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Poway Superintendent Negotiating Raises for District Managers — Including Himself

Poway Unified School District Superintendent John Collins may be trying to negotiate an exit deal, but he’s also jockeying for a 4 percent raise for himself, his three associate superintendents and district managers before he goes. Collins’ involvement in negotiations could be legally problematic because he automatically gets the same raises his managers get under the terms of his contract, and so do his associate superintendents.

Poway Unified School District Superintendent John Collins may be trying to negotiate an exit deal, but he’s also jockeying for a 4 percent raise for himself, his three associate superintendents and district managers before he goes.

Collins was listed on Sunday’s special board meeting agenda as the district’s “agent negotiator” with managers and associate superintendents.

District staff last month unsuccessfully sought board approval for a 4 percent raise for district managers, retroactive to July 1. Collins also sought one-year contract extensions for his three associate superintendents from June 2016 to June 2017 on Dec. 15, but all four items were pulled from December’s agenda for later consideration.

Collins declined to answer questions about his participation in raise talks.

No board action was reported Sunday, but Collins’ involvement in negotiations could be legally problematic because he automatically gets the same raises his managers get under the terms of his contract, and so do his associate superintendents.

Me-too clauses, as they are called, are legal, but California laws generally prohibit self-dealing to ensure public officials have only the public’s interests in mind. Contracts made by officials with a financial interest in the outcome may be voided in some cases, and the officials can even face civil and criminal penalties.

With pay at $337,000, a 4 percent raise would mean an extra $13,500 for Collins.

John Almond, a former school superintendent in Northern California who now assists school districts through the Association of California School Administrators, said that in general, me-too clauses can be problematic.

“I don’t recommend a me-too clause if you are going to be the person sitting at the table negotiating,” he said. “I don’t know too many superintendents anymore who have me-too.”

If they do, Almond said he recommends that raises be contingent on a good evaluation, something Collins’ contract does not include.

“As an administrator, you may be in charge of negotiating and you don’t ever want to be accused of benefiting,” Almond said.

The negotiations are not the only prospective problem with Sunday’s meeting, which was attended by three out of five board members. The gathering may have violated tightened state laws passed in 2011 that prohibit executive pay discussions at special meetings.

Newly appointed board president Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff, who convened Sunday’s emergency meeting, did not respond to requests for comment. The superintendent’s assistant said the district is confident no violations occurred.

The school board Sunday continued their negotiations with Collins about his employment, too, according to the agenda.

District officials have been coy about the goal of the negotiations, publicized on the closed session agenda this week as “anticipated litigation,” but Collins has said his relationship with the board isn’t going well and the school board hired its own attorney late last year to represent board members’ interests in talks with Collins.

Collins has led the district since July 2010. His contract doesn’t expire until June 30, 2017.

An earlier version of this post misstated Collins’ current pay and prospective raise.

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