Tim Cuneo has become the new Superintendent for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) after serving as its Interim Superintendent since July of 2008.
In an interview with the Mirror, Cuneo explained that while he was Interim Superintendent, the “School Board had the opportunity to see what I’ve been doing” and that I was connecting very well with the community. These observations resulted in the Board asking Cuneo to become the District’s Superintendent for the next two and a half years.
School Board President, Ralph Mechur, stated in a district press release that Cuneo “has brought stability to the district, which will help us focus on important educational issues and continue the District’s efforts to close the achievement gap.”
Cuneo has set a number of priorities to focus on during the 2008-2009 academic year. They are to enhance collaboration, focus on instruction in math and literacy, provide strong leadership, and improve the District’s facilities.
One of the most difficult tasks Cuneo will be facing over the next few months will be grappling with the budget cuts the School District will have to make due to California’s budget crisis. Estimates right now are that the District will be facing a $12 million loss in state funding over the next 18 months. Cuneo is recommending that the Board only cut up to $6 million from the district budget because the District has a reserve.
Cuneo emphasized that while other districts in the state are facing mid-year cuts because of the budget crisis, SMMUSD, is in a better position so there has been a “conscious decision to make no mid-year cuts.” He also mentioned that one of the most difficult things about grappling with the crisis, is that the information from Sacramento changes constantly. Therefore, budget assumptions have to be made “on what we know now.”
Improving the district’s Special Education program has been an area of focus for Cuneo since he came to the district. In November, he helped “establish a Collaborative Working Group on Special Education,” which will be making a set of recommendations to him later this month. During his time in the district, Cuneo has observed that the district has had a number of studies on the Special Education program “that made recommendations [on how to improve it] but no action” was taken to implement these recommendations. He wants to make sure that this time things will be different, and the suggestions will be followed through.
Cuneo also commented on the district’s new policies to protect students from molestation by any member of the district’s staff or from those for volunteer in the District. The Board approved these new policies after a Lincoln Middle School teacher was arrested for inappropriately touching students last May. Cuneo stated that the district has “stepped up our vigilance. If there is a report of any kind, an employee will be put on leave and there will be an investigation by an outside investigator.” He also noted that there is better information available from the state on the district’s personnel criminal records due to improved electronic methodology.
The district press release states that prior to joining the district, Cuneo served as senior partner with Cuneo-Zinner Group in San Jose, CA, specializing in organizational development for both public and private educational ventures. In 2007-08, he served as the Foreman pro tem for the Santa Clara County Grand Jury. Prior to that, Cuneo was Interim Superintendent for Scotts Valley Unified School District and Senior Executive Director for 21st Century Education Initiative as part of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. In his role with Joint Venture, Cuneo was responsible for all aspects of the highly successful public/ private partnership investing in K-12 school reform.
From 1966 to 1996, Cuneo held numerous positions including: Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Dean of Curriculum, and Instruction positions with Oak Grove, Whisman, Pajaro Valley Unified, and Fremont Union High School Districts.