Sacramento City Teachers and Classified Staff Vote “No Confidence” in SCUSD Superintendent Jorge Aguilar
SACRAMENTO – The Sacramento City Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 announced today that Sacramento City Unified School District educators, in district-wide balloting, have overwhelmingly passed a vote of “no confidence” in SCUSD Superintendent Jorge Aguilar. Turnout was high with 61.6 percent of eligible certified staff casting ballots. The vote was 1,353 voting no confidence to 55 who expressed confidence in Aguilar’s ability to lead the district. SEIU Local 1021 reported a similar result with 97.4 percent of classified staff that voted expressing no confidence in the district’s top administrator.
“Teachers and support staff who work directly with students are tired of the fiscal mismanagement, the broken promises and the lack of consideration for the needs of students,” said SCTA President David Fisher. “This is a critical time for our district as we continue the shift back to in-person instruction and away from virtual learning. Educators have no confidence in Mr. Aguilar’s ability to manage this transition and we’re deeply disturbed by his lack of vision for SCUSD. Our District needs to move in a new direction, our students have suffered long enough.”
“Our Classified staff are working with the stress that they can be unjustly laid-off under the premise of a budget crisis when the reality is that surrounding school Districts with similar monies are not laying anyone off,” said Dan Schallock, a maintenance worker for the district. “It’s embarrassing to work for a school district that totes equality and diversity, but the reality is under Jorge Aguilar the district has operated more like a caste system. The benefits and wages of our largely minority and/or women staff are constantly attacked while management continues to receive raises.”
A summary of Mr. Aguilar’s track record can be found here.
A Disturbing Record of Fiscal Mismanagement
Since August 2018, the Sacramento County Office of Education has rejected SCUSD’s budget every year – the only district in California with this distinction. Not only have budgets been rejected, but the budget projections have been wildly inaccurate. The superintendent has incorrectly and repeatedly reported to the school board and the general public that the district was on the brink of a state takeover due to a lack of funds when the reality was the district each year ran large surpluses. The district’s reserve fund currently exceeds a record $100 million. In discussions with outside education researchers the superintendent has emphasized that he prioritizes building cash reserves and reducing liabilities over student services.
“Because of his inability to properly manage a budget, the pain has been felt in classrooms,” explained Fisher. “Superintendent Aguilar unnecessarily cut programs and left student needs unmet. Nearly one thousand educators received pink slips in the last three years, only to have the district turn around, say ‘never mind’ and try to rehire them. And, while classrooms have gone without teachers, the ranks of administrators keep growing along with their pay. Aguilar’s own annual salary is $334,467, by comparison Governor Newsom’s annual salary is $209,747.” Aguilar’s current total compensation is $445,268.
In 2018, the California Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), assigned by state authorities to conduct a “Fiscal Health Risk Analysis,” of SCUSD after the district’s budget was rejected for the first time, found that “the district’s business team is not cohesive and is lacking in communication with other departments and sites… The lack of understanding of data and the lack of best practices for data integrity and analysis are significant.”
Under Aguilar, the district at one point even forgot to count five schools in its enrollment figures, a $24 million mistake.
A Failure to Provide Services for Students, Particularly Those with Disabilities
In December 2020, the California Collaborative on Education Excellence (CCEE) a statewide agency that steps in when a district has failed to serve students with disabilities, English learners, low-income students and foster youth in three out of four consecutive years released a report on SCUSD that stated: “There is a lack of leadership and accountability to ensure students with disabilities and foster and homeless youth are provided services and support so they are not disproportionately suspended, chronically absent, and/or at risk for failure.”
The CCEE report went on to say: “The current district organizational structure and climate do not support the urgent need to provide equitable support to schools and robust instruction and educational experiences for all students. Some interviewees shared a perception that requests for assistance get addressed by the central office staff based on relational power and portrayed the district as top down with little room for collaboration, input, or feedback on initiatives underway or in development.”
CCEE directly faulted Aguilar for his failure to provide a vision for improving services to Sac City students. “While there is understanding that the superintendent’s overall vision and mission is to address existing inequities in SCUSD utilizing continuous improvement, there remains a need for the district to articulate the instructional vision, strategies, priorities, and outcomes that will be taken to accomplish this.”
In addition to CCEE, theCalifornia Department of Education (CDE) has informed Aguilar that it was considering “exercising its authority to withhold special education funds allocated to the District under state and federal law” for failure to comply substantially with a provision of law regarding special education and related services. Even after this stern warning, Aguilar and district managers continued to be non-responsive. On April 28, 2021 the CDE wrote to Aguilar in frustration that the SCUSD response has been “overdue, incomplete, and/or otherwise inadequate.”
One area where SCUSD should take no pride in being ranked number one is for its African-American suspension rate. A study released in the summer of 2018, found that SCUSD had the highest suspension rate (20.7%) among Black males in the entire state. In response and as part of the collective bargaining process, SCTA and the Black Parallel School Board jointly developed a restorative practices proposal that was presented to the district–these proposals went nowhere. For the past five years, Aguilar has refused to work with educators to include restorative practices and implement other reforms to discipline.
