Photo: Stockton Unified Board President Cecilia Mendez and trustees Ray Zulueta Jr. and Scot McBrian at a recent town hall meeting. (DUANE SANDERS/CONTRIBUTOR)

In a monumental blunder — or a shady deal — Stockton Unified trustees illegally pressured Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. to resign, officials say. Trustees must rescind both his resignation and lucrative new job contract.

The board acted in closed session, a flagrant violation of the Brown Act, a California law prohibiting secret government decisions, Troy A. Brown, San Joaquin County’s superintendent of schools, wrote to the board in an Aug. 31 letter.

“The Stockton Unified School District Governing Board violated important public rights when it took this illegal action on June 9, 2022,” Brown wrote.

Minutes of the June 9 “special closed session” show trustees accepted Ramirez’s resignation behind closed doors, reassigned him to a nebulous year-long job at the same wage and almost same benefits, and emerged only to announce their decision before adjourning.

The vote was 4/2/1 in favor with yes votes from Board Chair Cecilia Mendez, trustees Ray Zulueta, Scott McBrian, and Zachary Ignacio Avelar, no votes from AngelAnn Flores and Alicia Rico, and Trustee Maria Mendez absent.

This gross negligence — if it is indeed a mistake and not deliberate — is the latest stain on Stockton Unified’s embattled Board of Trustees. The 7-person board, as well as certain senior district executives, are under investigation by federal, state, and local agencies.

It cements Stockton Unified as the nucleus of incompetence and possibly corruption in San Joaquin County. Activists have called on most trustees to immediately resign.

Though Ramirez’s resignation and reassignment must be rescinded, he will not retake the helm of Stockton Unified. A Brown Act loophole gives violators 30 days to fix their violation. This is what County Superintendent Brown’s “cure and correct” letter demands.

“The County Superintendent of Schools plays an important role in the oversight of school districts, and this is a duty that I take very seriously,” Brown said in a statement. “State law is … there to ensure transparency and protect the rights of the people of California. The public’s business must be conducted openly.”

Trustees have until Oct. 30 to put Ramirez’s firing and reassignment on a board meeting agenda for public discussion.

The public may not like what it sees.

In the “Resignation and Transition Agreement” finalized in secret, the board declared Ramirez “Superintendent Emeritus” through June 30, 2023, giving him his old wages and benefits for a year, minus vacation days and travel stipend.

In exchange for agreeing to release Stockton Unified from any grievances and claims—and, of course, the inevitable non-disparagement agreement buying Ramirez’s silence—Ramirez gets $285,000.

That is more than the $245,000 the county Superintendent of Schools earns for overseeing the entire county education system. Almost as much as the $296,000 the chancellor of the California Community College system makes for overseeing 116 colleges.

Ramirez’s vague job: “reporting directly to the Board, providing transition assistance to SUSD, with duties to be assigned by the Board President.”

Reporting directly to the board, with no more job description than “transition assistance,” and no public accountability, is another secretive and illegal aspect of the deal.

“When they entered into the Ramirez contract … all of it has to be agendized and subject to public comment,” said San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. “The vote has to be public.”

Few if any beside the board president even know what Ramirez does to earn his sweet compensation.

“He is not on any Stockton Unified campus or building,” said district spokesperson Melinda Meza.

Ramirez did not return a late call for comment. Neither did board Chair Cecilia Mendez.

Trustee AngelAnn Flores explained her no vote: “Because I don’t believe we should pay a man $300,000 a year for destroying our district while he sits at home, and our district is left to pick up the pieces, leaving our students to carry the weight.”

The action calls into question the competence and integrity of board officials. According to district records, they were given Brown Act training in an October 12, 2021, study session.

It is reasonable to assume they knew what they were doing.

Another question involves district General Counsel Jack Lipton. Lipton’s job is to advise trustees of their Brown Act obligations. He either failed to do so or they ignored him.

Lipton had a prior relationship with Ramirez. He worked for a law firm that contracted with the Alisal Union School District of Salinas when Ramirez was superintendent there.

It appears Lipton had a conflict of interest. If so, he should have recused himself. Any outside counsel would have immediately apprised trustees of Brown Act requirements.

Now it is not clear to outsiders if Lipton was representing trustees or Ramirez. Or whether anyone was representing taxpayers, or Stockton Unified’s approximately 37,600 students.

In a brief statement, Lipton denied any conflict of interest. Asked whether he warned trustees they broke the law, he replied, “My communications are protected from disclosure by attorney-client privilege.”

Former SUSD Superintendent John Ramirez.

Another possible outcome—an out for the board—is to decline to rehire Ramirez because of his Aug. 25 drunk driving arrest. Police say Ramirez blew a very drunk .225%.

