Leonardo Castañeda | <em>inewsource</em>
Two former top administrators in the San Ysidro School District cashed out nearly $178,000 in vacation and leave days during the approximately two years they worked there, according to payroll records obtained by inewsource. The amount of vacation days appears to be far more than either could have earned under their contracts.
Questions about district payments to Superintendent Julio Fonseca and Deputy Superintendent Jose Arturo Sanchez-Macias, who both resigned last year, triggered an “extraordinary audit” of the district by state officials.
San Diego County Schools Superintendent Paul Gothold asked for the state investigation in November. As part of the audit, interviews of district officials were continuing this week, a state official said.
Fonseca was hired in 2015 to lead San Ysidro, the district with some of the poorest students in San Diego County. He resigned 26 months later amid allegations of financial misdeeds. During his tenure he cashed out almost $91,400 in vacation and leave days.
Using payroll records and his contract, inewsource calculated Fonseca’s total compensation was at least $1.1 million. That includes a roughly $375,000 separation agreement he received in September when he resigned, $143,000 for life insurance and health care perks, and his vacation and leave payouts. That averaged out to make him the highest paid superintendent in the county, and the second highest paid in the state.
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Fonseca’s attorney, reached by phone, declined to comment for this story.
Sanchez-Macias had worked with Fonseca at a small school district in Los Angeles County before also coming to San Ysidro in 2015. He resigned in November after working at the district for 27 months, including briefly as interim superintendent. He cashed out about $86,300 of vacation and leave days, according to payroll records.
Sanchez-Macias and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
Peter Wong, San Ysidro’s interim chief financial officer, told inewsource that cashing out vacation time is not unusual for public school officials. However, he found it odd how many days the two administrators cashed out relative to how long they worked at the district.
“It does concern me,” Wong said. “But I can’t draw any conclusion.”
Financial mismanagement concerns
Teacher Zenaida Rosario, who has worked in the district for 36 years, said it was upsetting to hear how much money Fonseca and Sanchez-Macias received when students sometimes don’t have access to needed programs.
“That money our students could have used for after-school activities like physical fitness, sports,” Rosario said. “Our kids don’t have anything like that, and that’s something that we truly need.”
Fonseca’s contract allowed him to accrue two vacation days per month, which could be cashed out when he left the district. At the time he resigned, he would have accrued 52 vacation days, assuming he had taken no time off. Payroll records show he cashed out 72 vacation days, plus 26 unspecified leave days.
Sanchez-Macias’ contract also allowed him to accrue two vacation days per month, up to 40 days. His payroll records show he cashed out 72 vacation days, plus 40 unspecified leave days.
The records indicate that neither Fonseca nor Sanchez-Macias ever used any vacation, sick or leave days in more than two years. Their last full payroll statements show a vacation balance of 144 days each — about six years’ worth of vacation based on earning two days a month.
The county schools superintendent asked for the state audit of Fonseca’s and Sanchez-Macias’ pay following reports by inewsource about Fonseca’s high compensation and questions raised by school board member Rodolfo Linares about both administrators cashing out more vacation days than allowed in their contracts.
Cashouts in the spotlight
After Fonesca and Sanchez-Macias resigned, school board member Antonio Martinez, who is running for San Diego City Council, asked the District Attorney’s Office to investigate possible financial misdeeds at the district. He still wants that to happen.
“I find it absolutely outrageous and I find it criminal,” Martinez said on Wednesday. “I want to make sure that this board and the district not only retrieve that money, but that we also turn over our findings to the DA.”
A spokeswoman for interim District Attorney Summer Stephan said in an email Thursday that the office does not confirm if it is involved in an investigation.
Vacation payouts also were included in a litany of accusations against another San Diego County school administrator. The District Attorney’s Office last year charged John Collins, who was fired in 2016 as Poway Unified School District superintendent, with four counts of misusing public funds. His preliminary hearing is set for May 9.
Collins, who denies any wrongdoing, is accused of misusing vacation, sick and leave time, illegally using a district credit card, and lying on a state financial disclosure form. A district audit found he had received more than $148,000 for cashing out 116 vacation days from 2012 to 2015, according to news reports.
Under Fonseca’s contract in San Ysidro, he was allowed to cash out vacation days when he left the district. There was no such provision for sick days or personal time, both of which are capped. Wong said district employees are not allowed to cash out sick days.
Payroll records show both administrators cashed out their vacation and leave days in the same four pay periods, starting in January 2016, just five months into Fonseca’s tenure at the district. The final cashouts were this past June.
Wong, who became interim chief financial officer after both men resigned, said the county Office of Education is supposed to be a safeguard in overseeing the district’s finances. San Ysidro’s payroll is processed through the county’s system.
“That is their job, to oversee our operation — the financial operation — make sure that we are doing everything in accordance with the law,” Wong said.
The county office’s spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, citing concerns about interfering with the state’s audit of the district.
Rosario, the San Ysidro teacher, said if Fonseca and Sanchez-Macias received money they didn’t deserve, she would like them to admit it.
“I really wish people would be professional enough to say, ‘Look, what I did was wrong and here’s the money.’ … But we know that will never happen,” she said.
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