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As the county superintendent of schools, Randy Ward oversees an office that vets school district budgets. That is serious power as districts try to balance their budgets under state cuts.

But Ward is making headlines over financial mistakes in his past. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson wrote last week that Ward amassed millions in fines and other charges from the state controller for fiscal mismanagement during his tenure at Oakland Unified.

Before coming to San Diego, Ward was chosen by the state to take the helm at Oakland Unified after it suffered major financial problems. He was there from 2003 to 2006.

Johnson reported that Ward underestimated payroll liability and failed to reconcile cash accounts, and that “the situation suggests that on some financial matters, Ward ran the district in much the same cavalier fashion as before the takeover.” Now the Oakland schools could be on the hook for the fines.

In his column, Johnson pegged the fines at more than $25 million. Oakland Unified spokesman Troy Flint told me that using the $25 million figure mistakenly gives Ward the responsibility for all six years that the school district was under state control, since Ward was only there for three years.

Flint said some of the costs come from errors made throughout the state takeover, which means it is unclear whether they occurred while Ward was there or while someone else was at the helm. Nearly $2.3 million in the fines can be clearly tied back to the time Ward was leading Oakland Unified.

Big or not-so-big, the Oakland fines are a blotch on his reputation as the “fix-it guy” for troubled schools. Ward has hefty responsibilities for school finances here in San Diego. His office can insist that school districts rewrite their budget plans if numbers are off. If a school system neglects to draw up a budget, the County Office can stop them from cutting checks.

I called Ward on Friday to get his thoughts, but as of Wednesday morning, I hadn’t heard back. I’ll update the blog if I hear back from him about it.

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated Johnson wrote for the Oakland Tribune. He writes for the San Francisco Chronicle. We regret the error.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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