Some Poway Unified School District non-teaching employees have racked up several years’ worth of vacation time beyond what they’re allowed.

It has become an estimated $6 million liability as of June 30, said Poway Superintendent Marian Kim-Phelps.

The former superintendent of the district, John Collins, is facing criminal charges in part for cashing out so much vacation time above what he was allowed.

The highest balance belongs to a maintenance supervisor with 238 days accrued, or at least nine years’ worth of accrued vacation benefits if given the usual 26 days per year, according to district documents obtained by Voice of San Diego through a California Public Records Act request. The second highest balance belongs to an administrative assistant in the personnel office with 185 days.

The district’s internal controls over vacation time were found lacking in two different audits over the last year, and Collins was fired, in part, for allegedly cashing out vacation time he wasn’t entitled to, including some he may have already taken. Prosecutors last month charged Collins with four felonies for misappropriating public funds. They accuse him of abusing vacation, sick and other leave time, as well as the district credit card. Collins has pleaded not guilty.

Now, new district leadership is zeroing in on vacation problems.


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“The debt liability is a problem. The vacation balance is a problem,” said Kim-Phelps, who left Westminster School District to take the top job in Poway April 3. “We are trying to bring everybody down to what board policy allows,” which is one or two years’ worth of vacation. She said she hopes to get there in two to three years.

Beginning this year, managers will adhere to a vacation schedule, and some employees may need to take a day or two off every week to get their balances down.

“I think it’s important because of the criminal case going on,” Kim-Phelps said. “Unfortunately, I think employees are just doing what was established culture here, so we are just trying to protect the employee.”

It is common for non-teaching employees to receive 26 days – or 208 hours – of vacation each year, district officials said. By that measure, at least 255 non-teaching employees had more than a year’s worth of vacation in the bank at the end of last fiscal year.

Nineteen employees have more than 90 vacation days in the bank, and 55 employees have more than 60 days, separate from holidays, district records show.

Seven of the 20 highest vacation accruals belong to custodians. A couple others work in extended student services, a department that runs before- and after-school programs, while others are scattered across personnel, student support services and other departments. A high school registrar and electrician are also near the top, according to district figures.

Getting hours down for principals is going to be the hardest, Kim-Phelps said.

“If we have a principal with that much vacation, who’s going to handle the school?” she said.

Miguel Carrillo, principal of Meadowbrook Middle School, has amassed more vacation time than any other principal at nearly 132 days, district documents show. Carrillo said in an email that his vacation piled up “as a result of me being a ‘workaholic’” during 20 years with the district.

“I am taking a different approach now, both for a healthier work-life balance and to reduce the number of hours I’ve accumulated,” he said.

Carrillo also said he’s working with the district to bring his balance down and plans to use 40-46 vacation days each year for the next three years.

Ten employees showed a negative vacation balance as of June 30, with the lowest coming in at negative five days.

District staff proposed changing district policies for vacation time in August, but the changes were pulled before the board could vote on them.

“We are going to have legal counsel look at current policies to see if there’s anything we can add to prevent us from getting into this situation again,” Kim-Phelps said.

    This article relates to: Education, 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.

    9 comments
    Roy Benstead
    Roy Benstead subscribermember

    This problem is easily taken care of. All that needs to be done is to pay off the accrued vacation time AT THE PAY RATE IN USE WHEN IT WAS EARNED, WITH NO INTEREST. 

    Paying off accrued vacation time, at the pay rate at the time of retirement, is too much of a bonus to charge the taxpayers.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Here's a suggested set of rules to handle this situation:

    1.  Under no circumstances will unused vacation time increase a person's pension.

    2.  Vacation time accrual is limited to twice the person's yearly amount and any accrual beyond that is paid off on the date the excess accrual occurs.

    3.  At retirement, all vacation is paid off as part of the final paycheck.

    Gayle Falkenthal APR
    Gayle Falkenthal APR subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw  I'd add a #4: discipline supervisorial personnel who don't do whatever it takes to facilitate the ability of employees to take vacation time, from finding people to cover to checking their negative attitude toward employee vacation requests.

    Gayle Falkenthal APR
    Gayle Falkenthal APR subscriber

    When I worked for the County of San Diego, I accured so much vacation time I had to be cashed out regularly in lieu of taking it. I had no backup to fill in for me, and my supervisors did not show any concern about me getting time off, quite the opposite. How many administrators at PUSD are doing the same to employees, wthout the regular payouts? Forcing employees to bleed off a vacation day a week is a punishment. The work of non-teaching staff will simply be held aside until their next work day. This is the opposite of what vacation time is supposed to provide: an actual break.

    Gerald Sodomka
    Gerald Sodomka

    There's an easy solution to the excessively accrued vacation time:  Use it or lose it.  Receiving 26 days each year is very generous.  That amounts to over five weeks.  The whole reason for vacation pay is to take time off from the routine of work and relax.  Otherwise it turns into a way to spike the pension benefits.  The decision to not take vacation then forces to employee to make the choice of taking time off or lose the accrued vacation time after a reasonable period.  Did the school district have this policy and not enforce it?



    Gayle Falkenthal APR
    Gayle Falkenthal APR subscriber

    @Gerald Sodomka When I was a government employee, I had no backup. Sometimes public agencies run so lean (as taxpayers expect) there isn't anyone else to step in, particularly in a senior role like mine. They preferred to cash me out and so did I, since the overload when I returned negated the whole purpose of vacation. I assure you it wasn't a pension spike. Unless there is a significant shift in management philosophy, actual 'I'm gone from the building and unavailable' vacation time remains a quaint notion at a lot of employers including public service.


    GK
    GK subscriber

    This is confusing. The first sentence states that the accrued vacation time is, "beyond what they're allowed."  The third sentence says Collins' accrued time is "above what he was allowed."


    What's allowed?   In a separate article on Collins there  is a statement that the limit is 60 days. 


    Is that the case here as well?   I think that's worth mentioning.  From this article alone it's very difficult to determine if the problem is that there's no limit at all, or that there's a limit that's not enforced.  It's hard to work up that thick lather of anti-public-school fervor without having easy access to the pertinent facts.