First published 8/19/2022
It’s now time for an open discussion relating to our council and school board candidates? Specifically, those who have verifiable track records to look at – Eric Joyce (running for council district 2), Stacy Begin (board area 3), and Raquel Alvarez (board area 4.)
For starters, this is not about our incumbents as “bad people”. I know them all, they’re all good people. Smart, funny, kind to animals, and help old people cross the street, I’m sure. That’s wonderful, but that doesn’t mean they’re qualified to be elected to the positions they’re running for.
Warning. This is a long post. If you think it’s worth 10 or 15 minutes of your time to educate yourself on some of the details regarding these candidates, read on. If not, time to move on to the next post. Perhaps there will be a funny cat video there.
I’m a very involved parent in Oceanside Unified. Served as the first parent representative on their LCAP (budget) committee for three years, co-leader of the Parent Advisory Committee for three years, El Camino High site council for four years, ran for school board (district 5) in 2020, have attended the majority of school board meetings for the last decade.
I did not just discover our schools when the pandemic hit, I’ve been involved for a long time. I actually have a “Certificate of Appreciation” issued to me by OUSD and signed by the current Superintendent, Julie Vitale.
I’m also a financial guy – I spent a lot of time in my professional career managing budgets for divisions of companies, including having been executive management of the Service division of a $1 billion national retailer. As such, I understand how budgets work – particularly in the real world where one has to prioritize customers while still staying in business.
OUSD’s budget has been on the verge of insolvency almost continuously since March 2017, on the state’s watchlist for possible bankruptcy. This means they cannot project the ability to pay their bills for either the current year or one of two future years. There are very few districts in the state that can match that record of financial mismanagement.
This is a fact that can be verified from the California Department of Education’s “Certification” page. OUSD has been on their list every reporting period since 2017 except 1nd interim 2019-20.
Despite the precarious financial position, our Board, including the three up for election, has repeatedly voted to increase the costs of the district in ways that then require additional cuts from the education of our kids. Not just once, but twice since the current board has been in place (since 2018.)
And always to provide higher pay and benefits for employees, not in ways that provide any direct benefit to the education of our kids.
Note that Mr. Joyce is a teacher (in Encinitas) and a member of the teacher’s union. This means a portion of his union dues go directly to the California Teachers Association (CTA). All teachers in the Oceanside Teacher’s Association also contribute dues which ultimately fund the CTA, meaning his votes to provide bonus raises benefit his associated members. A clear conflict of interest, but one that is somehow allowable.
Ms. Begin is a direct employee of the CTA, meaning her votes to provide bonus raises provide a direct benefit to her employer, in the form of higher dues, which in turn are used to fund her salary. I can’t imagine a clearer conflict of interest, but again that is somehow allowable.
In her last election (2018) she also received $5000 from the Oceanside Teacher’s Association, who, of course, benefits directly from any increase in pay through higher dues payments.
Ms. Alvarez has no such conflicts I know of.
In December 2019 the district had finally produced a budget that got it off the state’s watchlist – the first time in 2 ½ years. This was great news, especially since just a few months prior the Board had approved cutting the last available bus route, to the poor Latino neighborhood of Crown Heights, to save $144,000.
As quickly as they could cut services to low income neighborhoods, they were also quick to put bonus raises for employees in front of the Board, at the 12/17/19 meeting. According to the required disclosure, this extra raise would cost the district $3.3 million. Item C of the document requiring the district to disclose the impact of this agreement on the education of our kids was answered with “N/A.”
This bonus raise was structured to apply to both labor groups as well as administrative management. For reference, in 2019 the median total compensation of an administrator was $157,630, median total for a teacher $120,050.
The County’s response letter dated 12/17/19 indicates “This agreement increases the projected deficits, thereby further reducing the ending fund balance reflected in the Adopted Budget. If the governing board approves this agreement, additional ongoing budget solutions will be required to maintain minimum reserves and fiscal stability in future years.”
