One of the big questions that came out in our story about where Shelia Jackson is living: If Jackson got free rent from a San Diego Unified employee, should she have been reporting it as a gift on her financial disclosures?

The Fair Political Practices Commission, a state watchdog that checks on conflicts of interest, has advised in the past that public officials should report free rent.

Four years ago, the state agency informed the city attorney for Port Hueneme, a small city in Ventura County, that “normally, when an official receives free rent, the official receives a gift.”

In California, public officials are allowed to accept gifts, but they must report what they get and from whom.

Public officials generally are barred from accepting more than $420 in gifts from one source in a calendar year. If public officials neglect to reveal gifts or income, they can be fined up to $5,000 per violation by the FPPC.

Executive Director Roman Porter said free rent could be considered income, rather than a gift, if services are provided in exchange. Income still needs to be reported if it is worth more than $500.

Neither Jackson nor Gwendolyn Kirkland, the school administrator she said she stayed with, indicated that Jackson provided any kind of services in exchange for staying at the Valencia Park home. Jackson said she didn’t think she needed to report the free rent.

The school district also sets out rules about what the school board members must reveal: Under its conflict of interest code, San Diego Unified says trustees must report income from “any Agency-related source” worth $250 or more and gifts worth $50 or more.

Kirkland worked last year as an interim principal. In earlier years, she had worked as a vice principal and a peer coach before taking a leave of absence to teach at the University of California, San Diego. Jackson voted with the rest of the school board last summer to approve Kirkland’s selection as interim principal at Fulton K-8 School.

Emily Alpert is the education reporter for What should she write about next? Please contact her directly at

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

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