Sunday, May 15, 2011

Schools chief charges meals despite allowance; Meals went mostly to Sweetwater school board

Jesus M. Gandara

Over three years, Gandara billed $11,500 to his district credit card for 303 meals...Sweetwater cut $11 million from its budget this year and is facing a $25 million deficit next year.

Schools chief charges meals despite allowance
Gandara gets $800 a month for expenses, but still uses district credit card to eat out
By Tanya Sierra and Ashly McGlone
April 4, 2011

South County schools Superintendent Jesus Gandara receives an $800-a-month allowance for expenses in addition to his $250,000 salary, but has charged hundreds of meals on top of that on a district credit card.

Over three years, Gandara billed $11,500 to his district credit card for 303 meals, according to documents obtained under the California Public Records Act...

“It is my duty to make myself available to the community,” Gandara said in a statement. “These meetings are held with board members, community members and parents, and I make myself available on their schedules. Oftentimes that is before and after work hours, and during meal times.”

Since business is discussed, he charges the meals to the public agency, Gandara said.

...Gandara’s contract to run the Chula Vista-based district with 41,454 students and 5,257 employees grants him a $750 a month auto allowance and $800 a month for other expenses.

...San Diego Unified’s Bill Kowba brings his lunch to work almost every day, a district spokesman said, and has billed no meals in the past six months.

The same holds true at the Grossmont Union School District in East County. Superintendent Ralf Swenson charged fewer than five meals in the eight months he has been with the district, spokeswoman Catherine Martin said.

In Poway, Superintendent John Collins expensed fewer than five meals since arriving in the district in July, schools spokeswoman Sharon Raffer said...

Sweetwater cut $11 million from its budget this year and is facing a $25 million deficit next year. In recent years officials threatened to lay off teachers, expanded class sizes and cut a number of programs to make up for cash shortfalls. No teachers were laid off this year; last year, six teachers were let go.

Sweetwater board president John McCann, a former Chula Vista councilman who is expected to run for mayor, would not talk about Gandara’s expenses.

“We have found $33 million in budget savings which has enabled us to not layoff any teachers and are still scrutinizing every budget item to find additional savings,” McCann wrote.

Board members Arlie Ricasa, Jim Cartmill and Pearl Quinones did not respond to requests for an interview. Board member Bertha Lopez, who has been a frequent critic of Gandara, did agree to discuss the matter.

“I didn’t know he was doing this,” she said. “I knew he had an $800 expense account. That’s where I would expect the money for the meals to come from.”

In addition to the meals, Gandara spent $5,730 on airline tickets, $4,745 in hotel charges and $7,360 for conferences and other expenses between November 2007 and December 2010, the review of his bills shows.

Seated: Arlie Ricasa, Pearl Quinones, Bertha Lopez; standing: unknown individual (even the district website does not identify him), John McCann, Jesus Gandara (superintendent), Jim Cartmill
Meals went mostly to Sweetwater school board
Superintendent had cited community outreach when credit card issue arose
By Ashly McGlone
May 13, 2011

...Some $12,560 was charged to Gandara’s district credit card for 366 meals from November 2007 to March 16, when he stopped using it.

The most common meal partners for Gandara were members of the school board, who took part in 238 of the meals.

Trustee Arlie Ricasa dined with the superintendent 92 times, followed by trustee Pearl Quinones at 49 times. Former trustee Greg Sandoval met with Gandara 41 times, according to the records, while trustee Jim Cartmill met with him 38 times and Bertha Lopez met with him 11 times.

Newly appointed board member John McCann appears seven times, including once as a Chula Vista councilman before his job on the school board.

Gandara’s credit card paid for 27 meals for staff members, ten for union representatives and six for superintendents from other school districts.

Twenty-five meals totaling $863 were missing documentation to indicate who Gandara ate with, if anyone. Another 25 meals were purchased for Gandara with no indication that anyone accompanied him.

The remaining 35 meals were purchased for community members including parents, area city council members or chamber of commerce leaders, among others...

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