirations came as a surprise to board members and commended his leadership of the district.
“Most people were not aware of the ways in which he was taking control of the turmoil in the district and creating stability and a forward-moving momentum," Peaslee said on KUOW's The Record.
Board member Sue Peters said in an email that while she appreciates Banda's efforts during his tenure in Seattle, news of his possible departure "is, of course, disappointing to those of us who were hoping for more stability in the district."
Unlike Seattle’s public superintendent search processes, Sacramento was poised to vote on Banda’s contract on Thursday before even announcing that he was a finalist. The vote was postponed at the last minute after board members decided to visit Seattle next week.
Banda, too, had kept his candidacy under wraps.
“It’s hard to be able to announce when it’s still going through a process, and so you want to settle that first before you’re able to say anything definitive to the school community,” Banda said.
Banda said he considers his greatest accomplishments as Seattle superintendent to be the 2013 capital and operations levies, worth a combined $1.3 billion. He’s also proud of the district’s new strategic plan.
“I’m very proud of the things we’ve accomplished over the last couple years,” he said. “I do feel very strongly that we have an excellent team there that can continue that work and move it forward toward completion over the next couple years.”
Banda has also faced well-publicized challenges in Seattle, such as national attention when teachers and families last year boycotted a district standardized test and conflict when the growing school system tried to reclaim district buildings occupied by community groups.
Banda said another challenge has been stabilizing district leadership after years of churn, but that he's confident his recent hires and re-assignments have been good for the district.
When Banda took office in 2012, he was the fourth superintendent in less than two years. He followed two interim superintendents, including Susan Enfield, who chose not to apply for the position. Enfield is currently the superintendent of Highline Public Schools.
The last permanent superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, was fired in 2011 after a financial scandal that landed a district official and two associates in jail. Goodloe-Johnson was found to have ignored signs of their embezzlement. She left Seattle and died the following year.
SCUSD School Board President Patrick Kennedy said the board chose Banda as its top finalist in part because of his extensive education experience as a classroom teacher, principal, HR director, and superintendent in several urban districts. "He really fit a lot of what we were looking for," Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the Sacramento board members are looking forward to discussing Banda's leadership style with his colleagues during their visit to Seattle next week, what he called "the last step in the process of bringing Mr. Banda back to California."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of the 2013 capital and operations levies, which were worth a combined $1.3 billion.