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County Superintendent of Education Aims to Correct SCUSD Processes, Not Conduct Witch Hunt

Last week’s Santa Clara Unified School District meeting was standing room only to hear what County Superintendent of Education Xavier De La Torre had to say about the County Office of Education’s special audit report alleging fraud on the part of five Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) top managers.

“The findings are that the elements of fraud existed as defined in the California civil code,” De La Torre told the board. “There appears to be a lock of internal controls that would have detected fraud and other irregularities. And conflicts of interest went undetected and allowed staff to initiate fraudulent transactions.”

The County Superintendent made it clear that he wasn’t there as a judge, noting the County’s interest extend to further investigation. “We aren’t here to kill a fly with an axe,” he said dryly at one point.

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“The board can take the position – it can disagree with the report,” he said. “We’re not interested in anything other than how you’re going to prevent this from happening in the future. All we need from you is a description of what will happen in that department to make it highly unlikely this will happen again, and that will suffice.

“It’s less important that you decide if what happened was inappropriate,” he continued in response to a follow-up question. “The county and the auditor decided that what happened was inappropriate. Now what we’re asking is that this board look at how they may prevent it from happening again.

“Our interest is not to debate whether or not it happened. We believe it was inappropriate and the auditor confirmed that,” he said. “You don’t enter into an agreement and pay the warrants to someone else.” The district has 15 business days to present an action report to the county superintendent. He must be satisfied that the changes will prevent future problems or the district won’t be able to issue checks.

However, De La Torre was clearly unmoved by suggestions that the apparent misconduct was simply a result of outdated procedures or misunderstanding.

“If this board decided that those duties warranted additional compensation, that is certainly something this board can do,” he said. However, “it would be highly unorthodox for someone, in the middle of the work day, to stop working for the district, and work on their contract for the JPA, [take] off that hat, and continue working for district – all using the district facility, the district computer and the district Internet access, and [it] would be deemed a ‘best accounting practice.

“It would still be problematic if they’re getting a second level of compensation while they’re being compensated on a per diem basis for their work as a chief business for the district officer,” he continued. “How does one distinguish? No one is disputing that they may have earned what they may have earned. The [compensation] method was inappropriate.”

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