County Schools Chief Fires 2 Employees Without Cause, Taxpayers on Hook for $560,216

Until this spring, few people knew Superintendent Jon Gundry spent his first year on the job throwing tens of thousands of dollars at payroll consultants and outside law firms. He defended these shadowy deals as not “that unusual.”

The head of the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE), which oversees the valley’s 31 school districts, structured at least one of these contracts—in addition to bringing back several retirees—to facilitate double dipping. Gundry called this procedure “standard” in the industry.

He required no written documentation on deliverables from some of these consultants, and defended the secrecy of their work by calling the matter “sensitive.” The Board of Education, which only has control over one SCCOE employee (Gundry), took him at his word and moved on. So have a number of employees, as a series of high-level staff resignations occurred over the last few months.

All of this would be bad enough to hold up Gundry’s annual performance evaluation, which has been placed on the last seven meeting agendas going back to May 20. Word is the board is not exactly thrilled with his commitment to transparency, which is kind of hilarious considering such dissatisfaction has been more or less absent at board meetings.

But none of Gundry’s secret contracts and subsequent under-sight reaches the level of the latest bad deal. Gundry fired two of the SCCOE’s top executives last month, without cause, and county taxpayers are now on the hook for paying their salaries into next summer.

Total cost: $560,216.

What spurred Gundry to fire his chief business officer, Micaela Ochoa, and general counsel, Maribel Medina? The SCCOE isn’t saying. Both were holdovers from the previous superintendent, Xavier De La Torre, with Ochoa having her contract extended just before Gundry’s predecessor hit the road back to Texas. The payouts break down to $271,242.76 for Ochoa, and $288,973.24 for Medina.

Gundry had the unilateral ability to fire both employees based on the way their contracts were structured, but that’s not the focus here. The focus is the superintendent is throwing taxpayer dollars at problems he, in part, created. The SCCOE’s internal business services division was not informed about many of the consulting contracts Gundry signed, according to internal emails, which neutered any hope for checks and balances. Other emails show the SCCOE knew it was in violation of the Public Records Act and did nothing to correct its mistakes until this website published evidence that other contracts existed.

The superintendent now has his people in place, and he’ll have no excuses going forward. If he signs more secret deals, spends another half-million dollars on buyouts and more employees head for the door, the Board of Education will also have no excuse.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

16 Comments

  1. The public may not know that there are two ways to be fired; ‘without cause’ or for cause. When there is a severance package that means one has been fired due to subjective reasons (superintendent wants to bring in their own people, they don’t like the way you part your hair, etc) it is a without cause termination. When one is fired ‘for cause’, it is for clearly objective, measurable reasons such as detrimental performance, illegal, unethical or immoral actions. And when one is fired ‘for cause’ the employee is merely shown the door without a red cent being given to them. So, let’s be clear – Micaela Ochoa and Maribel Medina are two of the most ethical persons of the most highest, unimpeachable integrity. I am sure both will be gobbled up by an employer who’s ethics, integrity and public transparency are as equally unimpeachable.

    Further, by Gundry buying out these two excellent executives for $560k – the SCCBOE is less financially able to fire him ‘without cause’ which would cost the taxpayers 18 months of salary in a severance package (another ~$500k). So, even IF the board was inclined to fire Gundry his actions in firing two super competent executives hamstrings the board. IF the board is unhappy with his performance but lacks legitimate for cause termination, the best they can do is NOT extend his current contract and simply let the clock tick out for another 36 months. However, IF this board is happy with Gundry’s performance, they’ll extend his current contract by 12 months.

    Yes, the board’s next actions will inform the public as to their evaluation of Superintendent Gundry’s performance – their sole employee.

  2. Good work, Mr. Koehn. In light of apparent mismanagement and irreparable damage to its reputation, I’m wondering if SCCOE should consider divestiture at some point. Liquidate its business units and use the proceeds to actually improve public education in this region.

  3. Because the County Superindent & County Board of Education are creatures of the California State Constitution,it would take legislative action to reform or dissolve such. There are 58 counties in California, four have appointed superintendents while the remaing are elected by the people.

  4. > Gundry fired two of the SCCOE’s top executives last month, without cause, and county taxpayers are now on the hook for paying their salaries into next summer.

