Bria was finalist in secretive search for Tucson superintendent

Had she gotten the job, she would have forfeited B.G. severance package

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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Elsewhere online

The Arizona Daily Star reported Saturday about Shonny Bria’s being a finalist for the top job in Tucson Unified School District.

Following a lawsuit and a court order, it's been revealed that Shonny Bria, former superintendent in the Battle Ground School District, was one of four finalists considered for the superintendent position with the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona.

Had she gotten the job, she would have forfeited a Battle Ground buyout valued at more than $400,000.

According to the Arizona Daily Star newspaper, the school district withheld the names of the four finalists, including Bria, in the name of executive session privilege. A total of 67 people applied for the position. Bria was not offered the job.

In the past month, The Columbian had received information that Bria had been a finalist for the top school position in Tucson, but it had been unable to confirm that information because the district refused to release the names.

The Arizona Daily Star newspaper sued the Tucson Unified School District, and a judge ordered the release.

In an Aug. 10 article, the Star reported the names and that "the district went to great lengths to conceal the identities of the candidates -- who were interviewed in a closed-door meeting on a Saturday morning."

The district used school safety officers to secure the parking lot that day. Large box trucks were parked strategically so that candidates could enter school district headquarters without being seen.

"Before even being allowed to enter the parking lot, candidates had to verify their identities through the use of a prearranged number code," wrote Alexis Huicochea in the Arizona Daily Star. "Once inside, candidates were escorted to different holding rooms to keep them from seeing one another."

Adelita Grijualva, the Tucson district's governing board president, released a statement saying that in order to attract the most qualified applicants, all applicants were guaranteed confidentiality.

According to the buyout agreement with Shonny Bria, the Battle Ground school board knew Bria was being considered for the Tucson job. The Battle Ground board agreed to hold her contract in abeyance, to keep it quiet. If Bria had been hired as the superintendent in Tucson, she would not have received the $401,715 buyout from the district. But Bria wasn't offered the job, and the Battle Ground School District is paying Bria to leave the district with two years remaining on her contract.

Bria was superintendent in Battle Ground for 15 years.

Work history

Before that, she was superintendent at the Pendergast K-8 School District in west Phoenix. She left Pendergast in early 1998 and did not complete the 1998 school year.

The Columbian, seeking to know why Bria left months before the school year ended, requested public records on Bria's last four performance reviews from the Pendergast School District but received no information. Officials said the district did not keep records that old.

When Bria was hired by the Battle Ground School District in 1998, she was among almost 30 candidates for the position. She was paid $110,000 in her first year, plus up to $10,000 in relocation benefits and a $500 monthly travel allowance.

Last month when Bria left the Battle Ground district, her annual salary was $154,699 and she had been receiving a $1,034 monthly automobile allowance.

History of applications

Bria had a history of applying for superintendent jobs in other states while she was employed by the Battle Ground district. In 2004, six years after Bria became superintendent in Battle Ground, she applied for superintendent jobs in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Colorado. In June 2006, Bria was one of three finalists for the superintendent's job in Glendale, Ariz.

On Aug. 25, 2006, without explanation, Bria backed away from a $195,000 job offer to be superintendent of the Corpus Christi Independent School District in Texas.

The school district had spent $1,200 on a private party at a Holiday Inn to introduce Bria to school principals and other district administrators. It hosted six other meet-and-greet events for Bria, paid for three round-trip coach tickets and other travel expenses. Late-stage contract negotiations with Bria between the district and attorney Colleen McHugh at Welder Leshin cost tens of thousands of more dollars.

In all, during the unsuccessful negotiations, the Corpus Christi district spent $72,000. Of that, $41,272 was legal fees, according to a Sept. 12, 2006, article in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Bria's secret buyout, brokered with the Battle Ground school board, was kept a secret for almost two months, even from the district's top administrators. The board reported its agreement with Bria on June 26, four days before Bria announced a "retirement."

Bria has consistently declined to comment for The Columbian since the announcement of her separation.


Susan Parrish: 360-735-4530; http://twitter.com/col_schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com.