The Public Eye: Sacramento City Unified to ask trustees to return pay for missed meetings

The Sacramento City Unified School District will ask trustees early next year to return compensation – with interest – for meetings they did not attend.

The request follows a Sacramento Bee report last month that the district had doled out thousands of dollars to board members for meetings they missed. The Bee reviewed available records for 27 meetings over a 16-month period, including stipend payments, and found money being provided in apparent violation of both board policy and state law.

Jeff Cuneo, president of the Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Education, told trustees Thursday night that an audit of attendance records should be completed by year’s end, he said in an interview Friday. He said the audit could look back three years.

“I’m expecting it to show the amounts in arrears, what money is owed by what members, for the meetings they have missed,” Cuneo said.

Under state law, when a member has an unexcused absence, the district must reduce its $787.50 monthly board stipend based on the share of meetings missed. Board members can be paid for excused absences, but that must be approved by the board. Excused absences can include illness, a legitimate hardship, jury duty or the conduct of district business.

The Bee found that minutes for the meetings were spotty and typically did not record late arrivals, making it difficult to distinguish a late arrival from an absence. A late arrival does not result in any stipend reduction.

But compensation records showed that throughout the 16 months, all board members received their full stipends, regardless of whether they attended the meetings. During that time, the board passed no resolutions allowing payment for excused absences.

After audit findings are released, trustees can submit retroactive excused absence requests to keep some or all of the stipends they believe they are due, Cuneo said. Under the plan, the board would have to pass a resolution approving the paid absences.

The board temporarily reduced monthly stipends in February 2012 to $590.63 due to budget concerns. In February of this year, the board allowed compensation to return to $787.50.

Board Vice President Patrick Kennedy, who said his one absence in the 16-month period was due to illness, described the episode as “mistakes made by the district in bookkeeping.”

“To my knowledge, each board member acknowledges this and will comply with the audit, reimbursing the district where appropriate,” Kennedy wrote in an email. “What is most important is that lessons have been learned and practices have been adopted to ensure this does not happen in the future.”

The Bee’s review showed that board member Gustavo Arroyo missed eight meetings in 16 months, more than any of his colleagues.

Arroyo, chief of staff to state Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, said last month that he takes his position on the board “extremely seriously” and that he has been a strong voice for the community.

But Arroyo said that in the past year and a half, “my hours went crazy” at work.

“It didn’t mean my representation of the community or the impacts were any less,” he said last month. “I worked really hard to make sure those things were not suffering.”

He said he had not cashed at least 10 stipend checks within the past 18 months.

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