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Cuneo to Step Down in June  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

September 23, 2010 -- Superintendent Tim Cuneo announced at Thursday’s School Board meeting that he will retire at the end of June when his contract expires. Cuneo was appointed interim superintendent in July 2008, and became the permanent head of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District seven months later.

Cuneo made the announcement in low-key fashion as one of many topics in his regular oral report to the board. He did not make any comments of reflection. Cuneo said he would provide the board with a proposal on selecting consultants for a superintendent search at the next meeting on Oct. 7. The meeting will take place in Malibu.

“We’ve been fortunate to have you come out of retirement (to take the job),” Board Vice President Kelly Pye said. She was the only board member to make a statement about Cuneo’s announcement.

Cuneo came to the SMMUSD two years ago during a chaotic time. Just two months earlier, the assistant superintendent in charge of special education had resigned after some parents accused him of strong-arm tactics. Superintendent Dianne Talarico, whose brief tenure was plagued by various conflicts, left a few weeks later to take a job in Northern California.

The District was also being scrutinized by the City Council, which refused to release $840,000 in additional funding until changes were made to the special education program.

With Cuneo as interim superintendent, the SMMUSD implemented a number of measures recommended by a consultant in a report on the status of the District’s special education program. He was also able to successfully lobby the City Council to release the $840,000 in additional funding it had held back for two years.

Cuneo has been credited with guiding the special education program toward transparency and general improvement. But disputes still exist. In June, Cuneo was accused of trying to eliminate whistleblowers from the Special Education District Advisory Committee (SEDAC) by proposing a modification to the selection process for advisory committee members.

The superintendent and Board President Barry Snell, who supported Cuneo’s proposal that failed to garner enough backing for passage, denied that this was an attempt to silence anybody.

The superintendent has his fans and detractors. Neil Carrey, who has been an SMMUSD activist for three decades, said at a July meeting that Cuneo was a great leader during this difficult economic period.

“If I had to pick someone to lead the school district during the crisis that we’re now facing and all the economic problems we have, I could not think of someone better than Tim,” Carrey said. “He is a truly outstanding person that really is very, very dedicated and really wants to do the right thing. (Cuneo) is calm, and really great to work with.”

Critics include Board member Oscar de la Torre. At last week’s Democratic Club candidate endorsement meeting, the board of education member up for re-election said Cuneo had failed to achieve “middle school reform” as he was tasked to do.

“If I had the votes on the school board right now, I would fire the superintendent because I think we have had some poor leadership in our school district,” de la Torre said.

Before joining the district, Cuneo served as a senior partner with Cuneo-Zinner Group in San Jose, a consulting firm that specializes in organizational development for both public and private educational ventures.

From 1966 to 1996, he held numerous positions as superintendent, assistant superintendent and dean of curriculum and instruction with Oak Grove, Whisman, Pajaro Valley Unified and Fremont Union High School Districts.

He subsequently served as interim superintendent for Scotts Valley Unified School District and senior executive director for the 21st Century Education Initiative as part of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, where he was responsible for all aspects of the highly successful public/ private partnership investing in K-12 school reform.

Cuneo is a former president of the Association of California School Administrators and has sat on various board dealing with education issues.


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