This post has been updated.

Top Poway school administrators in charge of negotiating teacher pay have a financial stake in the outcome of those talks.

Since taking the district’s top post in July 2010, Superintendent John Collins’ contract has contained a provision that grants him the same pay raises as other managers in the district. Under Poway Unified’s model, managers get the same pay increases as the district’s union groups, with the teachers setting the bar for the rest, district records show. So any raises teachers get, Collins gets too, and so does Collins’ wife Lisa, a teacher at the district’s Design 39 Campus.

The same goes for all three of the district’s assistant superintendents, who received six-figure contracts in November with the same provision, including the head of personnel and lead district negotiator, Tracy Hogarth, and the head of business, Malliga Tholandi.

That means the same district officials tasked with seeking the best possible deal for local taxpayers and students have a personal financial incentive to give more money to teachers. Basic legal and ethical principles should prevent Poway’s administrators from negotiating agreements that affect their own pockets, experts say.

These types of contract provisions are called “me too” clauses, and they’re not unheard of in the public education sector – but there’s one big caveat that makes Poway problematic: Its administrators have a direct role in creating a contract that traditionally boosts their own pay. Such self-dealing is typically banned, may void the contract and in some cases result in civil and criminal penalties.


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Collins said no conflict exists because his wife gets no special treatment, and the school board is the ultimate authority on all contracts.

“The Board of Education acts as the employer and all negotiation items are ultimately brought to the board for action,” Collins wrote in an email. “The superintendent’s role is the chief executive officer of the district, and it is the board that is ultimately responsible for decisions about a superintendent’s compensation.”

Candy Smiley, president of the Poway Federation of Teachers, also said it’s a non-issue.

“Everyone relies on the teachers to negotiate. Everyone gets what teachers get,” she said.

Hogarth and Tholandi did not respond to requests for comment.

Attorney Bob Fellmeth, executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego, said school board approval does not absolve the issue.

“He has a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers as their representative,” Fellmeth said. “As such, it is appropriate to entirely separate his compensation from the result of these negotiations.”

“Public officials negotiating salaries and benefits on behalf of taxpayers best not be the recipient of their own concessions. Neither they nor their families should be receiving higher pay at public cost based on their surrender to teacher or other public unions,” he said. “Would you choose a person who is a monetary beneficiary of a lucrative deal to be your advocate in that process? I wouldn’t.”

Michael Colantuono, a veteran municipal attorney, also said Poway’s arrangement is troublesome.

“This is a problem and (Collins) has a choice: maintain his contract and abstain from negotiations, or participate in negotiations and amend his contract,” Colantuono said. “It is very common to award management the same economics negotiated with bargaining units. However, it is illegal if the managers have a legal entitlement to that treatment for them to negotiate the rank-and-file deals … School districts often make mistakes in this area because they get too little legal advice.”

Poway’s longtime labor attorney Jerry Conradi declined to comment on the issue, citing attorney-client privilege. The district’s contracted general counsel who oversaw the administrator contracts, Daniel Shinoff, did not respond to a request for comment.

Unlike other district bargaining groups, Poway teachers negotiate practically year-round thanks to a prized, attorney-free process the district uses called Interest Based Problem Solving.

As part of that process, each of the three assistant superintendents leads monthly teacher negotiation sessions specific to their department. Five larger meetings are then held where the superintendent, his cabinet and top teacher’s union leadership jointly decide on a proposal to bring to the school board for approval.

Poway teacher contract talks stalled earlier this year when the Poway School Employees Association, a group of non-teacher employees of the district, filed a charge with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board over the district’s failure to follow state laws requiring public notice of teacher negotiations.

Teacher negotiations were recently restarted with proper public notice, and a public hearing was held April 14 regarding the 2014-15 teacher contract talks.

Some residents expressed their objections to administrators’ stake in the negotiations at the hearing.

“The other side of the negotiating table is the administration saying, ‘Me too. Me too. Me too,’” said resident Raymond Usell. “So as far as I’m concerned, the process is filled with self-serving (interests). It’s taking care of the adults.”

One resident, Tom Moore, said the three new board members elected in November were chosen to “stop this cronyism” and “fire superintendent Collins.”

“The priority for parents and voters who elected you is to put more teachers into our classrooms, reduction of class sizes and ensuring programs are available for well-rounded education,” resident Steve Sarviel told the board at the hearing. “It is not the priority of the voters to allow Mr. Collins to maintain the status quo process of creating an illusion of negotiating with a union leader for personal financial gain.”

