OPINION

School Districts Entrusted with Taxpayer Money

By: Maribel Medina

An accomplished superintendent of a school district or college district is worth his/her weight in gold.

Skilled education administrators can pull troubled districts from the brink of fiscal and/or academic ruin or guide poor performing districts to dramatically improve their student’s academic success.

But what happens when the lead executive is inept, inexperienced, or worse, corrupt?

Many of you can probably name a school district or two that gained unwelcome notoriety because of mismanagement or malfeasance by these kinds of superintendents. Removing them often takes months, even years and then to add insult to injury, districts then face contract payoffs amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

School districts historically have been hamstrung and just had to pay. The state legislature has provided districts with some relief, although not enough school districts are utilizing these remedies.

Under AB215 severance payments to departing superintendents are capped at 12 months, down from the previously permitted 18 months. The legislation, authored by Assembly Member Luis Alejo, was passed in 2015 after a Bay area administrator reportedly received a payout of more than half a million dollars.

And under AB1344, those districts can now even recover severance or amounts paid while on administrative paid leave to superintendents later convicted of crimes involving their positions. That can often amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars that can now find their way back into the classroom.

AB1344, better known as the “Abuse of Office” statute (and also authored by Alejo) was a direct response to the city of Bell scandal, where that community’s residents had little recourse in pursuing the millions corrupt officials there stole from them.

Why hasn’t a single school district in California used this provision? There have certainly been opportunities – one of which our firm is currently pursuing.

Not using this statutory authority simply amounts to leaving money in a wrong doers’ pocket that rightfully belongs in the classroom.

We understand that the process of investigating and removing a corrupt administrator is often traumatic for school districts. The financial cost is often daunting and the emotional toll it can take on a district’s staff and school board, not to mention its credibility, may be incalculable.

This is precisely why AB1344 was created. School district policymakers must do everything in their power to recover valuable resources. And perhaps more importantly, ensure future administrators clearly understand corruption will not be tolerated. It might be the most important lesson a school district can impart.

 

Maribel S. Medina is a partner in the law office of Leal & Trejo.  She is an education law expert who has represented school districts for two decades.

@maribelmlaw
Mmedina@Leal-Law.com; 213-628-0808

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