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Superintendent Cohen resigns

By Catherine Tadina

Dr. Howard Cohen officially resigned as superintendent of the South San Francisco Unified School District December 17, 2010 amid allegations of questionable hiring practices. Associate Superintendent Adolfo Melara has temporarily assumed Cohen’s duties for the remainder of the 2010-11 school year.

Cohen’s attempt to hire interim Assistant Superintendent Vince Kilmartin as the interim bond liaison to manage the $162-million Measure J bond at the November 18 board meeting resulted in a disagreement between Cohen and the Board of Trustees. The board deemed this hire as an unethical use of district money. After the fallout at the November 18 school board meeting, Cohen filed an unexpected leave of absence December 6.

Kilmartin once worked with Cohen in West Conta Costra County Unified School District, and later at the at the Waterford Unified School District, where Cohen had hired Kilmartin’s educational firm Total School Solutions to manage the district’s master plan. In Waterford, Cohen was accused of mismanaging district finances, hiring unnecessary TSS staff and costing the school board $124,000 instead of the initial $33,000 intended for “polishing the school’s district plan. Cohen had also initiated pay increases of 5.2 percent, including a raise for himself, five months before the school board approved them.

As Cohen signed a three-year contract with the South San Francisco Unified School District, the district is bound under contract to pay Cohen with his full salary of $171,289 and benefits—while he is on administrative leave—until his term expires on June 30, 2011.

Science teacher Sanjay Makhijani was “extremely shocked” at the fact that Cohen is being paid the full salary and has been critical of the board’s decision in signing Cohen with the three-year contract.

“[Cohen’s salary] could have paid the salary of two teachers for the year,” Makhijani said. “Yet, we had layoffs of two valuable teachers”

Upon moving to the South San Francisco Unified School District, Cohen had attempted the same practices. In addition to attempting to hire Kilmartin from TSS, Cohen pushed for administrative salary increases at a time when the district was forced to lay off teachers, reduce programs, and school budgets.

The School Board is currently in the process of searching for, interviewing and eventually hiring Cohen’s replacement. As of February 28 the board is actively looking two possible candidates, Melara and former SSFUSD Superintendent George Kozitza.


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