At Monday’s school board meeting, newly elected school board member T.J. Zane emphasized that manager raises are approved through separate board actions, “So it’s not an automatic conflict of interest.” His comments were met with loud applause by the board room packed full of teachers gathered to rally support for their negotiations.

Former school board member Marc Davis supported the district practice.

“Me-too language is critical because it’s a two-way street. It’s not just about raises,” he said at Monday’s meeting. “Yes. People negotiating, they’re going to get a raise and when they take a reduction, they’re going to take a reduction” like they did during tough economic times.

Fellow school board member Charles Sellers, however, called on his colleagues to end the practice of allowing administrators with a financial stake in the deal to lead negotiations. Sellers said in an interview he’s troubled by the lack of arm’s length dealing.

“The problem isn’t IBPS. The problem is the same people that are negotiating are getting the same raises,” he said. “You want people negotiating that don’t have a financial incentive.”

Seller’s wife works as a library media technician in the district and is part of the classified worker union Poway School Employees Association, but he objects to any comparisons.

“The difference is I don’t participate in those negotiations. I have no hand in negotiating with PSEA,” Sellers said. “John participates in feathering his own nest.”

Update: The superintendent and teacher’s union president signed a 2014-15 contract proposal Tuesday that would grant teachers a retroactive 2.5 percent pay increase this school year, on top of the usual longevity pay increases and the 1 percent salary increase already gained with the return of two work days. The agreement also calls for the district to spend $1 million on class size reduction in TK-3 next school year, and commit to use the fair-share teacher compensation formula that’s part of the district’s long-held Interest Based Problem Solving method. Teachers will be asked to approve the agreement May  12 and 13, followed by the school board May 18.

    This article relates to: Education, Must Reads, School Finances

    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.

    11 comments
    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    Ashly,


    A follow up article/post I would love to read about is how this is handled at OTHER districts.  I have to believe that nearly everywhere the Superintendent and key upper management are involved in bargaining. It would be useful to understand/read whether/how those districts decouple COLAs and benefits from the bargaining units to avoid the alleged conflicts (and I use the world alleged as a former board member CLOSELY involved in public sector collective bargaining disagrees with the conclusions being drawn).  It definitely the case that when upper management is given a LARGER COLA than bargaining units there is hell to pay (see last year, SDUSD).

    Ashly McGlone
    Ashly McGlone

    @Erik Bruvold Here is one point of comparison. The Coronado Unified superintendent is the chief negotiator with the teacher's union. His contract states: "Subject to a satisfactory evaluation of the Superintendent’s job performance, the Board shall consider, among other options, an annual salary schedule increase for the Superintendent that is consistent with salary schedule increases granted to other certificated and administrative employees of the District." 

    http://coronadousd.net/static/media/uploads/Coronado%20Unified%20School%20District/superintendent/Felix%20Contract%20Agreement%20May%202013.pdf 

    The words "the Board shall consider" stand out as a contrast to the Poway superintendent contract, which says "shall receive" and "shall be entitled to." The Poway raise is also not contingent on a good evaluation. 

    Steve McMillan
    Steve McMillan

    Ashly, Ashly, Ashly.....


    When you don't ask the right questions, you don't get correct information.... When lead by the subject of the interview, rather than leading the interview, you get the answers they want to provide. You also need to know and understand the subject matter you are writing about. Sad to say, but you appear to be in way over your head here. The number of inaccurate statements and "facts" used in this article, as well as the innuendos of wrong doing and illegal activity is astounding, as well as being wrong.


    PLEASE, educate yourself in the process of IBPS. How it works. Who is involved. Why it works. Educate yourself in the processes used for determining wages and benefits for ALL employees of the PUSD. I would suggest you not seek this education from the likes of Charles Sellers. His education and knowledge on this subject is less than yours. His agenda, for which you are being  used to further, is filled with half truths, innuendo and false information. His five second sound bites offer a sliver of truth, but when dissected, are fraught with falsehoods and inaccurate information.


    Marc Davis has very clearly and accurately provided you with information you can use as a start to your education related to this matter. You are simply adding fuel to a fire that only exists in the minds of a very few, disgruntled individuals. The Voice of San Diego once wrote about the values of IBPS and the relationships of labor/management and extolled this relationship as being a model for other districts. NOTHING has change with the exception of two individuals who have an ax to grind and an agenda set for destruction. 


