The Sweetwater Union High School District board on Monday tightened rules on how — and whether — members get paid when they miss meetings, but did not define which excuses are acceptable for absences.
Sweetwater board members are paid $827 a month and hold regular meetings twice a month. State law allows school board members to be paid for meetings that they don’t attend if they were sick, doing work for the district, on jury duty or occupied by a “hardship.”
Sweetwater board members have been automatically paid for missed meetings, board clerk Deanne Vicedo said. Board members have not had to give a reason for their absences, and by default their absences were recorded as being due to a hardship, Vicedo said.
Some residents took issue with the reimbursement process last month when the board was about to approve paying member Nicholas Segura for a meeting he missed in August.
Segura missed that meeting because he dined with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a gubernatorial candidate on the November ballot. The reason listed on the agenda by Vicedo for paying Segura was hardship. At Monday’s board meeting, he said he would not accept pay for the missed meeting.
“I was surprised to learn that under a previous board process, if one of us misses a meeting, there was an automatic procedure to receive the payment which occurred without a board member’s requesting the compensation,” said Segura, who has been on the board since 2014.
“I’m not going to request compensation for the last meeting in August. And I need it corrected. I missed the meeting due to attending a work-related function in Sacramento where I advocated for — possibly the next governor of California — where I advocated for apprenticeships, workplace safety standards and safe, high-tech school facilities, among other things. It was brought to my attention that I was to receive compensation for that missed meeting without my express request. This board action will correct, I believe this board action will correct and ensure the board members must now fill out a form to request compensation for a missed meeting so it’s going to be clear.”
The board voted unanimously Monday to begin requiring members to submit a form requesting payment for a missed meeting.
To be reimbursed, board members will have to check a box on the new form saying whether they missed the meeting because they were sick, on jury duty, doing work for the district or because of a hardship. They also have to write down what the hardship or district work was.
Some members of the public at Monday’s meeting complained that the change wasn’t substantial enough.
They said that because the board did not define “hardship,” board members could theoretically claim anything as a hardship and still get paid, if the board chose. State law does not specify what constitutes a hardship and leaves it up to school boards to decide.
“They could put down they were playing tiddlywinks,” district resident Stewart Payne said to the board. “And you could say, oh yeah, let’s approve that, that’s a hardship.”
Board President Paula Hall said after meeting that the board did not define hardship to keep its policy generic, as it is in state law.
“It’s not because we’re trying to get away with anything,” Hall said.
The board has the power to interpret on a case-by-case basis what a hardship is, and it trusts that what board members will write on the form will be true, Hall said.
“We have utmost trust in each other that we’re doing things right,” Hall said.
In his statement, Segura said, “While the rules only recognize monthly compensation for board meetings, we all know we do much to prepare for these meetings and digest — this is a small one — digest all the information that’s in here to the best of our abilities with the supporting documents. We also attend countless community engagement meetings, advocacy meetings, all over the city, the state, wherever we’re at. And going forward, I will not accept compensation for a single meeting that I miss. So I’m happy to say that.”