To put this fishy deal in context, remember that Stockton Unified is being investigated by the FBI, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, the California State Employees Association, and the state’s Financial Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), not to mention the county grand jury, which has issued two withering reports decrying how inept or dirty leaders are running the district into the ground. The head of FCMAT has stated publicly he expects to find fraud.

Given the clouds over Stockton Unified, a reasonable observer would wonder whether the trustees’ deal with Ramirez was a golden parachute or hush money.

And, if the latter, what is being hushed up? If trustees dislike such suspicion, they have no one to blame but themselves for making an illegal, back-room deal.

Michael Fitzgerald’s column regularly runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email michaelfstockton@gmail.com.

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14 Comments

    1. They said he had no contact with students and not on any campuses. They also never denied paying Ramirez his same salary in his new position if Superintendent Emeritus…

  1. Oh damn Fitzgerald is spitting more facts! Uncovering more of the corruption! We parents and community members really appreciate all the information. With school board elections right around the corner this information will be useful to us.

    1. You think that’s bad? SUSD Transportation Department is now on it’s SIXTH director/manager in ONE year! Again, Cecilia Mendez has meddled, intimidated and raged at them if her best friend, who works there, doesn’t get her way and she either removes them or they get disgusted and leave.

  2. SUSD is a cesspool of corruption. A former mayor and convicted felon grifting off a district he’s trying to sue; a terminated superintendent rewarded with a $300k nondescript district position; high paid director positions handed out without interviews — and a in-house, propaganda machine (209 Times) devoted to providing Mendez and her gang cover while attacking their critics! Top it all off with a Mayor who routinely attends something called the “SUSD Summer of Love Tour” rather than focus on the gun violence that is rocking this city…. It is time we put the entire city under state receivership.

  3. Make no mistake. John Ramirez was brought in specifically as Cecilia Mendez’s puppet. That’s why she hired him, violating SUSD hiring protocol. She continues to this day to disregard SUSD policy with no consequences. Zulueta, Rico, Avelar, McBrian and, at times, M. Mendez, should all be ashamed of their cowardly actions not standing up to her unethical and alledge illegal behavior. These trustees are not competent or knowledgeable to run a bingo game, let alone a school district and need to be gone.

  4. Where will it end. One embarrassing and illegal disaster after another. Sadly it’s the district’s students that will suffer.

  5. Can Stocktonia do a FOIA request for Lipton’s contract? Why would SUSD board okay (pay for) Lipton to be hired as attorney for Ramirez only? Wouldn’t SUSD only pay for attorneys for SUSD? How would they be authorized to use public funds to pay for an attorney for a private individual, Ramirez. Even if Ramirez was sued as Superintendent, District should have insurance, so no need to hire a different attorney.

    Can Stocktonia do FOIA request for all contracts with nonprofits managed, directed, founded by SUSD trustees going back maybe 10, 15 years? This would show evidence (if any exists) of self-dealing by trustees. Where are district records kept? For how long?

    San Joaquin Office of Ed says it has some level of oversight over SUSD? Where has it been??? Does it keep copies of above-referenced records?

    Why/how are developers allowed to place new developments (housing/students) in other districts (e.g., Weston Ranch in Manteca, north Stockton in Lodi, etc.) and avoid placing in SUSD? Doesn’t this mean SUSD will fail eventually?

  6. I wish was surprised. I only wish more people in the community knew about this. Particularly our non-English speaking community, they need to know what is going on.

  7. If the corruption and rot in the SUSD is ever to be addressed, it is vital that AngelAnn Flores remain on the board, and that Mendez and her cohorts are voted out! Vote for Donald Donaire area 5, Sofia Colón area 6 and Keneetha Stevens area 7.

  8. I am appalled that the Latino/Mexican community and those groups that claim to be advocates of the same are no where to be found. It’s clear that there is a need for the development of Latino Leadership in the county/ city.
    Many individuals in the past have worked tireless to insure SUSD, CITY COUNCIL, COUNTY BOARD, SJDC and UOP pay attention to residents and students alike. There will always be those that serve on boards for their own gain. Those need to be exposed! SUSD Board of Trustees have always been plagued with problems. This needs to stop! SUSD teachers, students and parents deserve much more!! YA BASTA!!!

  9. I am appalled that the Latino/ Mexican community and those groups that claim to be advocates of the same , are no where to be found. It is clear that there is a need for the development of Latino leadership in the county/city. Many individuals have worked tirelessly to insure SUSD, CITY COUNCIL, SAN JOAQUIN SUPERVISORS, SJDC and UOP pay attention to students and parents alike. There will always be those who serve on boards for their own gain! Those members need ti be exposed and “recalled!” SUSD has been plagued with problems, time and time again! This needs to stop! SUSD administrators, faculty, parents and most of all STUDENTS deserve much more! YA BASTA!! Enough is enough!!

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