Photo: The Stockton Unified School District Board of Trustees in session on Tuesday. (DUANE SANDERS/STOCKTONIA)
The Stockton Unified Board of Education has rectified any illegal actions trustees made when approving a “resignation” agreement several months ago with former District Superintendent John Ramirez Jr., according to the San Joaquin County Office of Education.
“We are glad this matter is resolved,” the district said in a statement to Stocktonia Friday afternoon.
However, the county wasn’t entirely satisfied with how trustees handled the issue.
Trustees originally approved Ramirez’s resignation agreement during closed session at a special meeting in June, but put the item back on the governing board’s agenda Tuesday to revote on the matter publicly.
Setting aside what were described as several “missteps,” County Superintendent of Schools Troy Brown said that the board ultimately corrected any violations it had previously committed when approving Ramirez’s “employment agreement.”
“(My) … letter to the SUSD Governing Board on this matter substantially accomplished the primary goal of ensuring the public’s business is conducted in public,” Brown said Thursday afternoon in a statement to Stocktonia.
Brown accused the board in an official letter sent to the district last month of “substantial violations of central provisions” of California’s Brown Act, a state law requiring government meetings and decision making be open to the public, by illegally approving what was essentially a new “employment” contract behind closed doors.
Stockton Unified said Friday that the board’s actions at Tuesday’s meeting complied with both the law and Brown’s request. However, district counsel also sought to again clarify in a letter dated Wednesday to Brown that the deal was a resignation agreement and not an employment contract.
“The payment to Mr. Ramirez under the Agreement is severance in the form of salary continuation, he was not hired into a new position, he has not been given nor has he performed any job duties as Superintendent Emeritus and there is no intention to do so,” district counsel said in the letter. “(The) title of ‘Emeritus’ is just to indicate his former position with the District.”
District officials also told Stocktonia that the agreement itself shows that Ramirez resigned.
“The payments are severance payments and not payment for services,” officials said. “The severance payments go through a monthly payment process.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, the district contested that any violations had occurred but put the item back on the agenda in an attempt to correct any perceived wrongdoing that may or may not have happened the first time around. Trustees reaffirmed the unaltered agreement Tuesday by a 5-2 vote following a heated discussion.
Several trustees also described Ramirez’s compensation as severance, not an employment contract, and said the agreement was in line with what had been offered to previous superintendents.
Ramirez resigned his post in June a little more than a year into his three-year contract after being officially hired as the Stockton Unified superintendent. He had also served as the district’s interim superintendent for three months prior to his permanent hiring for the position in May 2021.
The “resignation and transition agreement” between the district and Ramirez both accepted Ramirez’s resignation while also declaring him “Superintendent Emeritus” for a period of one year, starting July 1 and ending June 30, 2023. Ramirez was also guaranteed “the same ($285,000) salary and benefits that he received as Superintendent, except without a travel stipend and without vacation days.”
As superintendent emeritus, the agreement says Ramirez would report “directly to the Board, providing transition assistance to SUSD, with duties to be assigned by the Board President.” The agreement doesn’t specify nor give any examples of what those duties might be or include.
The former superintendent also agreed to release Stockton Unified from any grievances and claims, as well as refrain from disparaging the district.
Trustees indeed violated the Brown Act when it approved an agreement to hire Ramirez as superintendent emeritus without providing an oral report to the public beforehand, Brown said Thursday. He also described his disappointment that the board continues to deny it had done anything illegal and characterize the contract with Ramirez as only a resignation agreement.
“The agreement is clearly also an employment agreement,” Brown said.
Brown also noted that the board only disclosed Ramirez’s annual salary and not what was included in his continuing benefits package.
“It is important that the SUSD Governing Board seek additional Brown Act training,” Brown concluded.