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CVUSD agrees to a nearly $300K settlement with former superintendent

The Coachella Valley Unified School District reached an agreement on a settlement with former superintendent Dr. Maria Gandera.

Gandera resigned as CVUSD's superintendent on February 4 after nearly a year and a half on the job.

In a statement, Gandera wrote that she is resigning to focus on family.

CVUSD's board of education approved a settlement with Gandera earlier this month. News Channel 3 has obtained the agreement on Friday, which reveals that Gandera will receive $259,000 from the district within 30 days of Feb. 4.

Gandera will also receive a one-time lump sum payment of $40,485 which represents Gandera's 40 unused vacation days she accrued over her time with the district.

The district will continue to pay for her medical insurance coverage for her and her eligible dependents. This will continue for up 12 months after Feb. 4 or until Gandera finds a new employer.

The board of education initially named the retired Dr. Steve Kennedy as the interim superintendent, however, the two sides could not reach an agreement. On Wednesday, Juan Lopez was named interim superintendent.

Gandera is the district's third superintendent since 2016, not accounting for any interims. She was the district's first Latina superintendent.

Her time as superintendent was eventful.

In July 2019, just one month after she started, a News Channel 3 investigation uncovered a safety inspection of CVUSD buses earned the district an "unsatisfactory rating."

That inspection by the California Highway Patrol happened the same day we aired an investigation called Left Behind.

News Channel 3 began asking more questions about bus safety after uncovering new video of a 2014 incident where a CVUSD special needs student was left in a district Ford Explorer.

Dr. Gandera was not Superintendent when that incident happened but was in charge when News Channel 3 asked if the district had fully equipped its fleet of vehicles with a mandated child check system. In July of 2019, the district did not respond to repeated efforts to solicit any comment about the "unsatisfactory" rating.

In the fall of 2019, the Coachella Valley Unified School District closed all schools and offices as well as canceling activities for days due to air quality concerns stemming from a 32-acre mulch fire burning near Thermal.

That announcement followed a chaotic day at three Coachella Valley Unified schools, Las Palmitas Elementary, Toro Canyon Middle, and Desert Mirage High. Hundreds of students were evacuated due to health concerns from the Martinez Fire which had been burning for days at a green waste center less than a mile away.

In March of 2020, voters declined to approve a proposed bond called Measure G. It would have used funds from an additional property tax to support $230 million in bonds to build and renovate schools in the Coachella Valley Unified School District.

Of course, the spring of 2020 brought a new reality with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Students were sent home to learn.

The district established a "Distance Learning Plan" after the county ordered all school campuses to shut down. A part of the district's plan for March included a survey on students' online access needs that was sent out through phone, text, and email.

Teachers tried to stay connected with students. In Mecca, elementary teachers held a 'drive-by parade' in their students' neighborhoods.

In May, the city of Coachella, in partnership with the Coachella Valley Unified School District, planned to buy 3,000 personal wireless hotspots to help students studying from home who don't have access to the internet.

Meals are provided in drive-through settings for local families. FIND Food Bank's Mobile Markets are hosted at several school sites as well.

The high school graduating class of 2020 had to celebrate their 'pomp and circumstance' and graduation celebrations virtually. College workshops and other programs are virtual as well.

The remote learning conversation continued throughout the summer of 2020. As the new school year closed in, the district and the Coachella Valley Teachers Association continued to negotiate over whether it should be mandatory for educators to teach from a classroom.

"As the District has stated previously, we have developed and implemented protocols and procedures to address the safety of our staff in all of our facilities.  We have an ample supply of PPEs to safely have our staff return," Coachella Valley Unified School District Superintendent, Maria Gandera, Ed.D said in a statement in July of 2020. In a statement, she continued,”We will continue to work with our committed CVUSD staff to provide that rigorous instruction to our students.”

The first day of classes for the new school year came in August of 2020 and as we know, remote learning continued.

As fall continued, a survey of thousands of parents showed split reaction to sending kids back into the classroom.

At that time, 49% of the parents said they don't intend to send their children to school in person with a hybrid model. 30% of the parents said they do agree to send their children to in-person classes.

In September of 2020, Dr. Gandera discussed those results with News Channel 3. You can watch that conversation in the player below.

Even as remote learning continued, the pandemic impacted the district. In October, CVUSD closed district offices for extensive cleaning after staff members became infected with the coronavirus.

At that time, district officials said while they hope the impact on distance learning would be minimal, wifi buses that park in neighborhoods with poor connectivity to provide internet access would be disabled through the closure. Instead, students could connect to long distance wifi networks being broadcast from school sites.

By November, the district had a hybrid learning plan laid out.

As the pandemic continues, the students in Coachella Valley Unified School District are still learning remotely. Online tutoring programs are available around the clock and in English or Spanish to support families with students in grades K-12. Attendance Raffles are held to reward students who don't miss class.

During her time as the district's leader, Dr. Gandera also dealt with challenges of allegations against school district employees. This week, the security director of the Coachella Valley Unified School District was arrested for alleged solicitation of prostitution. He is now on 'administrative leave,' according to the district.

A soccer coach faced accusations of lewd acts involving several students and a former substitute teaching assistant plead not guilty to charges related to an alleged inappropriate relationship with a student.

Stay with News Channel 3 for updates on this developing news.

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Jesus Reyes

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