Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Karen Janney / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Karen Janney, who was on leave from her position as superintendent of Sweetwater Union High School District, was officially fired by board members Monday.

Sweetwater became embroiled in a $30 million financial scandal under Janney’s leadership. Throughout the scandal – and resulting budget cuts – Janney insisted the problems were not her fault and that she could steer the district back to financial stability. But then a state audit in June suggested Janney and two top finance workers may have committed criminal wrongdoing by misrepresenting the district’s finances.

Janney was put on leave two days later. In their action Monday, Sweetwater board members did not terminate her effective immediately. Instead, her termination will become official in 90 days.

Janney will not receive any payout related to the termination, said spokesman Manny Rubio. Once the 90 days are up, however, she will have spent roughly five months on paid leave.

Her current salary is more than $250,000 per year.

The district’s irregular finances first came to light publically in September 2018, when Voice of San Diego revealed the district had suddenly come up more than $30 million short in its budget. Further reporting showed that officials pushed through across-the-board raises they knew were unaffordable, which tanked the district’s finances. Instead of coming clean about their deteriorating financial position, district officials covered it up.

The district has had to cut tens of millions from its budget. The cuts had wide-ranging impacts from the classroom to transportation – leading some students to be forced to walk to school.

State investigators have referred their findings to the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating the district.

Multiple finance workers informed the district’s top two finance workers that the budget looked problematic. Those officials brushed aside their concerns and told them not to worry about it. But privately, Doug Martens, the district’s then-director of finance, was acknowledging to some colleagues that the budget was much worse than it seemed on paper.

“‘It’s just so bad,’ he kept saying,” one of Martens’ colleagues recalled. “‘Next year is gonna be so bad. It’s gonna be so bad. There’s going to be layoffs.’ It was weird. I didn’t know what he meant at the time.”

Janney has never publicly acknowledged what she knew about the district’s misrepresented finances or when she knew it.

Sweetwater’s board voted 4-1 to terminate her contract. Only board member Frank Tarantino, a longtime friend of Janney’s, voted against the firing. Back in 2017, according to the Union-Tribune, he said, “You are the superintendent that this district always needed but never had.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post mischaracterized the terms of Janney’s termination. District spokesman Manny Rubio clarified after publication that she will not receive any payout, beyond what she earns while on paid leave.

Will Huntsberry

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at will@vosd.org...

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