Sacramento City Unified eyes Seattle schools chief for top job

Sacramento City Unified said Friday that Seattle schools chief José L. Banda is its leading candidate to run the district after a months-long search.

Banda, 57, previously spent three decades in California schools, including a four-year stint overseeing the Anaheim elementary school district. Sacramento City Unified board members plan to visit Seattle next week to evaluate his record before a scheduled July 17 vote.

Banda said Friday that Sacramento presents an opportunity for him to return to a state where his family lives and where he has a clear understanding of the educational challenges.

Sacramento City Unified faces several significant hurdles in the years ahead as enrollment continues to decline and the urban district serves a high share of English learners and low-income students who struggle academically.

Former superintendent Jonathan Raymond left the district in December after more than four years at the helm. He became a lightning rod for his turnaround efforts, winning support from those who wanted to break traditional rules at failing schools and opposition from teachers who believed he threatened seniority protections and acted in bad faith in contract talks.

The district closed seven elementary campuses during his final year due to enrollment declines, a decision that was unpopular among activists and families in the predominantly low-income neighborhoods the schools served.

Seattle Public Schools has more than 51,000 students and is Washington’s largest district; Sacramento City Unified has about 43,000 students. Banda became Seattle superintendent in July 2012 and received $270,000 a year, to start, plus $700 a month in travel expenses under a three-year contract. Raymond earned $245,000 in Sacramento when he left.

The Seattle schools have less poverty and a lower proportion of English learners than the Sacramento city district, according to Washington state data. But the Anaheim district Banda oversaw has a 90 percent rate of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and nearly half of students there are classified as English learners.

Banda, who is bilingual, said he has worked extensively with districts that have language and income challenges that Sacramento faces. A biography shows the California State University, Bakersfield, graduate spent his career in education, starting as a teacher, counselor and principal and then administrator in the 1980s and 1990s. He joined the Planada Elementary School District, a 1,000-student system in the Central Valley, in 2002 before joining Oceanside Unified as an associate superintendent in 2005.

He advanced to deputy superintendent at Oceanside two years later before heading to the Anaheim City School District in 2008, where he remained for four years.

Sharon Peaslee, president of the Seattle Public School board, issued a statement Friday crediting Banda for establishing stability during his time in Seattle.

“He oversaw creation of the strategic plan that will guide our work for the next five years, and he pushed our district to ensure equity, access and opportunities for all of our students,” Peaslee wrote. “I know I speak for the entire board that if Mr. Banda becomes superintendent of Sacramento City Unified, we will be very sorry to see him leave Seattle.”

If he is named to the post, Banda said Friday that his collaborative approach should prove useful in strengthening community connections with the district and focusing on equal access to education.

Asked about his style in working with labor organizations, Banda said it comes down to relationships, “making sure that I build those, build trust and transparency.

“Everywhere I’ve been I’ve had positive relationships with associations and unions, even though we don’t always agree on everything,” he said.

Banda described himself as a cyclist with a road bike, a guitar player who plays “not very well” and regular visitor to the gym to stay fit.

Trustees in the Sacramento district were expected Thursday night to appoint Banda to the post. But Board of Education President Patrick Kennedy sought a delay in that closed-door vote, saying board members wanted time to complete their due diligence and conduct a site visit.

Sara Noguchi, a former teacher, principal and district administrator, has served in the top job in an interim capacity since Raymond left.

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