John Collins is facing five felony charges for allegedly misusing public money, vacation, sick and leave time while superintendent of the Poway Unified School District, according to a complaint filed by the San Diego County district attorney’s office on Friday.

If convicted on all charges, Collins could spend up to seven years, eight months in prison, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office said Monday.

Specifically, the complaint alleges three felony counts of misappropriation of public money, one felony count of misuse of public money, and one felony count of filing a false economic interest disclosure, known as a Form 700.

The Poway school board took the rare step of terminating Collins for cause last July after forensic auditors said Collins took as much as $345,000 in excess pay he was not afforded in his employment contract, which had a base salary of $300,000 a year. Auditors also found other problems with Collins’ district credit card charges and time spent away from the office that was not logged, among other things.

Collins, who led the 36,000-student district from July 2010 to July 2016, is also fighting a civil lawsuit filed against him by the school district to recover the money.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing stripped Collins’ teaching and administrator credentials “because of misconduct” late last month, a move that prevents him from overseeing or teaching at public schools in the state for at least a year.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Collins, 63, is scheduled for arraignment on the felony charges Thursday afternoon at the downtown courthouse.

“The District Attorney’s Office is not able to discuss the facts or evidence in this case at this time,” office spokesman Steve Walker wrote in an email.

Requests for comment sent to Collins and his attorney Paul Pfingst were not immediately answered, nor was a request sent to Poway’s school board president Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff.

“I think it’s unfortunate that Dr. Collins let it get to this point,” said Poway school board member Charles Sellers. “The board was willing to work with him, to try to work out an amicable solution for his departure from the district and the repayment of the funds that he misappropriated, but at every step when we made those overtures, he belligerently declined them.”

Sellers said the district has also attempted to resolve the civil case against Collins without success.

Collins enjoyed a close relationship with the teacher’s union during his tenure as superintendent, which was credited for helping to avoid a strike and layoffs during difficult economic times. The district was thrust into the national spotlight in 2012 when news emerged about a costly $1 billion capital appreciation bond deal struck on Collins’ watch in 2011, and Collins faced criticism locally during his last year on the job for, among other things, edits made to a consultant report and so-called “me-too” clauses in Collins’ contract that allowed him to benefit from teacher and manager pay negotiations.

    This article relates to: Education, School Leadership

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

    21 comments
    CAFT
    CAFT subscriber

    Great News!!  This man is just an exceptional dishonest person and was able to corrupt his staff.  Collins lied to the public and the board on the Billion dollar bond scandal, directed the school district to discriminate against the disabled and Special Ed children, destroyed any parent that try to stand up to him and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Worst yet, he continued to use the same financial and legal teams that sold the district the Capital Appreciation Bonds.

    Collins is not solely responsible of these terrible deals; the previous board members that blindly follow him along his destructive path.  The CFO is up to her neck with Collins thefts, failing in her duties to the public by not following state education law. Mostly likely selling her vacation time and taking vacation time without the deduction from her accrued vacation pay. The District Attorney should be filing charges against her. 

    Collins will have his pension re-elevated, maybe terminated a part of his pension if found guilty.

    Collins created an environment that Poway Unified School District had a motto," there is the right way and there is the Poway way".

    DA take notice, Collins is not the only one who did this!  Collins had a habit of awarding his cult members with these unlawfully payments.  In fact it was very common, I bet that administrators are lining up at the district offices to sale their vacation pay this very day, and the corrupt administrators are approving these unlawful payment. The paper schedulers are working 24/7.  You know, it is the Poway Way.  

    I just hope that Collins gives up everyone for a deal with the District Attorney.  I am betting he will.

    T J Zane, Michelle O'Connors-Ratcliff do the right thing and order an accounting audit on employees selling their vacation pay and have vacations off the books and sent the report to the District Attorney.  They all need to go jail and lose their pensions. As a trustee be faithful to your duty.

    Oh by the way, I was the one that turned in Collins for the violations that resulted in all of his teaching certificates being cancelled. Maybe, TJ and Michelle will do the right thing here, but I not betting on it. Just remember, I betting the Collins will give you up for a deal from the District Attorney.

     

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Cornelius Ogunsalu Of course not. Collins probably looked at all the corruption and secrecy at SDCOE and thought he could get away with anything. Wrong. He was desperate and clumsy, rather than careful and sly. Ward (and the people who enabled Ward) will not be charged with anything, ever.

    Allen Carter
    Allen Carter subscriber

    What are the chances that Collins is drawing a pension now?

