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Some Poway Unified School District non-teaching employees have racked up several years’ worth of vacation time beyond what they’re allowed.

It has become an estimated $6 million liability as of June 30, said Poway Superintendent Marian Kim-Phelps.

The former superintendent of the district, John Collins, is facing criminal charges in part for cashing out so much vacation time above what he was allowed.

The highest balance belongs to a maintenance supervisor with 238 days accrued, or at least nine years’ worth of accrued vacation benefits if given the usual 26 days per year, according to district documents obtained by Voice of San Diego through a California Public Records Act request. The second highest balance belongs to an administrative assistant in the personnel office with 185 days.

The district’s internal controls over vacation time were found lacking in two different audits over the last year, and Collins was fired, in part, for allegedly cashing out vacation time he wasn’t entitled to, including some he may have already taken. Prosecutors last month charged Collins with four felonies for misappropriating public funds. They accuse him of abusing vacation, sick and other leave time, as well as the district credit card. Collins has pleaded not guilty.

Now, new district leadership is zeroing in on vacation problems.

“The debt liability is a problem. The vacation balance is a problem,” said Kim-Phelps, who left Westminster School District to take the top job in Poway April 3. “We are trying to bring everybody down to what board policy allows,” which is one or two years’ worth of vacation. She said she hopes to get there in two to three years.

Beginning this year, managers will adhere to a vacation schedule, and some employees may need to take a day or two off every week to get their balances down.

“I think it’s important because of the criminal case going on,” Kim-Phelps said. “Unfortunately, I think employees are just doing what was established culture here, so we are just trying to protect the employee.”

It is common for non-teaching employees to receive 26 days – or 208 hours – of vacation each year, district officials said. By that measure, at least 255 non-teaching employees had more than a year’s worth of vacation in the bank at the end of last fiscal year.

Nineteen employees have more than 90 vacation days in the bank, and 55 employees have more than 60 days, separate from holidays, district records show.

Seven of the 20 highest vacation accruals belong to custodians. A couple others work in extended student services, a department that runs before- and after-school programs, while others are scattered across personnel, student support services and other departments. A high school registrar and electrician are also near the top, according to district figures.

Getting hours down for principals is going to be the hardest, Kim-Phelps said.

“If we have a principal with that much vacation, who’s going to handle the school?” she said.

Miguel Carrillo, principal of Meadowbrook Middle School, has amassed more vacation time than any other principal at nearly 132 days, district documents show. Carrillo said in an email that his vacation piled up “as a result of me being a ‘workaholic’” during 20 years with the district.

“I am taking a different approach now, both for a healthier work-life balance and to reduce the number of hours I’ve accumulated,” he said.

Carrillo also said he’s working with the district to bring his balance down and plans to use 40-46 vacation days each year for the next three years.

Ten employees showed a negative vacation balance as of June 30, with the lowest coming in at negative five days.

District staff proposed changing district policies for vacation time in August, but the changes were pulled before the board could vote on them.

“We are going to have legal counsel look at current policies to see if there’s anything we can add to prevent us from getting into this situation again,” Kim-Phelps said.

Ashly McGlone

Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org...

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