Hiring of San Diego Unified School District's Chief Public Information Officer raises eyebrows

SAN DIEGO - A newly created position in the San Diego Unified School District was established and filled the same day, causing some to raise eyebrows about the appointment.

The meeting on July 29 lasted several hours, but in the last minute before the meeting was adjourned, SD Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten announced the position of Chief Public Information Officer was filled.

"I would like to announce Ursula Leimbach as our Chief Public Information Officer," Marten announced.

According to the board agenda, the position was established the same day as the meeting. Responsibilities include serving as spokesperson and overseeing District Relations and Communications departments. The pay range is between $150,770 to $192,392.

"$200,000, nearly, is a lot of money," said Michael Breyette with the California School Employees Association.

Breyette said he has a problem not only with the high salary, but also the lack of transparency.

"It's been very abnormal, in my experience, of seeing the district just unilaterally name people into these positions and kind of bulldoze through the process," Breyette said.

The California Department of Education said there is no state law for advertising positions paid for with public money. It is up to each district to establish its own guidelines, according to the California Association of School Administrators.

Team 10 found other positions, like Chief Innovation Officer, that were advertised on the district website. The position of Chief Public Information Officer did not appear on the website.

A district spokesperson told Team 10: "The public information office hire was a direct appointment. The decision for direct appointments is made at the discretion of the Superintendent and the Board."

"This district has taken a very top down management approach in recent months and I see that growing," Breyette said.

Ursula Kroemer Leimbach was the person hired to fill the position. She recently worked for Gafcon on the bond program at the San Diego Community College District. Gafcon also helps manage the $2.1 billion bond program at San Diego Unified.

Gafcon sent Team 10 a statement that said Kroemer was an "excellent employee" and they wish her well.

Late Friday afternoon, SD Unified officials issued this statement regarding their new hire:

"Chief Public Information Officer Ursula Kroemer has an extensive history with the San Diego Unified School District and, for many years, served the San Diego community as a broadcast journalist.

From 1997 to 2008, Ursula served various capacities in the SDUSD Communications Department, starting out as an Information Services Specialist working with the media, subsequently helping to launch the District's video and web services, and later serving as the Director of Communications.

Prior to coming to the District, Ursula was a television and radio journalist, working in the San Diego market for more than a decade. She was honored with several Golden Mikes and an Emmy for her work covering education issues.

Most recently, Ursula served as the Program Manager for the San Diego Community College District's $1.555 billion construction bond program. She also served as Communications Director for the program overseeing media and community relations, activities related to the Citizens' Oversight Committee, and the program's small business outreach program."
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