Photo: The Stockton Unified School District’s Coleman Building. (MICHAEL FITZGERALD/CONTRIBUTOR)
A higher-up at Stockton Unified School District is demanding $800,000 severance. Armando Orozco says if he is paid off, “I will leave your corrupt district in silence.”
Orozco, director of facilities, may leave the district in silence or in trouble with the law. That depends on findings of an investigation into missing Stockton Unified property.
“You know very well … that I have a concrete lawsuit against SUSD in which I will be entitled to a lot more.” Orozco warned in a Sept. 21 email to interim Superintendent Traci Miller.
Orozco’s desire to trade cash for omerta is the latest in the ongoing story of mismanagement and possible (let’s upgrade that to probable) corruption in Stockton’s largest school district.
You may remember Orozco as the exec who, according to The Stockton Record, disclosed to over 100 staffers on July 27 that he was being investigated by the FBI. Also by state auditors who are sifting SUSD’s books in search of missing millions.
The district subsequently clarified that Orozco told employees he was investigated by those agencies at a previous job (why Orozco saw fit to reveal this is anybody’s guess).
All are probing in the wake of two blistering grand jury reports finding gross mismanagement, sketchy dealings, and possible impending insolvency.
Orozco was hired by Stockton Unified in July 2021. He came in on the same wave that brought former Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. and other controversial top employees.
Many of them are under a cloud of suspicion in connection with missing funds, possible bid rigging, illegal personnel changes and other alleged misdeeds.
In Orozco’s case, we should not assume guilt by association. That said, it’s getting harder to presume innocence with this crew.
As director of facilities, Orozco is “directly responsible to the Chief Business Officer (CBO) for all matters related to the planning, acquisition, construction, maintenance and operations of district facilities,” according to the district’s job description.
His current annual salary is $145,174.35
Orozco’s email was redacted down to one strident paragraph and posted on the agenda of Tuesday’s school board meeting.
“It is very clear that SUSD is on a direct mission to destroy me and have me terminated simply because I am not allowing corrupt and erroneous actions to continue any longer,” he wrote.
Thanks to “horrifying acts of terrorism” Orozco says “my wellbeing (sic) and health is now in severe jeopardy.”
The redacted version of Orozco’s email offers no instances of “terrorism,” nor does it detail his health problems. It’s unclear if these were omissions or if his rhetoric is just overheated.
His full, three-page email, which I obtained, also lacks concrete examples of terror or failing health. It chronicles a few snarky calls or encounters with disgruntled citizens, nothing more.
Stockton Unified was clearly right to redact this screed. In it Orozco freely points the finger of blame at colleagues and vendors. In fairness to them, I’m leaving all that out, at least for now.
With one exception. Orozco alleges that Debra Keller, director of the Head Start program, trespassed on his family property, taking pictures and video.
He writes of “Debra Keller illegally trespassing onto my property … to harass, threaten and cause harm to me and my family … in an attempt to document my personal property.”
Orozco writes he’s had to install security cameras because his wife and children fear for their lives. “We cannot go to the grocery store without looking over our shoulders.”
Because someone wanted to “document” his property? Am I missing something?
Orozco further complains he was entangled in one of the SUSD’s fishiest deals, the $8 million purchase against district rules of a bogus air filtration system from a sketchy company.
“Day two of my employment with SUSD I was included with the illegal purchase of the IAQ purifying systems,” he writes.
Although he opposed the deal, Orozco writes, “I have been dragged through the social media outlets and blamed for the purchase … SUSD has allowed my reputation to be ruined.”
Now you’re wondering why the Director of Early Childhood Education/School Readiness — Keller, of Head Start — would allegedly skulk about Orozco’s property with cameras.
According to district spokesperson Melinda Meza, Stockton Unified police are investigating the theft or misplacement of at least one 40-foot portable container from the district corporation yard.
The container may have held preschool equipment.
Interim Superintendent Traci E. Miller issued a cautious statement. “We take any reports of illegal activity seriously. If there are any wrongdoings within SUSD we would report to proper agencies for a complete investigation.”
The proper agencies. I asked if Keller may have been conducting her own investigation.
Meza replied, “She’s on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.”
Attempts to reach Orozco and Keller were unsuccessful.
Trustees on Tuesday discussed Orozco’s demand in closed session. One said afterward their actions were “not reportable.”
Orozco may be blameless — except, perhaps, his implicit threat to sing like a canary unless given $800,000. If he knows of corruption, he should report it, not use it as a bargaining chip, while moaning about his reputation.
Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.