Probe begins at MV Whisman
District's CEO resigns as state auditors look into allegations of inflated salaries
At the request of Superintendent Maurice Ghysels, auditors from the California State Teachers Retirement System arrived at Mountain View Whisman's district offices Monday to investigate allegations of a scheme to inflate the salaries of outgoing school officials.
The audit begins two weeks after it was announced that one of the accused, chief financial officer Rebecca Wright, would be stepping down at the end of the school year. Despite the close timing, "One does not have anything to do with the other," said the district's human resources director, Stephanie Totter.
According to the allegations, brought by an anonymous letter sent to district officials and news outlets last November, Wright and Totter conspired to inflate the final compensation of former Superintendent Eleanor Yick and former Associate Superintendent Modrite Archibeque, and in return received a salary increase during the 2005-06 school year.
The letter alleged that Yick and Archibeque added nearly $18,000 in health benefits — and, in Yick's case, an additional $3,500 in phone and mileage expenses — to inflate their final year's salary. Retirement is based on final year's salary, and the higher salaries would result in thousands more in retirement benefits per year.
A prepared statement issued by the district this week did not indicate the reason for Wright's March 22 resignation notice. On March 28, one week later, the district announced that Craig Goldman, principal of Huff Elementary School, would replace her as CFO.
Totter, when asked about speculation that Wright was stepping down due to the alleged retirement fraud and the impending investigation, said that was absolutely untrue.
"There is no connection," she said. "First of all, [the investigation] has not been resolved. Once they give Dr. Ghysels the findings, those allegations will be addressed."
Totter said Wright has been open with the district about her plans to leave, and gave them time to adequately search for a replacement.
"I knew she had been thinking of it," Totter said. "In her life, it was time to move on. She's looking at new opportunities." Wright, 51, was a 10-year employee of the district and will continue in her position until the end of the school year. She could not be reached for comment by press time.
A spokesperson for the California State Teachers Retirement System, or CalSTRS, said the auditors will review all relevant documents, such as contracts and payroll reports. Auditors routinely conduct interviews, but district personnel reported that no staff interviews were scheduled.
The investigation was scheduled to last through Thursday. Results could take several more weeks to be released.
Totter said that towards the end of the school year the district intends to plan "some activity in recognition of [Wright's] contributions."
Wright served the district through several critical stages in the past decade, including the much-contested closure of Slater Elementary School last year and the passing of the $1.6 million parcel tax in 2004. She also saw the district through its litigation with Aaron Katz, who sued in 2005, claiming the parcel tax was illegal because not all property owners were eligible to vote. Katz lost his case in the Santa Clara County Superior Court.
Goldman started his career in education in 1990 as a fifth grade teacher in Burlingame. Previously, he worked as an attorney, representing banks and other financial institutions. He re-opened Huff in 1998.
"We are very excited about him joining us at the district office," Totter said.
E-mail Alexa Tondreau at firstname.lastname@example.org