County Superintendent Resigns, Interim’s Contract Approved
Randy Ward, San Diego County Superintendent of Schools, has resigned his position after having being placed on administrative leave in July. His contract will end on November 15.
Ward was suspended with pay after the California Taxpayers Action Network (CalTAN) filed a lawsuit against Ward alleging he was self-dealing in approving his own raises during the past two years.
In 2014, Ward’s contract was amended to include a “me-too” clause that gave him the same pay raise as what teachers received, even though Ward led the negations that determined the raises. The CalTAN lawsuit claims that self-dealing is a violation of state conflict of interest laws.
Since his suspension, Ward has been barred from interacting with staff and administrators while an internal audit investigates the allegations in the lawsuit.
Ward and the School Board reached a settlement on Tuesday this week which includes a $35,000 payout to “cover the costs of the transition” and to reimburse Ward for lawyers costs he incurred in dealing with his suspension. The settlement also requires the County Office of Education to defend him in any civil or criminal actions which may be brought against him in the future, but also requires that Ward reimburse all criminal legal defense costs if he is eventually convicted of abuse of office or position.
Ward or his attorney could not be reached for comment after the settlement.
During Wednesday night’s monthly meeting of the County Board of Education, the Board unanimously approved the contract for Edward Velasquez to serve as Interim Superintendent until June 30, 2017, or until a permanent Superintendent is selected. Velasquez was selected for the position last month’s Board meeting from a group of four applicants.
Under the new contract, Velasquez will be paid $700 for each day he works, as well as reimbursements for travel expenses, but he will not receive any vacation, sick leave, or medical insurance coverage. Velasquez began his work on Thursday.
Velasquez previously served for three months as Interim Superintendent at Alpine Union School District, and as Interim Superintendent at San Ysidro School District. He is a career educator, having been a classroom teacher, principal, and superintendent in Los Angeles County schools. Velasquez has also served as a police chief and probation officer.
The allegations in the CalTAN lawsuit could lead to civil and criminal actions against Ward since a June decision by the California Supreme Court held that superintendents could be personally liable for misappropriation of funds under their control.
The case of Jeffrey Hubbard, then-Superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District, involved criminal charges for misappropriation of funds for Hubbard’s approval of a $500 per month car allowance and a $20,000 stipend for a school administrator. Hubbard was convicted and sentenced to 60 days in jail, community service, $23,500 in restitution to his district, and a $6,000 fine.
The Supreme Court upheld the conviction and determined in its ruling that state law “does not punish innocent mistakes by those in positions of public trust.”
“Rather, it punishes those like Hubbard who, aware of the wrongfulness of their conduct or criminally negligent of that fact, nonetheless misappropriate the public funds they have a fiduciary responsibility to safeguard,” Associate Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar wrote on behalf of the panel.
The Court’s unanimous decision, written by 43-year old Associate Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, went on to explain that the ultimate authority and responsibility for the public dollars of a district rest with its superintendent.
“In light of Hubbard’s explicit contractual responsibilities to oversee the ‘budget and business affairs’ of the district, testimony that superintendents like Hubbard owe a duty to safeguard school district funds, and Hubbard’s responsibility to ensure such public funds were spent in accordance with the law, we hold the evidence was sufficient,” Cuellar wrote, with all six remaining justices concurring.
In the Hubbard case, the appropriated funds weren’t even meant for the Superintendent himself, but, instead, were paid to another employee. In the situation involving Ward, he negotiated and accepted raises for himself.
The CalTAN lawsuit claims Ward and Assistant Superintendent Lora Duzyk both benefitted from self-dealing at taxpayers’ expense.
“Self-dealing by public officials, especially at the expense of students and taxpayers, has no place in government,” said CalTAN chairman Kevin O’Neill. “It would be an abuse of the trust that the public puts into these administrators to safeguard scarce financial resources and keep the well-being of students and taxpayers above their own personal interests.”
Interim Superintendent Velasquez will oversee the internal audit and investigation into the allegations against Ward and Duzyk.