School District superintendent to step down in June

Superintendent Tim Cuneo announced at last Thursday’s Board of Education 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 during his regular oral report to the board. He did not make any comments of reflection. Cuneo could not be reached for comment after the meeting. The superintendent said he would provide board members with a proposal on selecting consultants to search for his replacement at the next meeting on Oct. 7 in Malibu.

When Cuneo was appointed as interim superintendent the school government veteran was working as a senior partner for an education consultant firm out of San Jose. He arrived at the district during a chaotic time. Just two months earlier, the assistant superintendent in charge of special education was forced out after some Santa Monica parents accused him of strong-arm tactics. This move was widely praised in Santa Monica and mostly criticized in Malibu, showing another example of the divide between the two cities in the district.

Superintendent Dianne Talarico, whose brief tenure was plagued by various conflicts, left a few weeks later to take a job in Northern California.

“He provided some stability when the district needed it,” said Kathy Wisnicki, a Malibu resident whose final few months on the Board of Education were during Cuneo’s interim stint.

She said she was not surprised to hear about his pending retirement because “he has a home and life in San Jose.”

When Cuneo was hired, a search continued for a permanent replacement. Wisnicki, who was not on the board when Cuneo was selected as permanent superintendent, said the board decided to do this to bring some consistency to the district.

Cuneo has been praised by some people for restoring credibility in the district’s special education program, although some parents have accused him of attempting to silence critics. His tenure has been marked by reduced state funding and, in turn, financial instability.

Neil Carrey, who headed the committee that proposed the failed parcel tax measure and is a longtime school activist, 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.”

Board member Ben Allen had similar praise for Cuneo in an e-mail he wrote on Friday to The Malibu Times.

“Tim steered us through the financial crisis with grace and skill, and under his leadership, relations with the City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica College and the special education community improved considerably,” he wrote. “And through a period of unprecedented financial difficulty, student performance has continued to improve.”

But Cuneo has plenty of critics. At the recent Santa Monica Democratic Club endorsement meeting, Board member Oscar de la Torre 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 had said.

School District to address Pt. Dume Charter application at Oct. 7 meeting

The charter school application from Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School parents will be up for public discussion at the Oct. 7 Board of Education meeting at Malibu City Hall. Charter status would put a Point Dume board in control of most school issues regarding academics and finances. The Board of Education must make a decision on the charter application within two months. More information about the charter application will be included in next week’s issue of The Malibu Times .

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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