    PLEASE, educate yourself before furthering the agenda of Sellers and Beatty. If you doubt my words, look no further than his tirade in the comments section of your prior piece and the words he uses to describe Dr. Collins, Ms. Candy Smiley, Ms. O'Connor-Ratcliff and T. J. Zane. Is everyone corrupt?



    Ashly McGlone
    Ashly McGlone

    @Steve McMillan If you'd like to identify an inaccuracy in the article, I'd be happy to address it with you. My first article on Poway this week did discuss the role of the new board in this shakeup, but they aren't the only ones in the community with questions and concerns. 

    Marc Davis
    Marc Davis

    Ashley,


    I am so disappointed in the number of inaccuracies and innuendos in your  article today that I don't know where to start - but I'll try.

    1.  Dr. Collins contract from 2010-2014 did include "Me Too" language tied to salary increases for district managers - not certificated teachers or classified employees.  It was placed in the contract because the previous Superintendent, Don Phillips, had an annual guaranteed increase of 5% yearly in his contract which was much more expensive than including a "me too" provision.  Did you ever look at the previous Superintendent's contract?  Under this 2010 contract with Dr. Collins with "me too" language, he actually took a 4.3% salary CUT for 3 years.  His compensation only got back the 4.3% cut (back to even) in the 2013 school year at which time he also received his first "Me Too" bump in pay.  Would it have been better financially for the board to have kept in his contract the previous superintendent 5% guaranteed annual raise (during the recession) rather than giving him the possibility only of getting a raise under the "me too" provision if district finances improved?  It certainly saved us a lot of money over the term of the contract to do it the way we did.

    2.  Dr. Collins contract extension, signed in April 2014 includes the following language, " "During the term of this agreement, Superintendent shall be entitled to all benefits applicable to non-represented certificated twelve-month managers as an incident to their employment relationship with the Board, including, but not limited to, longevity step increases and graduate degree stipends." Embedded in this language is the possibility of receiving a "Me Too" raise if all district managers receive a raise. 

    3.  The 3 Associate Superintendents you mentioned had operated without individual contracts with PUSD until November 2014.  Their compensation stayed the same when these contracts were signed as it had been previously.  Prior to that time, they were part of the PUSD management association (not a union) which includes all principals, district managers and school psychologists known as APSM.  APSM does not have a formal contract with the district, but as a practice, APSM has traditionally received the same raises as other employment groups.  However, this is not a contractual obligation and this practice can be altered by the board at any time.   Additionally, these new contracts with the 3 Associate Superintendents specifically state that they will receive "me too" raises tied ONLY to what other district managers receive - not what the certificated or classified employees negotiate.  So these negotiations, in fact, are not directly tied to the 3 Associate Superintendents receiving raises.  The board has and always will decide whether APSM gets raises, on a case by case basis, completely independent of the negotiations with the other bargaining units.

    Ashley -  You have attacked the integrity and honor of many good and honorable people in PUSD who have devoted their lives to serving our children.  How do you restore someone's reputation after you have done this?  You owe them an apology.  I hope for a major retraction or apology of some sort as you correct the record.  PUSD does great work.  They aren't perfect, but the sinister tone of your articles is way off base.  

    Ashly McGlone
    Ashly McGlone

    @Marc Davis Thank you for weighing in. I would like to address your concerns point by point. 

    No. 1. You've provided some context, but failed to mention here what I believe you told the board, which is that any cuts Collins took during tough times (by shortening his work year) were actually voluntary. That's because his first contract called for him to receive the same pay "increases" as other managers, not decreases.

    No. 2 Is a repeat of what I reported. 

    No. 3. You say the board can stop granting managers the same raises at any time and the decision has always been "completely independent of the negotiations." These linked documents show otherwise. http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/APSM.PFT_.pdf. The board last year committed to give APSM/Collins the same raises as teachers long before the 13-14 teacher negotiations were settled. If the board were to break the district's pay "parity model" this year, that would mean withholding raises from all managers. Should all managers be penalized because a few are involved in labor negotiations? Or would it be easier to remove the me-too clauses from the contracts of those negotiating?

