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(photo by Brandon Wise)

SMMUSD HDQTRS — Tim Cuneo, a former education consultant who arrived here last summer to take over a district that had gone through a series of major personnel changes and challenges, is expected to be named the next superintendent.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District announced on Friday that the Board of Education will name Cuneo, who is currently serving as the interim superintendent, as the permanent chief. The appointment is expected to occur at the board meeting on Feb. 5.

The board was in the process of reviewing proposals from different firms to head the superintendent search when it decided to hire Cuneo to ensure consistency in leadership.

His time for the past several months has been occupied with a number of pressing issues, including revamping the troubled special education department and addressing the state budget crisis, which is expected to impact funds locally.

“Tim has done great work while he’s been here,” board President Ralph Mechur said. “He’s helped stabilize leadership in the district.”

Cuneo, who served as the senior partner with Cuneo Zinner Group in San Jose (wife Jane Zinner is a partner) before coming to SMMUSD, said he accepted the interim position assuming that he would only remain for a year to help the district in a transition period.

He was hired in July to replace former Superintendent Dianne Talarico who resigned after serving less than two years to be closer to her husband in Northern California, taking on the same job with the Burlingame School District.

The terms of the contract, which will end in July 2011, have yet to be finalized. When he was initially hired as the interim superintendent, Cuneo was earning $900 a day.

“I have to admit that I really enjoyed the district and the community and professional staff,” Cuneo said. “When the board asked me, I was very honored and very pleased that I can stay and work at a place I enjoy a great deal.”

He came to the district as it was recovering from a rocky period, marked by the special education controversy in which parents alleged a culture of intimidation and the arrest of a Lincoln Middle School teacher who was arrested for sexually molesting his students.

Several top-level administrators also resigned during that time, including Deputy Superintendent Tim Walker, followed by Talarico.

Officials are currently addressing the special education issue, publishing the parent handbook, holding workshops and forming an ad hoc committee to study recommendations from previous consultant studies.

Barry Snell, the school board vice president, praised Cuneo for his leadership over the past six months, structuring board meetings so they run more efficiently, cultivating stronger relationships with principals and having a better presence in the community.

A graduate of the University of Santa Clara where he received a master’s degree in counseling and guidance, Cuneo served as the foreman pro tem for the Santa Clara County Grand Jury from 2007-08.

He also served as the interim superintendent for Scotts Valley Unified School District and as the senior executive director for 21st Century Education Initiative, which is part of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, overseeing all aspects of public/private partnership investments in K-12 school reform.

His background in education spans several decades, serving as superintendent, assistant superintendent and other leadership positions with Oak Grove, Whisman, Pajaro Valley Unified and Fremont Union High School districts from 1966-1996. Cuneo is also the former president of the Association of California School Administrators.

One of the things that Cuneo said he would like to address in the future is closing the achievement gap, looking at the present strategic plan.

Currently one of the biggest issues facing the district is the state budget and its potential impact on local funding.

“These are difficult times and we will have to very carefully review all our programs and make some really tough decisions going forward,” he said.

melodyh@smdp.com

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