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Sweetwater Superintendent Placed On Paid Leave As School Board Finalizes 223 Layoffs

The Sweetwater Union High School District central office is shown, Nov. 7, 2018.

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: The Sweetwater Union High School District central office is shown, Nov. 7, 2018.

The Sweetwater Union High School District School Board voted Wednesday night to place Superintendent Karen Janney on paid administrative leave.

The board’s move came two days after the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT) released an audit that found evidence of financial fraud committed by the district’s leadership. School Board President Frank Tarantino said the Janney’s temporary dismissal shouldn’t be viewed as punishment.

“The board’s action is not a disciplinary action, but it is to support and ensure an efficient investigation of the concerns raised in the FCMAT report,” he said.

Among other things, the audit found that the district relied on incomplete financial information before authorizing a pay raise for teachers in 2017. The district also failed to disclose information to bond rating agencies for a 2018 bond measure.

RELATED: Audit Finds Evidence Of Fraud At Sweetwater School District

The board voted 4-1 to place Janney on leave. Tarantino cast the single dissenting vote and resigned as president during the meeting.

“It’s my feeling that the board deserves a leader who supports this action,” he said. “As we move forward with this in mind, I cannot fulfill the expectation or responsibility.”

Moises Aguirre, assistant superintendent of facilities and operations, will serve as acting superintendent. Board Vice President Nicholas Segura will serve as acting president.

The school board also voted on Wednesday to finalize the layoffs of 223 employees, including teachers, librarians and other staff. District officials say the money saved from the layoffs will cover $22 million of a $30-million budget deficit projected for the upcoming school year.

RELATED: Sweetwater School Board Approves Potential Layoffs To Close Budget Deficit

The final vote came after nearly an hour of public comment protesting the cuts. Segura and board member Paula Hall voted against the layoffs, arguing that the district office should have taken more cuts.

Janney said these cuts are unavoidable because of declining enrollment and the additional costs of running the school district during the pandemic.

“This really is a difficult decision because it impacts staff, staff that we care about,” Janney said. “It hits close to home for many of us in Sweetwater, myself included.”

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