Eric Dill appointed to lead San Dieguito Union High School District in 3-2 vote

The SDUHSD board discusses the superintendent contract on Jan. 19.
The SDUHSD board discusses the superintendent contract on Jan. 19.
(Karen Billing)

Eric Dill was officially voted the new superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District on Jan. 19, but he did not receive a unanimous vote of confidence from his board. Trustees Mo Muir and John Salazar voted against his appointment despite the board having reached unanimous support for Dill at closed session meetings in December and January.

Trustee Beth Hergesheimer said it was really important to her that the board approached the new superintendent from a unanimous standpoint and expressed her disappointment that it was not the case.

“When I went through the re-election cycle this last time, I really came back into this position feeling like this was a real opportunity to start trying to work as a board that could agree to disagree on some things but get the important work done and start moving forward,” Hergesheimer said, expressing her disappointment. “I thought we were making strides forward.”

SDUHSD Board President Amy Herman also expressed her disappointment, as she said she thought the board had all been convinced and satisfied by the interview process Dill had gone through.

“I feel Mr. Dill is highly qualified for this position. He’s served in the district for over 15 years and he’s done an excellent job stepping in as interim superintendent for the past six months,” Herman said.

Dill joined the district in 2001 and had served as the executive director of business services and director of risk management before being promoted to associate superintendent of business services in 2010. Herman noted Dill has “outstanding” financial expertise and has formed great relationships within the district and community.

Salazar said there were several reasons why he would not be supporting Dill’s appointment. He said during the initial search, which began in May, Dill did not apply and was not considered or interviewed. As a board, they unanimously decided to hire another individual but then they changed their mind and the search was put on hold.

Salazar said he has disagreed with Dill on several issues, including the charter school petition, the budget, the incentive for retiring teachers and the 12.5 percent raise for teachers that Salazar still believes is not sustainable.

Most recently, he disagreed with lease-leaseback contracts approved in December ahead of a new law that went into effect in 2017. Salazar said he raised concerns about opening the district up to liability and Dill assured him that everything was fine. Since then the district has received a potential lawsuit —the contracts were rescinded later in the meeting, avoiding the potential litigation.

Both Salazar and Muir said since the district issued a press release about hiring Dill as superintendent, they received a number of phone calls from district parents asking about his teaching experience and whether he’s ever been a principal. Dill does not have experience in either role.

“I never really actually believed that was necessary but I see the point that people have, that the district is in the business of educating students and it may be necessary to have a superintendent who has been in the trenches, who has taught, who has been a principal,” Salazar said.

Salazar wanted to pause and take a month to do another search with Dill included and have him compete against the best.

“If he’s the best of the candidates in a nice, competitive environment, I’d be happy to vote for him and have it be unanimous,” Salazar said. “I just think we owe this to the students, our faculty, the parents and the taxpayers that we can absolutely say that we’ve done the most exhaustive search possible.”

Muir also advocated for another search, to ensure that they are hiring the best leader for their top-performing district.

Last spring, Salazar had been against the board’s hiring a search firm at all, saying search firms “overcharged taxpayers for an under-needed service.” He was not present at the board meeting in May where the board hired Leadership Associates to complete the search for $26,500. Muir voted against it, preferring another firm.

Hergesheimer reminded Salazar and Muir that a search is not a one- to two-month process and she’s happy with the outcome they arrived at — she thought before the meeting that they all were.

“We need to move forward,” SDUHSD Board Vice President Joyce Dalessandro said. “We are in a holding pattern and we can’t afford to be. Yes, this is a top-notch district, we cannot afford to be in a holding pattern where nothing is going forward. We have an incredible candidate here. I have heard from dozens of people who are thrilled with our choice.”

“I believe he’s the strongest candidate we would find,” Herman echoed.


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