Which means the County did not agree that this bonus raise could be approved with no impact. This response from the County was not disclosed at that meeting, and the Board did not object to that lack of disclosure. I was there at that meeting, brought it up during comment, with no comment from the board. Apparently they were fine with not disclosing to parents that cuts would be needed.
This bonus raise was approved 5-0 (items A through E.)
… and then in the 3/10/20 meeting the Board approved $6.3 million in cuts. A unanimous 5-0 vote (item 7.A).
And that same month (2nd interim 2019-20) the district was back on the state’s insolvency watchlist….
Remember, this was during the peak pandemic, when there were dire projections ahead for district financials based on projected enrollment drops.
A projected cut of $25 million seems like a pretty significant consideration if a Board were concerned about good financial management, but the County’s evaluation was not mentioned during the meeting. Once again the Board did not insist that the District disclose this to the parents they supposedly represent.
This raise was also applied to the administrative group.
For reference, in 2021 the median total compensation of an administrator was $166,789, median total comp of a teacher $127,142.
This bonus raise, was approved by the Board (items 9 D, E, and F.). I was at that meeting, nothing was said about increasing the deficit or possible cuts to our kids.
… and, of course, in the 12/14/21 meeting the Board approved future cuts of $8.3 million dollars.
Now, recently we’ve seen huge increases in one-time funding and tax revenue. The budget now looks in good condition for the next few years, but of course that’s just luck, not a result of good financial management.
It’s like having your house continually on the edge of foreclosure and then having a rich uncle pass away. You might be saved from foreclosure, but it’s not anything you did.
While we’ve seen no evidence of financial responsibility, what we have seen in the record of our school board is a total disregard for good financial management to preserve funding for the education of our kids.
We’ve seen they are more than willing to vote to approve bonus raises for their special interests. In some cases in ways that may indirectly provide benefits to themselves – while at the same time cutting millions from our kids.
Again, all three are good people. I do believe all care about our kids. They simply do not care enough to say “no” to their own special interests to improve the education of those kids.
Is that what we need on the City Council as well as the OUSD school board?
I can’t tell you who the best opposition candidate are, I will leave that to you, but I can tell you regardless of what is said, the actual track history of these three OUSD board members clearly indicates if you are in favor of good government “for the people” you should find and support someone else.
Candidates are now out and about. Appearing at meetings, going to street fairs, and walking neighborhoods. Don’t you owe to your city and schools to make an informed decision? Find the candidates for your council and board district and ask them – directly – “specifically what would you do to make sure our financials stay good even after the pandemic funding goes away?” and make sure you get a real answer, not just vague generalities.
Updated 8/19/2022 11:49 AM
And for more background, here are details on a bonus raise given before the current board was seated.
In March 2018 the district was on the state’s watchlist. A bonus raise was put before the Board on March 14th, 2018.
The disclosure for that bonus raise indicated this would add significantly to the future deficit of the district, peaking at $4.5 million in 2019-20. These disclosures require that the district tell us, in question C, if any cuts will be required from services for our kids as a result of the agreement. The District’s answer was “N/A”, meaning they anticipated no effect on funds available for programs for our kids.
The County Office of Education’s response letter (dated 3/13/18) indicated approval of this agreement would require the district to cut $17.83 million in 2019-20 to stay solvent. Despite that letter having been received the day before the meeting, it was not disclosed in the Board packet online or presented and discussed during the Public Hearing in that meeting (I was there.)
As a reference point to evaluate the need for a bonus raise vs. other uses for the money, in 2018 the median total compensation of an Oceanside teacher was $113,996. This is from OUSD’s own payroll records, obtained via legal Public Records Act request. Source data is at:
Despite the fact that the district was already in financial trouble and the fact that the county had warned them the impact of this would be huge on funding available for our kids, the board approved this bonus raise by unanimous vote – including Mr. Joyce. The minutes of this meeting documenting that (items 2A and B) are at:
And further, this bonus raise was extended to district administrators during the meeting on 3/27/18. In 2018 OUSD administrators had a median total compensation of $146,303. This was approved by the board 2-1, with Evans voting “no” (item 6.A)