Viewpoints

Sac City Unified School District needs more sunshine

Sacramento City Unified school board grapples with massive budget shortfall

Parents and school officials discuss the Sacramento City Unified School District’s budget shortfall at a meeting Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. The district has until Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, to submit a revised budget to the county office of education.
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Parents and school officials discuss the Sacramento City Unified School District’s budget shortfall at a meeting Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. The district has until Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, to submit a revised budget to the county office of education.

As an elected school board member, I have a much different take on the concerns raised in the Sacramento City Unified School District than do Marcos Bretón, the Sac City school board and some others who appear to be trying to sweep fiscal mismanagement and potential conflicts of interest under the rug.

I was elected to the school board in the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento and I have taught in the SCUSD since 2005. I also serve on the bargaining committee of the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA).

I believe these different experiences give me a unique insight into what’s happening in the SCUSD.

As a school board member, I would not have approved allowing a superintendent simultaneously to be employed by another institution and our district. Our students deserve a full-time superintendent.

I would also strongly oppose negotiating contracts worth over $1 million with another institution where he was still employed. I would also take seriously concerns that the individual we’re paying an annual budgeted salary of $319,233 may have taken honoraria for attending meetings and making speeches – in direct violation of school board policy.

Opinion

Finally, I would want to know why a superintendent failed to investigate thoroughly concerns of the misappropriation of taxpayer dollars at three separate high schools, as well as a grade-changing scandal. It would be a breach of my fiduciary duty to dismiss those allegations as “meritless” without a thorough investigation.

When Jorge Aguilar began his tenure as the superintendent at Sac City, the district was arguably in the best financial position in its history. State revenue had increased by more than $100 million from four years before.

Preston Jackson.jpg
Preston Jackson

The district operated with huge budget surpluses and the reserve fund swelled to over $70 million. In 18 months under Aguilar’s leadership, the district is now on the brink of insolvency.

One year ago, he personally agreed to a contract with teachers that would use savings from health plan changes to reduce class sizes and add more school nurses and psychologists. Twice, in January and April 2018, after the settlement was unanimously approved by the Sac City school board, the county approved the budget.

But rather than honor the agreement, the superintendent went on a spending spree. He added administrators and approved a $6 million vacation buyout for top administrators and other unbudgeted expenses, according to the school district’s budget documents.

In June 2018, he then submitted a district budget that used “plug numbers” to conceal his overspending, and for the first time in Sac City history, the budget was rejected by the county not once, but twice. An audit by the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team cited “leadership issues” and inexperience as risk factors of the district’s insolvency.

Facing insolvency, the district has refused to discuss two different SCTA proposals that would have fixed the budget fiasco (in September and December). Instead, the Mr. Aguilar chose to backtrack on the collective bargaining agreement he signed, even taking the unprecedented and ultimately unsuccessful step of suing his own teachers to get out of the agreement.

Fiscal mismanagement, together with concerns of conflict of interest, should be enough to warrant a more thorough investigation. I believe board members should strongly support Tony Thurmond’s investigation of the conflict of interest allegations raised by SCTA, as well as a forensic audit as requested by Assembly member Kevin McCarty.

Sac City needs more sunshine.

Preston Jackson is a board member of the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento and has been a teacher since 2005.
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