For the second time in two months, a San Ysidro Superintendent has resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing in a district that has already seen a former Superintendent convicted and sentenced to prison time.
Jose Arturo Sanchez-Macias, who had served as Interim Superintendent since Sept. 2, resigned at a special meeting of the San Ysidro school board on Friday night after a five-hour closed door discussion among the Board and its lawyer.
“The San Ysidro School Board has unanimously accepted the resignation of Mr. Jose Arturo Sanchez-Macias as Interim Superintendent effective immediately,” Board member Marcos Diaz said, after Board President Rosaleah Pallasigue appeared visibly shaken and was unable to announce the decision herself.
Sanchez-Macias resigned just two days after Board member Rodolfo Linares held a press conference to call for his resignation. Linares charged that both Sanchez-Macias and former Superintendent Julio Fonseca worked together to take illegal payouts of over $200,000 each over the past two years.
“As a member of San Ysidro School Board of Trustees, I’m calling for the immediate resignation of Interim Superintendent Arturo Sanchez-Macias and the return of monies, after I have discovered Macias conspired with former Superintendent Julio Fonseca in an illegal scheme where they both cashed out excessive vacation days and illegally took District money in exchange for life term insurance policies,” Linares said Wednesday morning.
Sanchez-Macias became Interim Superintendent after Julio Fonseca abruptly resigned on Sept. 2 when a female employee filed a harassment complaint against him. Fonseca and the employee, Alexis Rodriguez, had been dating while she worked at the District, but she later complained that Fonseca harassed her after they ended their relationship.
Board member Linares charged that Fonseca and Macias engaged in a scheme to enrich themselves by working together to each cash out more vacation days than they were entitled to, and that they both illegally took hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of a life insurance policy offered in their contracts. The Board never voted to approve those expenditures.
“We were manipulated by our most trusted administrators who used their positions of authority to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from our students,” Linares said. “With the information I have put together, I now have to be the whistleblower on the illegal actions of both Julio Fonseca and Arturo Sanchez-Macias.”
Sanchez-Macias previously served as Chief Operating Officer, then as Deputy Superintendent, under Fonseca. In both roles, Sanchez-Macias had fiscal control over the finances of the small District.
Linares also claims Sanchez-Macias failed to alert the Board of Fonseca’s illegal withdrawals, and even participated in them himself.
“Macias failed in his fiduciary duty to the District when he assisted Fonseca in processing the illegal claims for money,” Linares said. “Macias, as the Chief Operating Officer, then as Deputy Superintendent, failed to alert the Board of Fonseca’s illegal actions, and also participated in the illegal cash draws himself.”
At Friday’s meeting, the Board also voted to forward information about “a former administrator” to proper authorities, implying they would send evidence pertaining to Fonseca’s actions to law enforcement agencies. No other actions were announced.
Linares claims he has raised his concerns with other Board members both in private and at Board meetings, but he says no corrective actions were taken.
“For months, I have warned the school board in closed sessions, and I have tried to raise these issues during my comments at board meetings, but I have been ignored, silenced, and ridiculed by the majority that controls our school board,” Linares claimed. “Enough is enough. Board members in the majority have delegated their authority to administrators and have failed to hold them accountable for mismanagement and misuse of taxpayer funds. Either you stand against these illegal acts, or you are complicit in them.”
Last month, former Poway Superintendent John Collins was indicted by District Attorney Summer Stephens in a similar case after he took unearned vacation, sick, and excessive leave time. Collins faces three felony counts that could result in up to 12 years in state prison.
Linares has criticized fellow Board members since December 2016, when a shift in allegiances occurred among the Board. Linares points to Board member Antonio Martinez as the instigator in the friction.
During the November 2016 elections, former Board member Steven Kinney lost his seat when Irene Lopez was elected. Kinney had been endorsed by the teachers’ union, but Martinez supported Lopez in hopes of controlling a majority on the Board.
Linares claims that, within days of the election where Lopez won, but before she had even been sworn-in to serve on the Board, Martinez informed him that the next Board president would be board Member Rosaleah Pallasigue, a relatively new Board member at the time. Under the traditional process of rotating the board presidency, Linares was due to preside over the Board for the following year.
“Mr. Martinez told me during a phone call that he had ‘given it’ to Pallasigue, and told me I would not be the next Board President,” Linares said. “The only way he could say that would be if he, Pallasigue, and Lopez had already discussed it, and that would be a violation of California’s open meetings law.”
At the next Board meeting, in December 2016, Martinez nominated Pallasigue for Board President and both he and Lopez voted for her, and Lopez became the Board’s Vice-President. Pallasigue continues to serve as Board President and Lopez is expected to take over the role next month.
Under the state’s Brown Act, a majority of members of a public agency cannot communicate outside of a public meeting about upcoming decisions. The law is intended to ensure that decisions are made with prior notice to the public and voted in an open meeting. Any action discussed illegally outside of a public meeting must be rescinded under the Brown Act rules.
“Since December 2016, the Board majority and the Administration of Julio Fonseca, kept me in the dark between Board meetings, ignored my request for documents, and worked to limit my ability to represent the community,” Linares claimed. “It was their indifference that allowed Fonseca and Sanchez-Macias to operate like they did and to steal money from our students.”
Board members Martinez, Pallasigue, Lopez, and Diaz did not respond to requests for comments in response to the allegations raised by Linares.
Board member Antonio Martinez is currently running a campaign for the seat on the San Diego City Council being vacated by Councilman David Alvarez. The council seat covers the areas of San Ysidro, Barrio Logan, and Logan Heights. That election will be June 2018.
Martinez has recruited former San Ysidro School Board member Raquel Marquez-Maden to help run his campaign for City Council. Marquez-Maden served on the Board from 2004 to 2012, when it was revealed she illegally continued to serve on the Board even after she had moved out of the District boundaries. Under state elections laws, a school board member must live within the district to hold office. Marquez-Maden currently works for State Senator Ben Hueso, who has endorsed Martinez in his campaign.
“Since Martinez began that political campaign, he has maneuvered everything on the Board for his political benefit,” Linares charges. “Martinez has ignored the real problems at the District and only focuses on leveraging his relationships to help him get elected to the City Council,” Linares added.
Linares challenged Martinez to work with him to address the problems at the District.
“Mr. Martinez just ran for re-election last year for a four-year term on our school board,” Linares said. “If he was serious about fixing our schools, he would agree to stay for his entire term and not be looking to leave early to get elected to City Council and leave these issues for us to deal with without him.”
San Ysidro School District has experienced turn-over among administrators since 2013 when then-Superintendent Manuel Paul resigned after being indicted in a wide-ranging corruption scandal that including 15 other defendants, including school officials and construction contractors. Paul later pled guilty to accepting cash from a prospective contractor, and served 60 days in federal custody.
Since Paul’s resignation four years ago, the District has been led by four Superintendents. The District has seven schools that educate over 5,400 students.