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South County School Corruption Case Inspires Campaign Law

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Sweetwater School Board, July 2 2014

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said the corruption scandal in the Sweetwater Union High School District inspired her to write a new law that would forbid public school administrators from raising money for school-board candidates.

Photo credit: 10News

Jesus Gandara appears in court on Friday, April 4, 2014.

A new bill forbidding public school administrators from raising money for school-board candidates is on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Assembly Bill 1431, written by state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, responds to the corruption scandals that plagued San Diego County’s South Bay school districts.

Gonzalez said the Sweetwater Union High School District pay-to-play scandal, in which school administrators took gifts from contractors and campaign contributions for board candidates before awarding them lucrative construction contracts, stood out among the South Bay scandals and “was the bad example for this.”

In 2011, four of Sweetwater’s board members were removed from office because of the pay-to-play scandal. This past June a former superintendent, Jesus Gandara, was sentenced to seven months in jail after pleading guilty to a felony in the scheme. This November, voters will elect an entirely new Sweetwater board of trusties.

Gonzalez pointed out corruption is a problem affecting many school districts across the state. She said that when she presented the bill to fellow legislators, they voiced concerns about school-campaign-fundraising issues in their districts.

“I would have legislators say to me, 'I’m so glad you're doing this because I had this happen in my district,' ” Gonzalez said. “So this is clearly not an isolated case.”

Gonzalez said this bill could help keep the Sweetwater scandal from being duplicated in other cities.

We hope this will be a preventative measure throughout the state.”

Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the bill.

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