High school board fails a teachable moment

On June 19, Santa Ynez High Principal Mark Swanitz’s 2018-19 employment contract was on the school board meeting agenda. The contract included another 4 percent salary increase, and total compensation of $191,305.22.

Principal Swanitz was a no-show at the board meeting. Three out of five board members attended. Board member Jerry Swanitz, Principal Swanitz’s father, had to recuse himself from voting because of his conflict of interest. Without a quorum, the item was postponed until the Aug. 21 board meeting.

Should the board be rewarding Principal Swanitz with a raise given his recent DUI arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol? The complaint listed his blood-alcohol content at 0.12 percent. A 0.08 percent BAC is legally impaired and it’s illegal to drive at this level. Research concludes, “a 0.10 – 0.12% BAC causes significant impairment to motor coordination and good judgment. Speech may be slurred. Balance, vision, reaction time and hearing will be impaired, and probably not thinking straight.”

School officials maintained radio silence immediately after Swanitz’s DUI arrest. Questions swirled; did the board really hire a public relations consultant rather than demanding Swanitz be put on administrative leave immediately?Numerous drunken-driving deaths in the Santa Ynez Valley involve teenagers. The district should expect far greater standards from its veteran administrator who makes disciplinary decisions involving teens, drugs and alcohol, some resulting in suspension or expulsion from school.

This year, the board slashed teaching positions and supplies to address the structural budget deficit, which currently is $397,602. Administrator salaries are increasing more than teacher salaries. It’s baffling that a school board member, even someone with the name Swanitz, has not suggested to the principal that he should just walk away for the sake of the kids.

I urge you to contact Superintendent Scott Cory at scory@syvuhsd.org and request that he forward your concerns to board members Jan Clevenger, Kyle Abello, Jerry Swanitz, Christine Burtness and Steve Foley. Urge them to vote responsibly on Aug. 21 and not renew Principal Swanitz’s contract or deny his raise for total compensation of almost $200,000. Otherwise, the message is simply arrogance, and the students are taught exactly the wrong lesson. Such a shame.


Michelle de Werd

Los Olivos