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Opportunity to Change the Status Quo

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On Thursday, the school board has an immediate opportunity to forge a new path in transparency, accountability and labor relations at SCUSD. 

The issue is an extension of the contract for the labor consultant Margarita Maldonado.  Ms. Maldonado is a former labor leader who recently changed sides and became a management consultant.  The District hired her as an outside consultant for a limited term of January 31, 2022 through April 29, 2022.  According to her original contract, Ms. Maldonado would “be compensated at a rate of $500 per day” for services “as a labor consultant” who “shall perform all services to assist with labor relations matters.” Now Superintendent Aguilar is proposing to extend her contract.

Approval of Ms. Maldonado’s contract is problematic in several ways.  First, a new school board was elected with a mandate for change, especially when it comes to labor relations where there is a need to seek a more constructive, less adversarial direction.  Ms. Maldonado’s contract is a continuation of the status quo.  Second, the new board promised greater transparency and accountability.  The many contradictions and questionable handling of this matter, including trying to resolve the matter behind closed doors, rather than in public view, were the hallmarks of the previous school boards.  This is an opportunity to show our community that things really are improving in SCUSD. 

At the time Ms. Maldonado was hired, the District already had another outside labor consultant, Pam Manwiller, who remains with the District.  Ms. Manwiller had first been hired by the District in May 2019, and around January 2022, her daily rate of pay was increased from $500 per day to $750 per day.  In addition, the District also has a contract for $2.8 million with Lozano Smith for services related to collective bargaining. 

According to her contract and discussions with SCUSD representatives, including Superintendent Aguilar, Ms. Maldonado has been responsible for helping to develop collective bargaining strategy and implementing the MOUs that settled the strike.   During her tenure, from January 2022 to the present, the District:

  • Demanded a $10,000 cut in the average educator’s take-home pay which resulted in an 8-day strike, that dragged on because of the operational challenges of the District’s bargaining team. 
  • Walked away from the bargaining table to negotiate potential make-up days, subjecting SCUSD to a $47 million penalty for its failure to provide enough instructional time to students. 
  • Continued to violate labor law through its actions at the bargaining table that resulted in PERB issuing its 21st complaint against SCUSD. The hearing regarding the District’s encouraging staff to cross picket lines and bad faith bargaining about the make-up days is scheduled before a state administrative law judge next month. 
  • Failed to fully implement the MOUs.  The COVID leave still has not been implemented, the wage increases were delayed, and the additional compensation for extra work still has not been paid out.  The District’s failure to abide by the MOUs is also scheduled for arbitration next month.

Since the strike, we have strongly urged the District to move in a more constructive, collaborative direction.   Instead, Superintendent Aguilar’s insistence on moving forward with this contract shows that he has no intention of changing, something that he confirmed when we raised this issue with him directly last week. 

But this contract is more problematic because it exposes the lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to understanding how Superintendent Aguilar justifies spending millions of dollars in outside contracts.

Ms. Maldonado’s original contract was for January 31, 2022 through April 29, 2022.  There was no mention of an extension of her contract until January 19, 2023, when the board was presented with a contract dated December 15, 2022.  That contract would have been retroactive for services from November 1, 2022 through November 23, 2022, that is, for 22 days.  There is no information for the work that Ms. Maldonado may have done and been paid for from April 29, 2022 to the present, but presumably she did not work for the District without getting paid.  Mr. Aguilar has dragged his feet on providing information about the days Ms. Maldonado worked or the actual services she has provided to the District.

From here it gets even more confusing.  At the January 19, 2023 school board meeting, member Taylor Kayatta pulled Ms. Maldonado’s contract from the Consent Agenda.  The contract can be found here, at pages 3, and 8-18 of the pdf. The Consent Agenda is an item where the board is asked to approve a number of often unrelated matters, including outside contracts, field trips, and other supposedly non-controversial items in order to expedite the board meetings.  Over the years, however, Superintendent Aguilar has used the Consent Agenda to gain approval for several controversial projects (the $6 million air purifiers that may be carcinogenic, for example) that should have been discussed openly.   As mentioned above, the contract that was pulled covered the time period for her to work from November 1, 2022 to November 23, 2022.  That date on the heading of that agreement is December 15, 2022.

This week, Ms. Maldonado’s contract reappeared on the board agenda under the Consent Agenda.  Different documents related to Ms. Maldonado’s new contract state contradictory things. The general description of the contract that the board is being asked to approve would “extend the contract from October 24, 2022 to June 30, 2023, in order to provide support in the area of labor relations, including drafting proposals, reviewing and analyzing data.”  The description can be found here, at page 3 of the pdf.  The amount paid to her would increase by $87,500, bringing her totally salary to $170,000, for work the District already has internal staff, another outside labor consultant and its outside law firm to provide.

But the actual new contract extension (beginning at page 150 of the pdf) that Ms. Maldonado already signed (prior to board approval) on February 8, 2023, only covers the time period from November 1, 2022 through November 23, 2022.  This document also includes a December 15, 2022 date, but it is different than the document (also dated December 15, 2022) that the board pulled from the Consent Agenda on December 15.  Key items are missing in the new document including the requirement that Ms. Maldonado provide her own personal liability insurance.

A final source of confusion is what is presented as an amendment to Ms. Maldonado’s original contract (this document is dated January 19, 2023) and it states her tenure will be from November 1, 2022 to November 23, 2023. 

Unfortunately, by returning the contract to the Consent Agenda at the next meeting rather without providing a clear and convincing explanation for extending Ms. Maldonado’s contract, Superintendent Aguilar demonstrates his lack of commitment to transparency and accountability.  When the matter arose at the school board meeting on January 19, 2023, Mr. Aguilar had ample opportunity to explain to our community why this contract was necessary.  Instead, with the support of Board Member Villa, Mr. Aguilar chose to hold a series of closed, one-on-one meetings with board members to lobby for the contract, in violation of the spirit, if not the letter of the Brown Act. 

When we met with Superintendent Aguilar last week, we attempted to discuss Ms. Maldonado’s contract and the District’s overall direction in labor relations.  Mr. Aguilar refused to engage.  He did confirm, however, that Ms. Maldonado should not be working for the District and should not be paid if the board had not officially extended her contract.  We pointed out that Ms. Maldonado continued to represent the District, primarily as a note-taker, in meetings since October 2022.  Mr. Aguilar claimed he wasn’t aware, even though this exact issue had been previously raised with him. 

Mr. Aguilar’s proposed fix to this mess?  Pass a new contract through the Consent Agenda that is retroactive, therefore any work that Ms. Maldonado may have done without board approval is no longer relevant because it is now covered after the fact.  Meanwhile, there will be no need to provide evidence of any actual work that Ms. Maldonado may have performed, because now it’s all in the past. 

SCUSD needs a new direction.  It can start here.

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