CUSD Union Members Fumed Over Salary Offer to Finance Guru

A complaint sent to trustees prompted the district to revise the terms. The job candidate then declined the offer to run the school district's finances.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated at 4:09 p.m. to include quotes from John Pappalardo, the candidate who turned down Capo Unified's offer.

At first he said yes, then no. In between came a union complaint that the salary being offered for Capo Unified's new finance director was too high in the midst of trimming next year's budget.

“Paying more for a management position during this fiscal crisis sends the wrong message,” wrote Ronda Walen, president of the California School Employee Association’s local Chapter 224 in an email to the seven Capo school board members. (District officials have said .)

Specifically, Walen objected to the district offering more money than predecessor made and to a provision that would have made the salary offer immune to budget cutbacks.

On March 12, the school board trustees met in closed session and agreed to offer John Pappalardo, currently the chief financial officer for Pasadena Unified, the job of Capo’s deputy superintendent of business and support services.

The next day, Pasadena-area newspapers reported that , and CUSD issued its own press release March 15.

But on Wednesday, Superintendent Joseph Farley that Pappalardo – who had already accepted one revision to the offer – was experiencing “second thoughts” and had declined the offer.

Pappalardo told Patch that a number of concerns went into his decision, but in the end, the money wasn't enough to make the move worthwhile.

"While it is true that a mutual agreement was not able to be reached, my final decision was based on a number of factors, including financial, personal, and timing issues in consultation with my family," Pappalardo said. "In the end, the financial benefit of changing jobs was not significant enough to warrant a move." 

Walen’s March 23 letter to the trustees said Pappalardo was offered $23,000 more a year than Lebs made. According to a contract included in Wednesday's trustee packet, the district was set to spend $198,000 a year for Pappalardo's salary.

Walen said it was especially unfair that Pappalardo’s new job wouldn’t be subject to cuts other employees may have to make in the coming years.

“If he is to be a leader in this district he should lead by example and accept a contract that subjects him to all the same cut every other CUSD employee will be asked to accept,” Walen wrote.

Three days later, Monday, Farley emailed trustees to say Walen’s points were “valid,” and he had adjusted the district’s offer accordingly.

Walen and district spokesman Marcus Walton did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Farley said Wednesday that although there were several issues that gave Pappalardo pause, the primary reason for rejecting the offer was salary.

Pappalardo did initially agree to the changes and to "accept any cost-of-living increases or decreases [emphasis in original] given to other members of the Capistrano Unified management, anytime after June 30, 3012 [sic]," Farley told trustees in his Monday email to trustees.

“Since we are anticipating that a reduction will be made for management, this language has the potential to reduce his salary by at least 4.7 percent, or higher, depending on what is actually done with management salaries,” Farley wrote, adding that he too would take any management decrease the board decides is necessary.

Walen indicated in her email that union members encouraged her to contact the trustees.

“While CSEA understands the magnitude of the impending fiscal disaster that is happening due to the irresponsible actions of politicians in Sacramento, members don’t believe that every measure is being taken locally to control unnecessary spending,” the email states.

“While we all may never agree on exactly what ‘essential’ spending really means, the continued approval of higher priced management and other non-essential items makes it difficult for me to convince my members that the threat is real and that CUSD has no other option than to ask them to sacrifice again.”

The district is currently employing two consultants to fill the role of deputy superintendent of business and support services. The temporary contracts for Robyn Phillips and Tim Holcomb are set to expire Saturday, although they can be extended by mutual agreement.

Phillips is being paid $2,500 a week; Holcomb $215 an hour.

For his part, Pappalardo said it was an honor to receive an offer from Capo Unified. 

"Everyone I met in Capistrano USD was professional, positive and friendly," he said. "The efficiency I found in Capistrano USD reminded me of the small districts I have dealt with over the years, and very atypical of larger district bureaucracies.  

"I was very impressed with the leadership and staff that I encountered, and I can see the positive trajectory that Capistrano Unified School District is on under the excellent leadership of Dr. Farley and his team," Pappalardo said.


Capo mom March 31, 2012 at 04:51 AM
If you want to know what people thought of the decision to hire Pappalardo, check the comments on the original announcement. Oh, wait, there weren't any. I was personally ambivalent because I don't trust the decision making process at the DO but going into this budget cycle I knew we really needed someone. Pappalardo had experience in public school financing with significant deficits and collective bargaining issues. He managed to take PUSD from a $17 million hole to a positive position with 4% reserve with no layoffs. That was promising. School financing is complicated in 1 sense but not so in another. The former board understood the issues. For those who think that $200k is too much to pay a CFO of an extremely troubled enterprise, I have a question Why did the board approve his original contract? Were they wrong to do so? Farley & Walen obviously think so. That is very short sighted. No one will come to CUSD for this position without security. Why should they? They had no hand in creating our problems nor were they (unlike current CUSD employees) the beneficiary of the spending orgy that brought us to this point. But who really needs a good CFO in CUSD, anyway? The most obvious answer is Farley-now he must negotiate solo with the county for the funding CUSD needs, (fun!) and the unions-with 92 cents of every dollar cut will come from salaries, they will feel the most pain. To call these people idiots would be to overstate their intelligence dramatically.
Pam Sunderman March 31, 2012 at 05:03 AM
Penny, does the Patch have any policies on cyberstalking? Capo mom seems to be walking a very fine line here. Why would she be so intent on tracking down whoever she thinks I am and wherever I happen to live? I'm getting a little concerned for my safety if she ever actually figures it out. And a little concerned for her mental health...she seems to be somewhat obsessed with my identity for some strange reason known only to her.
LeAna Bui March 31, 2012 at 05:47 AM
Capo Mom: Are you really insulting every teacher in the state of California? Union cattle car? Many of the most talented teachers I personally know have gone into the profession "in spite of" the union and the low pay. They do it because it is a calling that they are passionate about. I am so thankful that these teachers do not allow the venom of people like you stop them from doing their jobs.
LeAna Bui March 31, 2012 at 05:53 AM
JG: I agree completely!! When I referred to what parents know - I was just making a case that if we can identify certain teachers, I'm sure the admin can do even better. Parents should in no way be involved in an individual teacher's compensation review.
mayo gubbins April 03, 2012 at 01:40 AM
One thing we can all agree on is that CUSD gets much less than other districts. The CA average per child is somewhere around $8,300 while CUSD gets around $7,200. If this district had the extra grand per child, then it would have an extra 50 million a year. Call Mimi Waters and Harkey to complain. CUSD has the highest API for a large district and gets the least amount of money.


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