Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Sacramento school board should apologize, return unearned stipends

Don’t show up, don’t get paid – unless you’re on the Sacramento city school board.

As The Bee’s Loretta Kalb reported Sunday, the Sacramento City Unified School District paid thousands of dollars to board members for meetings they missed in at least the last 16 months, apparently violating state law and board policy along the way.

District officials should be mortified they allowed this to go on for so long. Who knows how long it would have continued if not for The Bee’s investigation?

Board members owe a public apology to taxpayers and parents, who have every right to be angry. What’s more, board members should figure out how to return any money they didn’t earn.

Not that they have much choice, but board members appear to be treating this with the seriousness it deserves. Board President Jeff Cuneo told The Bee’s editorial board that the district “is committed to addressing this situation quickly and responsibly.”

While the issue isn’t on the agenda for tonight’s board meeting, the district has launched an audit to find out the scope of this transgression, and how much money is at issue. Until that review is complete, the board won’t decide what actions to take, though, at a minimum, more detailed policies and better training for board members are likely.

Board members each get $787.50 a month (the stipend was reduced to $590.63 between February 2012 and February 2013 while the district was laying off staff and making other cuts). Under state law, they are required to reduce the compensation based on how many board meetings they skip – unless they’re officially excused because they were on district business, or were ill or on jury duty. Somehow, they repeatedly neglected to dock their pay for absences.

Gustavo Arroyo is the worst offender. The Bee’s review of minutes and videos of 27 of 34 meetings from July 2012 through last month show that he missed eight meetings entirely and arrived late for 17 others.

His excuse is lame, that his hours “went crazy” as chief of staff to state Sen. Norma Torres, a Pomona Democrat who happens to sit on the Senate Ethics Committee. Arroyo’s claim that his representation of constituents wasn’t compromised is ludicrous. At least Arroyo had the decency not to cash some stipend checks – at least 10 during the past 18 months, he told The Bee. He should save everyone the trouble and tear them up.

This embarrassing episode is the last thing the board needed as it tries to rebuild community trust after closing seven elementary schools, and as it looks for a new superintendent with Jonathan Raymond stepping down at year’s end.

Board members need to quickly stop the bleeding from this self-inflicted wound by giving back any undeserved money and making sure it never happens again.