    Robert Davis
    Robert Davis

    A check of the Transparent California website shows Collins receiving more than $187,000 in blended pension benefits via the well underfunded CalStrs pension system. What I'd like to know is if Collins is convicted of these felonies, or pleads to lesser offenses, will he lose the pension, or at a minimum have it reduced?

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    So Poway school board member Charles Sellers says the board offered to work out an "amicable solution" for his departure from the district and the repayment of the funds that he misappropriated. What responsible public entity endeavors to work out an amicable solution with someone who has misappropriated over $300k? This suggests to me a serious lack of judgment on the part of the school board, which is probably already evident in that they kept this individual employed for so long. 

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Chris Brewster Litigation is very costly and time-consuming. All civil cases should be settled. When they're not settled, it means one or both parties is being unreasonable (unless there is a genuine uncertainty about the law applicable to the case). Clearly, in this case, Collins is being unreasonable, and he wants to do as much harm as he can to the school district.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Ms. Larkins: I agree that litigation can costly and time-consuming. I do not agree that all civil cases should be settled. Some, for example, are initiated to intimidate or for other inappropriate reasons. A good example is the civil case against Taylor Swift, which was recently tossed by a federal judge, but only after she contested it in court. Had she settled, she would have implied some degree of personal responsibility, which the judge found lacking. Settling to avoid court costs is a tactic that avoids costs, but can add insult to injury. 

    The suggestion of my post however is that the members of the school board who presided over the district during this individual's tenure were seriously negligent in allowing someone who has now been charged with felonies to engage in the alleged activities. Trying to mediate with someone you believe has stolen public funds is a fool's errand and even if successful, allows the person to retain some of the purloined public funds. One might suggest that something is better than nothing, but there is principle involved. For example, do you negotiate with someone who has robbed your bank and settle for half of the funds they stole?

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Chris Brewster 

    I would like to amend my comment to say, 

    "All civil cases should be settled or dropped (unless there is genuine uncertainty about the applicable law)."

    Of course, dropping a case is a sort of settlement. In fact, frivolous lawsuits are sometimes settled in favor of the defendant when the plaintiff comes to his senses. Taylor Swift's case could have been settled in her favor, with the plaintiff apologizing to her and perhaps paying her legal fees.


    The idea of settling for half the funds stolen might make sense if the money has already been spent and the defendant has no other resources. You can't get blood from a stone, but you can waste a lot of time and energy trying. But remember that it is also possible to settle for ALL the money and then some. Surely you'd approve of that????

    I do not believe in the principle of draining a school district of money and people-hours and peace just out of revenge. The first duty of a school district is to the public, not the desire for revenge.


    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Chris Brewster Also, it is ridiculous for you to pretend that Sellars has responsibility for keeping Collins employed so long. Sellars opposed Collins from the start. Sellars was elected in November 2014. In April 2015, VOSD reported on Sellars: 

    "John [Collins] and Candy [Smiley, president of Poway teachers] cut up the pie,” said school board member Charlie Sellers, who was elected in November. “The previous board simply rubber-stamped their action and this board is actually questioning their actions and they don’t like it.”

    http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/education/how-poway-unified-went-from-big-happy-family-to-family-feud/


    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Ms. Larkins: Could you kindly point out where in my remarks I suggested that Mr. Sellars has responsibility for keeping Mr. Collins employed for so long? I'm unable to find any such implication. As for your other point, I agree that the first duty of a school district is to the public, not the desire for revenge. The school board clearly made some terrible decisions here. The question is, once they determined this gentleman fleeced them, would the best option not be to turn the case over to the DA and ask that as part of the prosecution, the defendant be required to pay the school district back? Achieving an out of court settlement for half (of what they think he stole for example) is not, in my view, in the best interest of the school district or justice. It is Mr. Sellars who is quoted as believing the some mediated settlement would have been desirable. It is with that sentiment that I disagree for the reasons noted.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Chris Brewster 

    If you tell me that you didn't intend to blame Sellars for keeping Collins employed, I believe you.

    But let me explain how a logical reader would read your statements (although your final clause might not have accurately reflected what you wanted to say).

    To start with, you mentioned Sellars by name, saying, "...Charles Sellers says the board offered to work out an "amicable solution" for his departure from the district and the repayment of the funds that he misappropriated."

    You thus pointed out Charles Sellars as the one board member who took public responsibility for the effort to settle with Collins. We can assume that a majority of the board supported this effort, but we don't know who the other individuals were.

    You then made clear that this effort by Charles Sellars and these other unknown individuals  demonstrated a lack of judgment: "What responsible public entity endeavors to work out an amicable solution with someone who has misappropriated over $300k? This suggests to me a serious lack of judgment..."

