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Poway Unified’s superintendent was fired this week for allegedly taking at least $345,000 from the district, much of it through improper vacation cash-outs and longevity pay.
The school board plans to sue John Collins to try to recover the money, and his attorney has vowed that Collins will fight the claims.
While district documents detail its reasons for ushering Collins out, some questions remain.
If it’s true, why did Collins need all that money?
Collins’ roughly $500,000 annual compensation package made him the second highest-paid public school employee in the state. Yet “money is tight,” his wife wrote in an April 21 text message to Collins.
Earlier that month, Collins texted his wife on his district iPad, “I’m down to $195 in my account.” She replied she had $600 in her account. “If you have $600 we should be ok til payday,” Collins responded.
It’s also clear from district documents that Collins wanted a speedy buyout of his contract several months ago, so he could buy a house. That didn’t happen.
Will the district sever ties with attorney Dan Shinoff?
Good legal counsel can help steer public officials in the right direction so they don’t break the law. Listening to bad advice can land you in a whole lot of trouble — financially, civilly and even criminally.
San Diego attorney Dan Shinoff has built his career representing public school districts.
Shinoff drafted Collins’ employment contract — which contains a troublesome clause — and has served as the district’s general counsel for more than 10 years.
Shinoff’s firm represents nearly every school district in the region, but some districts — and the firm’s own attorneys — have begun distancing themselves.
Now we know Shinoff filed four legal actions for Collins on Poway Unified’s dime without board approval, including a restraining order action in Collins’ name — contrary to state law. Those legal actions are being cited as a reason for Collins’ termination.
Shinoff’s firm was also recently blamed for inadvertently releasing private student information to a Poway district resident in a public records request.
Some board members were already looking to shift district legal work away from the firm, so it’s possible the latest concerns will cause them to sever ties once and for all.
Will the district attorney jump in?
Given the gravity of the claims made against Collins, we might see San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis step in.
According to text messages released by the district, someone on Dumanis’ team is already apprised of some of the district’s concerns.
Shinoff told Collins Nov. 20 to cancel a special meeting at the urging of someone in the district attorney’s office.
“Just got a call from DA’s office. Spoke to DA. He doesn’t want his hand to be forced. Cancel the meeting,” Shinoff wrote.
The district attorney’s office also intervened a month earlier, when district email accounts were unlawfully being used for political purposes.
Poway Unified wrote in Collins’ dismissal charges that his taking of unauthorized pay may be criminal and “constitute misappropriation of public funds, and a breach of his fiduciary duties.”
A decision handed down by the state Supreme Court in June cited by the district could also bolster the district’s upcoming civil case, and any prospective criminal case brought against Collins.
In People v. Hubbard, the court found that a former Beverly Hills superintendent abused his power when he directed extra pay to one of his employees without school board approval.
One could argue the case being made against Collins is similar.
— Ashly McGlone
• Poway taxpayers keep getting bilked out of money, it seems: The city is trying to recoup $90,000 it says it mistakenly undercharged a sports complex. The error was first caught in 2014, but no action was taken then. (Union-Tribune)
• Rancho Santa Fe could soon have an app that would let community members weigh in with feedback and ideas. (Coast News)
• The new developers of the controversial Escondido Country Club property are trying to come up with a new development plan that their neighbors can live with. (Union-Tribune)
• Encinitas had a big month in June when it comes to affordable housing: two lawsuits, a trip to Sacramento to lobby against parts of the governor’s housing reform, a housing plan to send to the ballot in November and a mocking award from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association for violating state affordable housing regulations amid a state housing crisis. (Seaside Courier)
• The citizen’s group formed to oppose Rick Caruso’s mall project in Carlsbad is getting involved in the city’s upcoming City Council elections, endorsing the opponents of two Council members who voted to send Caruso’s project to the ballot. (Seaside Courier)