File photo by Sam Hodgson
San Diego Unified School District trustee Richard Barrera’s new job is getting a lot of attention these days.
Barrera recently took the reins of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, the umbrella group for the region’s labor unions.
Plenty of discussion about potential conflicts of interest followed the announcement. The Labor Council and its board, who will oversee Barrera’s work, includes the teachers union. An outside attorney hired by the school district found Barrera might have to recuse himself from time to time. But he can keep his school board post despite his new role.
In a June 5 U-T San Diego story about the legal opinion, school board president John Lee Evans emphasized that Barrera isn’t the only one with an outside gig.
He claimed all school board trustees must balance that role with a full-time job. The district’s part-time trustees only make about $17,500 a year, he said.
We decided it was worthwhile to vet Evans’ statement in light of all the attention Barrera’s new job has garnered. Digging into trustees’ outside employment would reveal more about their work outside the board, as well as potential conflicts.
Let’s start with a look at trustees’ current gigs.
Statement: “All of our current board members have full time outside employment.”
Determination: BARELY TRUE
As we explained above, Barrera recently took on a full-time gig as the secretary-treasurer of the Labor Council. He represents Sub-District D, which includes San Diego’s central neighborhoods including Golden Hill and City Heights.
We laid out the potential conflicts of interest associated with Barrera’s new role in a May 31 post.
Trustee Kevin Beiser represents Sub-District B, which includes schools as far north as Scripps Ranch High and as far southeast as Patrick Henry High School in San Carlos.
Beiser works full time as a math teacher at Granger Junior High School in National City. He teaches seventh, eighth and ninth grade students.
John Lee Evans
Evans represents Sub-District A, which includes schools in Mira Mesa and Clairemont Mesa.
He is a clinical psychologist who maintains private practice offices in La Jolla and Poway. Evans said he typically works more than 40 hours a week.
Sub-District C Trustee Scott Barnett’s job status is less straightforward.
Barnett, whose district includes San Diego’s coastal neighborhoods, works as a consultant. He’s recently completed that work through three entities: Scott Barnett/Barnett Consulting, California Campaign & Election Services and as the Taxpayers’ Advocate. (We provided more details on the latter in a post last fall.)
Barnett said he primarily works for political campaigns but also conducts research for other groups.
Barnett’s latest financial disclosure filed with the state Fair Political Processes Commission shows his consulting clients include San Diego Gas & Electric and Earl Jentz, a Chula Vista landowner known for his investments in campaigns and candidates. He’s also worked for the California Taxpayers Advocate, a Sacramento-based political action committee.
Barnett acknowledged the potential for conflicts with his role as a school board trustee. Barnett said he’s careful to avoid taking on jobs that raise legal concerns or even the appearance of them. In two cases, Barnett said he turned down potential work for those reasons. He would not elaborate on those instances.
“I try to pursue an abundance of caution,” he said.
Barnett said the hours he puts in each week vary considerably. He estimated he works 30 to 60 hours a week as a consultant. Things pick up during campaign season and sometimes slow down due to school board work, Barnett said.
Marne Foster is the newest school board trustee. She represents Sub-District E, which includes San Diego’s southeastern neighborhoods.
Foster works as an instructor and administrator at San Diego Continuing Education, which is part of the San Diego Community College District.
She works 12 hours a week as the school’s program review and student learning outcomes coordinator and also assists with accreditation efforts. Foster works with faculty members and deans to assess student achievement and the school’s ability to meet its goals on specific programs.
Foster also serves as an adjunct instructor and teaches a general education class three times a week.
Foster’s contract calls for 14.75 hours of teaching per week. She estimates she spends an additional five to 10 hours each week grading, filling out and updating paperwork, and meeting with students.
This would mean Foster typically works between roughly 32 to 37 hours a week.
“You don’t just do your hours and you’re done,” Foster said. “It is all of these additional work meetings, advising students, staying after. That’s the life of a teacher.”
The school’s current contract with its faculty members only considers those who work 40 hours a week full-time, according to a spokeswoman for San Diego Continuing Education.
This includes 25 hours of teaching, five hours of prep time and 10 hours of non-class work, spokeswoman Ranessa Ashton said.
Foster keeps busy with her work at San Diego Continuing Education but her work there doesn’t constitute full-time employment.
Evans had claimed all board members hold full-time jobs separate from their roles as school board trustees.
Both Barnett and Foster certainly must balance their roles as school board trustees with significant job commitments but neither consistently works full-time hours.
Still, the majority of school board trustees do hold full-time jobs.
A statement is considered barely true when it contains an element of truth but is missing critical context that may alter the impression it leaves.
This label fits here because while the majority of school board trustees do hold full-time jobs, not all do.
Evans acknowledged he hadn’t quizzed fellow trustees about their jobs but emphasized that all have demanding ones.
The result is that scheduling special board meetings often requires lots of back-and-forth over potential gathering times, he said.
That’s a necessary exercise due to school board members’ salaries, which Evans said require that trustees keep a full-time job.
“Board members must maintain significant outside employment to support themselves beyond the board salary,” he said.
This brings us to Evans’ second claim in the U-T San Diego story.
Statement: “The school board is a part-time position, which currently pays about $17,500 per year.”
The school district said trustees receive $1,471.20 per month, which amounts to $17,654.40. This is very close to the amount Evans cited so we’ll give his statement a true rating.
It’s worth noting that trustees’ salaries are set at $18,000 but board members agreed to take a small pay cut when they voted to impose mandatory furloughs on other district employees.
If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.
Value investigative reporting? Support it. Donate Now.