Due to Aguilar’s devaluing of preschool and after-school programs, the 4th R, a very successful after-school program, was cancelled when schools reopened this spring. The program is only resuming in the fall due to pressure from district parents and intervention from City of Sacramento officials. The superintendent has repeatedly cut the district’s child development programs. In 2019-20, for example, he eliminated 599 pre-school slots for Sac City students, among other reductions, despite available funds.
When schools closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, the superintendent promised that every SCUSD student who needed a Chromebook would be provided one at no cost. Aguilar almost immediately backtracked on his commitment and limited distribution to one per family, regardless of family size, income, need, or conflicting class schedules. Making matters worse, Aguilar rejected a SCTA proposal to use employee health plan savings to purchase Chromebooks for every SCUSD student and to fund other efforts to bridge the digital divide for low-income families.
A Dismal Record of Labor Relations and Personnel Practices
In April 2019, the district had its first teacher strike in 30 years due to the superintendent reneging on a contract agreement he had personally negotiated and signed. In a similar manner, Aguilar recently announced that he was unilaterally violating an agreement signed with SEIU Local 1021 related to Covid-related health and safety standards.
“As an outsider to Sacramento, without a fully credentialed background as a K-12 educator or administrator and no experience in labor relations, Mr. Aguilar has made no effort to build a positive and trusting relationship with district employees. He refuses to even meet with us, return phone calls, or respond to emails,” said Karla Faucett, SEIU Local 1021 Chapter President. “Instead, Mr. Aguilar relies on anti-union outside consultants and law firms that cost tax-payers millions of dollars and provide bad advice.”
The California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has issued more complaints against SCUSD in the last three years for violations of the state’s labor laws than to any other school district in California. The state has 1,037 school districts, including many larger than Sacramento which ranks 13th in student enrollment.
In a truly bizarre action, in the spring of 2020 when Sacramento’s schools were switching to virtual learning, Aguilar threatened legal action against educators who voluntarily offered to help parents and students with technical issues related to distance learning. At Aguilar’s urging, lawyers for the district sent teachers a “cease and desist” letter threatening them with legal action if they did not stop volunteering to help students.
Some of the superintendent’s actions appear to be just mean-spirited. Despite receiving state funding and a mandate to continue compensation to all school employees during the early days of the pandemic, Aguilar refused to pay school substitutes, who could have been used to provide one-on-one assistance to students struggling online. SCUSD was the only large urban school district in the state to treat substitutes in this manner. Sac City’s substitute teachers were forced onto the state’s unemployment rolls.
A History of Conflict of Interest and Questionable Expenditures
Under Mr. Aguilar’s leadership, the district has come under criticism of potential conflict-of-interest violations, self-dealing and questionable expenditures. For example,soon after he was hired, SCUSD signed a $1.5 million data sharing agreement with UC Merced, where he remains an employee.
In 2017-18, Aguilar approved an unnecessary and costly $6 million vacation buyout for top administrators who could have been told to use their vacation time or take a cash payout at the time of retirement.
In late 2020, despite forceful warnings by SCTA and outside experts on public health, the superintendent authorized using funds set aside for Covid-related mitigation on a $6 million purchase of unproven, untested portable air filters insufficient for the proper ventilation of classrooms. After the Sacramento Bee exposed the inadequacy of these devices the portable air cleaners were sent unused to a district warehouse and new ventilators were purchased, costing the district millions more.
Where do we go from here?
SCUSD should be in a strong position to boost student services, reduce class size and build a better school district when classes resume in-person in the fall of 2021. The district is the recipient of an unprecedented $313 million in federal and state Covid-related relief funds, on top of large cash reserves, but no comprehensive plan has been developed and the superintendent’s failures threaten the rollout of programs and large portions of the funding.
For example, as part of Gov. Newsom’s 2021-22 state budget, school districts are required to seek community and stakeholder input in order to be eligible for Extended Learning Opportunity Grants. SCUSD is eligible to receive $28.5 million in additional state funds. Despite being informed of the grant and its requirements in March of 2021 (like every California school district), Aguilar failed to solicit the required input and hastily scheduled a special board meeting to obtain board approval prior to the June 1 grant application deadline. SCUSD’s failure to follow the procedures has now jeopardized the $28.5 million in education funds.
“The teachers and staff who work with Sac City’s students have lost confidence in this superintendent. The vote count reflects that,” said Fisher. “He has proven over and over again that he is unable to manage this district. Educators have no confidence in his ability to lead SCUSD at this pivotal time when our students and teachers are trying to make up lost ground.”
Members of SCTA and SEIU Local 1021 from across SCUSD began voting on June 4 with balloting concluding Wednesday. The two unions represent nearly all (98%) non-management employees of the district who work directly with students. Further information on the Aguilar record can be found here.