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Claiming ‘Hardship’ And Getting Paid For Missed Meetings Is Now Harder For Sweetwater Trustees

Sweetwater Union High School District trustee Nicholas Segura is shown at a s...

Photo by Megan Wood / inewsource

Above: Sweetwater Union High School District trustee Nicholas Segura is shown at a school board meeting in Chula Vista Sept. 10, 2018.

The Sweetwater school board voted unanimously Monday night to tighten the rules for when trustees can claim “hardship” and get paid for missing a meeting.

inewsource reported last week that trustee Nicholas Segura asked to be compensated for a meeting he missed in August while in Sacramento lobbying for his labor union and having dinner with Democratic governor candidate Gavin Newsom.

When board members decided at their Aug. 27 meeting to delay approving the payment to Segura so they could clarify the district’s “hardship” rules, he defended the request to be paid.

“I really put a lot of time in on behalf of the district. … I was planning on coming here that day until I was asked to have dinner with probably the next governor of California,” Segura told the board.

RELATED: School Trustee Asked To Be Paid For Missed Board Meeting; He Was Dining With Gavin Newsom

He changed his story at Monday’s school board meeting when the trustees voted 5-0 to require board members to begin filling out a form when they request to be paid for missed meetings. If they cite hardship, they now have to explain what it was.

Segura said he never asked to be compensated for the meeting he missed while dining with Newsom — something he never said at the Aug. 27 meeting.

And even though the “hardship” payment was never approved, the district issued him a check for it, he said at Monday’s meeting. Segura then held up the check and said he had voided it.

Segura later told inewsource the board’s clerk, a district employee, put the hardship request on last month’s agenda without his consent. “The way it was working was we were supposed to ask for it, and she just keeps putting it on there,” he said.

Before Monday’s meeting, he dropped the request for payment. When asked why he didn't withdraw the request when it was first discussed last month, Segura told inewsource, “I just wasn’t really clear on it.”

Superintendent Karen Janney couldn’t explain why Segura’s latest request for payment was on the agenda without his approval, adding “it could have been past practice.” She has been superintendent since 2015.

“The process should be that every board member is asked,” Janney said. “But now we have a form in place so now they have to submit it.”

After the meeting, Sweetwater taxpayer Kathleen Cheers credited inewsource’s reporting with getting the school board to address payments on the “hardship” issue.

“I have been challenging them on this for three years. (Segura) has missed more board meetings than any trustee. … I do not begrudge him his employment,” Cheers said. “However, if it conflicts with the responsibilities as a board member as much as it does, then he really needs to step down.”

Segura is the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569. He was named “Labor Leader of the Year” Saturday night by the John S. Lyons Foundation, named for the late Johnny Lyons, a San Diego labor leader.

An inewsource review of school district records show Sweetwater trustees have cited “hardship” 12 times for their absences since August 2016. All five board members made the claim at least once, and they were paid.

Segura, who had five of the 12 requests, told the board he will not be requesting these payments moving forward.

School board members are not paid a salary for representing the district but receive a monthly stipend of $827 for attending school board meetings. They can receive payment for absences for such things as illness, jury duty or a hardship “deemed acceptable by the board.”

Taxpayer Stewart Payne complained to board members on Monday night that they needed to define “hardship.”

“The real issue here is what are you as a board identifying as acceptable hardships,” Payne said. “You seem to think that you can have them fill out this form, show up here and declare whatever is on that form a hardship. That’s simply not what the law requires.”

Trustee Frank Tarantino has told inewsource the two hardship absences he claimed for compensation were because of deaths in his family. Video of past board meetings show some trustees, including Segura, were paid for absences when they went on trips not related to school duties.

The Sweetwater school board voted unanimously Monday night to tighten the rules for when trustees can claim “hardship” and get paid for missing a meeting.

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