    You then added another accusation against Sellars and the unknown individuals, "This suggests to me a serious lack of judgment, which is probably already evident in that they kept this individual employed for so long."

    "They" obviously refers to Sellars and the unknown individuals.

    I believe you if you didn't mean to implicate Sellars in keeping Collins employed so long. If you didn't mean to implicate him, I'd be interested to know that.

     

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Chris Brewster 

    Regarding your point that settlement is bad because the DA might want to get a judgment for ALL damages, I agree with your sentiment that the money should be paid back in full if Collins has the ability to pay.

    But the man seems to be broke. In other words, he is judgment-proof.

    You can't get blood from a stone. If he had turned over what he still had at the time of the settlement offer in return for the district waiving the rest of his debt, the students would be ahead.

    I doubt Collins will ever pay a cent to Poway Unified.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Ms. Larkins: I know nothing about Mr. Sellars other than what I have read here (i.e. his quote). I think the action he supported was unwise and inappropriate. I think that if a public entity becomes aware that a person in their employ has acted unlawfully, they should turn the information over to the proper authorities. Full stop. I think this is a continuation of bad decisions by the board, Whether Mr. Sellars was involved in some or all of them is not something I am in a position to dissect. 

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Chris Brewster 

    Chris, you have every right to believe that the settlement offer was "unwise and inappropriate."

    But you are wrong to deny that the new board with Mr. Sellars and Kimberly Beatty did an investigation and turned their results over to the proper authorities. 

    That's exactly what they did.

    They also are suing Collins to get the money back. Are you saying that they shouldn't be suing Collins to get the money back?

    We are talking about two separate things here: the criminal case and the civil suit.


    And I must disagree with your insistence that "the board" continued the same kind of decision-making after Mr. Sellars and Kimberly Beatty were elected. There was a significant change. For some reason, perhaps a political reason, you don't want to give Sellars and Beatty credit for any change.


    Charles Sellers
    Charles Sellers

    @Maura Larkins @Chris Brewster Ms. Larkins, thank you for your support it is much appreciated.  Mr. Brewster, what I meant by "amicable" was "mutually agreed".  While I cannot divulge the content of these negotiations, rest assured that our goal as a Board was always to minimize any damage caused to the District.  Sometimes that involves not throwing good money after bad.  While we strongly believe that Dr. Collins owes PUSD all these monies, if not more, there is no guarantee that a court will agree with us.  Even if it does, there is no guarantee that we will ever collect in full from Dr. Collins.  We simply attempted a settlement that would have yielded the most dollars in the least time.  However, Dr. Collins was simply not amenable to negotiation, much less compromise.  Perhaps if he had shown remorse for his actions, paid back what he could, resigned instead of having to be fired, settled instead of forcing us to sue him, he might not be facing jail and the loss of his pension, even though you (and many others) feel that is what he deserves.  I can't speak for the authorities.  We simply followed the law and turned over our findings.  The decisions to  criminally prosecute and strip him of his credentials were made by others.  I'm just saying that had he agreed to do what was best for Poway Unified, he may also have been doing what was best for himself.  While he had numerous opportunities to do just that, he always chose not to and only he can say why. Perhaps he will, in court. - - Charles Sellers, PUSD Trustee.


    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Sellars: Thanks for taking the time to reply. Much appreciated. My view is that if a public entity, such as yours, has reason to believe that crimes have been committed, that information should be turned over to the proper prosecutorial authorities and they should handle the case. If that was done expeditiously, it is not apparent to me from the stories I have read. 

    Charles Sellers
    Charles Sellers

    @Chris Brewster When we fired Dr. Collins for cause in July of 2016, we immediately turned over the results of our forensic audit to both the District Attorney and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, as required by law.  I can only assume that appeals with the CTC and negotiations with the DA are what took up the past year.  As they say, the wheels of justice turn slowly.


    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Mr. Sellars: Thank you for enlightening me and anyone else reading this thread. If the board expeditiously turned over the audit to the authorities noted, I clearly think that was the right thing to do.

    Will Carless
    Will Carless author

    Props to VOSD for staying on this story. Sadly, this doesn't surprise me at all. This man always seemed to be a crook, refusing to answer even the most basic questions and never explaining his district's disastrous financing decisions. Decisions, sadly, that will leave the taxpayers of this district saddled with more than $1 billion in debt. I only hope the DA is also taking a close look at the Poway board members and the financial staff who oversaw the district while he was at the helm. There's more to be found here, I'm sure. I hope they keep digging. In the meantime, it's good to see justice seemingly being served, and good riddance to this awful man. Powegians deserve far better!