Updated: Jul 5, 2020
On Monday the state's Fiscal Crises Management Team released an audit of Sweetwater Unified's finances, ultimately recommending the County Office of Education (COE) notify the San Diego County District Attorneys Office, the California Superintendent of Schools, and the state controller.
“At this point it is up to the district and law enforcement, local and federal, to decide if they want to pursue anything based on any findings in the FCMAT report," FCMAT Chief Executive Officer Michael Fine said. "Otherwise, it is left up to the local district’s board to deal with any findings it sees fit.” The fundamental problem? Sweetwater Unified was justifying giving it's staff raises without the proper disclosures on the impact that would have on their budget, something they should very well have known would be a problem. “Sweetwater staff should have known the raises would not be affordable because the district had an ongoing structural deficit, according to the audit.”
In a blog post on the Transparent California website in January 2019, San Diego Schools founding member Todd Maddison noted if we "examine data relating to employees who have been with the district since 2012, we see an average pay rate increase (CAGR) of 6.64%" As fellow San Diego Schools founding member Nick Marinovich says in an excellent report on NBC 7 by Rory Devine (@RoryNBCSD)... "There's so much in that audit, where do you start? One thing alone would be headlines, my god there's multiple headlines in there!" and "How can have all those things wrong and not know about it?" Regrettably, willful ignorance often seems easy when one benefits directly from it. And this is not uncommon in San Diego County school districts. In Maddison's examination of disclosures for all San Diego County districts over the last few years, having districts fail to disclose when giving themselves raises will result in cuts to the funding for our kids education is by far more the rule than the exception - and particularly in cases where district administration stands to benefit from a "me too" raise in the process.
The answer? As we're fond of saying here at San Diego Schools, Transparency, Accountability, Equity.
While the San Diego County Office of Education should have done it's part in this to hold Sweetwater's administration and Board accountable, parents need to play their part in this as well. Stand up at board meetings and ask, the next time your district is about to ask the board to approve a raise for district employees, "what are you going to need to cut from our kids' education to afford this, and why is it not being disclosed to us before the vote?" Together we have the power! Media are doing a tremendous job of covering this, here's a sampling of articles on that...
NBC 7, Rory Devine (@RoryNBCSD)
Community Members React to Allegations of Fraud Cited in SUHSD Audit San Diego Union Tribune, Kristen Taketa (@Kristen_Taketa)
Voice of San Diego, Will Huntsberry (@willhuntsberry)
KPBS, Joe Hong
ABC10, Melissa Mecija, Jermaine Ong , Marie Coronel
Transparent California, Robert Fellner (@Transparent_Ca)
California State Fiscal Management Crises Team "Extraordinary Audit of Sweetwater Union High School District", June 17th 2020