    Steve McMillan
    Steve McMillan

    @Ashly McGlone @Marc Davis If you look at the item you referenced in question/comment 3 you will note the following;


    TO: BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING DATE: November 12, 2013 


    FROM: Tracy Hogarth


    AGENDA ITEM: D-201 


    Staff Support: SUBJECT: REQUEST APPROVAL OF COMPENSATION FOR ASSOCIATION OF POWAY SCHOOL MANAGERS - REPRESENTED EMPLOYEES. Action Consent Calendar First Reading Information Presentation Public Hearing Roll Call Vote Required


     RECOMMENDATION: That the Board approve the agreement with employees represented by the Association of Poway School Managers


    This is a recommendation. The Board through review and input agreed to this. The board could have also decided to increase or decrease the amounts recommended. There is nothing preventing the Board from opening negotiations and doing what Sellers is demanding. The issue is about fairness and a model of good governance. When you treat your employees with respect and include them in the decisions, after providing all the information known, the decisions arrived at in most cases are for the good of all involved. Sellers is simply using this as a means to justify his end game.


    Sellers and Beatty, through you and the slant from which your past two articles have been written, give the appearance these negotiations and agreements are illegal, nefarious and in some way back door deals. This is not correct and not accurate in any way. The reason PUSD is the district it is comes down to trust, honesty and openness. That is where IBPS comes in to play. If you look again at the document you reference you will not the other bargaining units received similar compensation, but did not give back similar compensation, yet receive the same 2.5% give back. 


    Understand the processes and the history and you will better understand why PUSD is the excellent district it is. The staff, teachers and students do not deserve the strife being created in the minds of a few.  

    Marc Davis
    Marc Davis

    @Ashly McGlone @Marc Davis


    Sorry for the slow reply, but I was attending my daughter's wedding.  The response to your questions is simple and straightforward:


    1.  Dr. Collins contract gave him a fixed dollar salary with the possibility of receiving a "me too" salary raise only if District Management (APSM - not teachers or classified unions) receive raises.  His contract was and is silent on taking any cuts in pay, but this is true for almost all contracts.  Rarely are pay cuts built into a contract.  Dr. Collins voluntarily took salary rollbacks during the recession to set the proper example for all district staff that took pay cuts.  He was not obligated to do so. 


    2.  The key here is "District Management", not other bargaining units.   


    3.   Your link proves my point.  In the board item you highlight, the board formally voted to give district managers (APSM) a pay raise and for them to receive "Me too" raises if they occur.  That vote only applied to that contract year - because, remember, APSM does not have a signed "contract" with the district.  APSM only receives raises if the board votes for them to receive raises.  Since APSM is not union, they don't have any formal negotiations.  So any raises APSM receives, which then trigger raises for the Superintendent and Associate Superintendents, MUST specifically approved by the board each time.  This is completely contrary to what your article initially reported and very different from the sinister inferences your article made.  


    sosocal
    sosocal subscriber

    Please note that the legal counselor Mr. Shinoff has been involved with this.  It should be mentioned that his firm is being investigated for all sorts of abnormalities with regard to the awarding of contracts within the San Diego County Board of Education's jurisdiction.  A former employee of Mr. Shinoff's firm has been responsible for the awarding of contracts--with Shinoff's firm getting a substantial percentage.


    Further, with regard to Shinoff's firm's work in the San Ysidro school district, it is public knowledge that San Ysidro fired the Shinoff firm due to the failure to inform of an offer to negotiate, when that would have been beneficial for the school district. 


    So--Shinoff's firm has a track record of: maneuvering contracts in their direction and intentionally prolonging lawsuits for the purpose of obtaining higher fees from school districts.


    Is there any reason any school district would want to use them?  They are only working for their own bottom line--and as such, all who are paying this group need to take a good, long look at what they are getting for their money.  It just might not be fair value.

    Jay Byrd
    Jay Byrd

    Teacher pay and raises are unique.  Since the 1970's, teachers have had a plan to assure decent raises by stacking the deck.  Their plan is for teachers to get elected to the school boards where they live.  So, a teacher working in La Mesa, living in Poway, would seek election in Poway. Thus, the fix is in.  Raises are usually set with comparisons of schools within a geographic region.

    This is why I refrain from voting for anyone even remotely (family members of educators) associated with the schools. I like people who are successful in the result-oriented world.


    I am not saying this is the case in Poway.  I have not checked.This article references several family ties.  I do know people who have done it for years.  They run on the "Vote for me-I walk the walk". The only time it does not work, is when the trough get licked so clean, that the voters vote down levies.  


    Perhaps the media should look into how many educators sit on school boards in the county.