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San Ysidro Schools Update — From Superintendent Search To Fixing Money Problems

San Ysidro School District board members listen to speakers during a Nov. 9, ...

Photo by Leo Castañeda / inewsource

Above: San Ysidro School District board members listen to speakers during a Nov. 9, 2017 meeting.

The troubled San Ysidro School District is putting one financial problem behind it while it also searches for its eighth superintendent since 2013.

There’s other news to update on the district, too, but let’s start with the money it owes the state.

In December, inewsource was the first to report that for two years the district overstated its student enrollment and now owes the state an estimated $5.1 million. At its Feb. 8 board meeting, the district agreed to pay back the first $2.6 million it owes, which The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week.

Peter Wong, the district’s interim chief financial officer, told inewsource this week that instead of paying the $2.6 million all at once the state agreed to an installment plan.

RELATED: Why East L.A. educators have been running the troubled San Ysidro School District

“Four equal payments over the course of four years, without any interest,” Wong said.

The district is waiting on an audit report to determine how much it owes the state for the second year San Ysidro overstated attendance, but Wong expects it to be about $2.5 million.

Once he knows the final cost, the district will ask for a similar installment plan, Wong said. The error was first flagged in a 2016 audit, but district administrators decided to dispute the findings while also setting aside money in case they lost the challenge. The challenge was dropped last year.

“Basically, we agreed that the audit finding is accurate,” Wong said.

Wanted: New superintendent

Mary Willis became San Ysidro’s interim superintendent in early November but her contract only allows her to work for the district until she’s paid $42,000 at a cost of $1,000 a day. That means she’s expected to move on in March, so the district is working with the San Diego County Office of Education to find a permanent leader or another interim superintendent.

Help with the superintendent search is a free service the county office offers, particularly to smaller districts, said Chris Reising, the office’s executive director of human resources.

“This is their superintendent search. We're just here to facilitate the process,” Reising said.

The job has been posted on five websites, including LinkedIn and EdJoin, an education job site. The posting, for an interim/permanent superintendent, says experience as a superintendent, as well as senior-level district administrative work, is highly preferred.

The annual salary is estimated at $180,000 to $200,000, and the position will remain open until it is filled.

At the school board’s February meeting, Reising told the trustees five people had applied so far. Reising declined to give inewsource updated numbers but said, “Interest is continuing to grow in the position, and we're continuing to receive applications.”

‘Extraordinary audit’ not done yet

Willis was hired to lead the district following the abrupt resignations of Superintendent Julio Fonseca and his deputy, Jose Arturo Sanchez-Macias, who was serving as interim superintendent when he quit.

Earlier this month, inewsource reported that both men cashed out nearly $178,000 in vacation and leave pay during the roughly two years they worked at San Ysidro. The amount of vacation days appears to be more that either could have earned during their time at the district, according to payroll records inewsource obtained.

Questions about these and other payments to Fonseca and Sanchez-Macias led San Diego County Schools Superintendent Paul Gothold in November to ask the state to conduct an “extraordinary audit” of the district in November.

Interviews of district officials as part of the audit ended this month, said Michael Fine, chief executive officer of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team. That’s the state agency tasked with providing financial guidance and reviews to California school districts.

The agency expects its findings to be published soon, Fine said. The findings will be given to Gothold, who will then present them to the San Ysidro school board. If the audit finds wrongdoing, Gothold will submit it to the District Attorney’s Office and state officials for further review.

RELATED: Ex-San Ysidro school superintendent’s compensation makes him highest paid in county, second highest in state

Meanwhile, school trustees eye other jobs

A second San Ysidro school trustee has taken steps to run for an open San Diego City Council seat this year. Marcos Diaz filed a candidate intention statement on Feb. 12 to run in District 8, where Councilman David Alvarez is termed out.

Diaz, a retired Marine, was elected to the school board in 2014, receiving the most votes out of five candidates that year. He is up for re-election, so his school board seat would be open if he opts for the City Council race.

Diaz said he sees his time at the San Ysidro School District as a learning opportunity, and the City Council is a way to take those lessons to a larger community.

“It’s an opportunity to help not just the San Ysidro community, but the San Diego community at large,” he told inewsource.

San Ysidro school trustee Antonio Martinez announced his intentions last year to run for Alvarez’s council seat. He also is public relations director at the Imperial Beach Community Clinic. Other candidates for the council seat include Vivian Moreno, an Alvarez staffer; Zachary Lazarus, CEO and general manager of dispensary operations for A Green Alternative; and Christian Ramirez, human rights director at Alliance San Diego.

Moreno has raised the most money, with almost $103,100 as of the end of 2017, followed by Martinez with about $59,400. Ramirez has raised about $28,600 and Lazarus about $3,400.

The primary is June 5. The two with the most votes will go on to the Nov. 6 general election.

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