MCOE officials receiving stipends okay, says DA
The Sheet was recently approached by several local citizens concerned that Mono County Office of Education Superintendent Stacey Adler was turning their tax dollars into bonuses for administrators. Administrators have received $93,530 in stipends since 2012.
A group came to the Mono County District Attorney’s office in 2017 with allegations of misappropriation of funds by Adler, which prompted a private investigation. Mono County District Attorney Tim Kendall stated in a press release on February 7, 2018, that, following the investigation, he found no criminal wrongdoing on Adler’s part.
Adler was recently named President of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association and is running for reelection in June.
Adler has been awarding stipends to employees involved in a charter school in Southern California, including herself, since 2013, according to documents obtained by The Sheet. According to a press release from Kendall, the contract between the charter school and Mono County Office of Education (MCOE) allows for the stipends.
MCOE has managed and overseen the finances of several charter schools since 2013, including the Urban Corps of San Diego Charter School.
There has been no information disseminated to the public concerning the stipends. There is no information regarding charter schools on the MCOE website.
The Sheet asked Adler if she thought there would have been an investigation if the stipends were made public.
“Transparency is important,” Adler said. “Without knowing the nature of the complaint I can’t say whether or not it would make a difference.”
She said the budgets and charter school contracts are all public record and available to anyone who asks at MCOE’s office in Mammoth.
The Sheet was given documents with the stipend amounts and names of who got how much, with those names covered in White-Out. This reporter used his years of journalism experience to figure out the redacted details—by holding the paper up to a light.
According to those documents, Adler has received $24,500 in stipends since the 2013-2014 school year. Since 2012-2013, several other administrators have also received stipends, including Chief Business Officer Caty Ecklund ($26,000), Chief Technology Officer George “Joe” Griego ($8,910), Assistant to the Superintendent Jan Carr ($2,500) and Director of Information Technology Jody Ecklund ($10,410).
According to the website Transparent California, which lists the salaries of every public employee in the state, for 2016, Adler made $148,198; Caty Ecklund $125,120; Caty’s husband Jody Ecklund made $89,951; Carr made $115,928.
The amounts of the stipends are based on a formula developed by former Inyo County Superintendent Terry McAteer, who showed MCOE how to manage out-of-county charter schools as Inyo County does.
When asked if she thought the money would have been better spent on students, Adler replied that “The students are getting the funding they need. And I feel an obligation to compensate the employees.”
The concerned citizens made a second allegation: that Adler was giving herself a raise without the approval of the trustees. “This did not occur because a stipend is not a salary increase,” Kendall wrote in the February 7 press release.
According to California Education Code 47613, MCOE may bill the charter school for its administrative services as long as that bill does not exceed 1 percent of the total budget of the charter school. The code also allows a county office of education to manage the finances of the charter school it is authorizing, Jonathon Mendick of the California Department of Education stated in an email to The Sheet. Ed Code 47605 demands that a charter school must be authorized by a school district or office of education. That school district or office of education is then responsible for attesting to the charter school’s academic standards and for ensuring that it adheres to the necessary state codes to be accredited.
Invoices from MCOE to the charter school were not available to The Sheet before press time.
Kendall stated that the stipends came from funds set aside specifically to compensate the extracurricular work that employees performed for MCOE’s charter schools.
Kendall said he found no policies, procedures or directions for MCOE or the Mono County Office of Education Board, which address the allocation of stipends, bonuses, or other payment types that would have curtailed Adler’s actions. There doesn’t seem to be anything legally wrong with the stipends allocated at MCOE.
Without a map, Adler’s only limitation in issuing the stipends was a dollar amount. Stipends had to be issued in amounts of fewer than $10,000 at one time.
In his press release, Kendall wrote, “… there is some indication that the Board was aware that stipends may be given” at an earlier trustee meeting, when the subject came up for discussion as an informational item only. According to minutes of that meeting in 2012, trustees were given documents pertaining to the stipends. The minutes for that meeting were not available to The Sheet before press time.
Trustee Sue Bouska told The Sheet she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. Trustees Greg Jennison, Dave Titus, Karl Seiberling, Kathy Manichuk either had no comment or did not return calls for comment. Bouska, Sieberling and Jennison are up for re-election in November 2018.
Under Ed Code 1302, stipends are allowed, Kendall stated, and Adler was within her authority to issue them.
Kendall added that for there to be criminal activity, there must be criminal intent, and given that the stipends were given to employees in exchange for work, there was no malfeasance.
He threw out the complaint.
The Sheet scoured the MCOE website and could find no record of the stipends or their issuance of any kind.
One source that wished to remain anonymous was furious, saying tax payers should know where their money is going.