    > Total cost: $560,216.

    “he U.S. Census Bureau reported in September 2014 that: U.S. real (inflation adjusted) median household income was $51,939 in 2013 versus $51,759 in 2012, statistically unchanged. In 2013, real median household income was 8.0 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the latest recession.”

    SCCOE termination payments for TWO bureaucrats equals the annual median household income for TEN American households.

    Is “public education” a gravy train for educrats or what?!

    I’m wondering, what is SCCOE’s TOTAL obligation for for severance payments and other termination related payments?

    In other words, If SCCOE fired ALL of it’s employees, what is the total amount of money it would have to pay out?

    • Of the ~1,700 SCCOE employees, only ~6-8 employees (executives) have multi year employment contracts. The rest do not. Those covering by bargaining union contracts (teachers & classified employees) have their due process rights as their union contract with the district provides. As for other management, they are largely at-will employees. This is not unique to the SCCOE, but rather common place throughout the 58 County Offices of Education and the 1,000+ local school districts throughout California.

      • p.s. The big difference between county offices of education and local school districts is the only employee of a county board is the superintendent. Under state law, county boards don’t have the constitutional right to hire, evaluate or terminate any of the superintendent’s employees. However, in a local school district board’s approve each & every hire and they approve nearly each & every contract. State law provides more checks & balances at the local district level. So, the most pivotal decision a county board ever makes is (hopefully) the hiring of the absolute right person to be county superintendent. After that it is either all up hill or downhill.

  5. This is my last offer, you can fire me for $250,000 and I’ll quit firing blanks at you!

  6. Craig Mann you are a hypocrite. You are an ineffective leader and big mouth.

  7. Where did Gundry acquire basic business acumen? Who is guarding taxpayer dollars at the sccoe now that the key watchdogs are purged?

    • Gundry never acquired business acumen, Ms. Jones. However, he did learn the rules of advanced nepotism and the exercise of will upon sheep-like people, which is the entire Board of Trustees of SCCOE. Gundry also seems to be fully aware that his shenanigans will result in no harm to himself. He has cowed the entire Board of Trustees into rolling over on their collective backs with their paws in the air, begging to have their abdomens scratched. Gundry seems to be like City Manager Tom Williams in Milpitas—they both understand that PC wussies who inhabit their domains will cave in to them, take sick leave for stress and emotional distress, and leave; which leaves Gundry and Williams open to hiring their cronies. Williams and Gundry are both very Nietzschean. Neither is intelligent enough to be Machiavellian; but their shtick works with a bunch of spineless PC people. In the meantime, students and the taxpaying public all suffer.

      • He has cowed the entire Board of Trustees into rolling over on their collective backs with their paws in the air, begging to have their abdomens scratched…their shtick works when a bunch of spineless PC people.” That’s exactly how I read the situation as well. Gundry gets rid of those who challenge his irresponsible spending and corrupt dealing. But, how is it that not one of the seven board members gets it?

        • “But, how is it that not one of the seven board members gets it?” A prime example of an achievement gap.

  8. Let’s build a Memorial together for all the dead !
    We will not include the cover up of a child killed on a holiday in Gilroy by SJPD.
    https://youtu.be/L97aihRvZtQ
    https://youtu.be/GMg0DPLiCPI
    https://youtu.be/jdsDOziV3cA
    https://youtu.be/0aQVFp9OIYc
    https://youtu.be/XKQqgVlk0NQ
    https://youtu.be/u1CncBukYwg
    https://youtu.be/6tpAZObNZfI
    https://youtu.be/dgAdKw43TaI
    https://youtu.be/KQxAin7JHzw
    https://youtu.be/v1Kpb5MxjU0
    https://youtu.be/dwp2pPkXUac
    https://youtu.be/PbI5HHz7fJU
    https://youtu.be/pvATEjsf41g
    https://youtu.be/ed8nDBVNYwA
    https://youtu.be/UI_qxenxwr4
    and I could go on and on and on, but take a look:
    http://killedbypolice.net/
    This is the site that we support with large donations
    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database?CMP=ema_565#
    So if you want a very large infusion of cash for your Memorial just put another one side by side for the aforementioned people with a video screen showing your courage in the above events. You have killed unarmed old sick women, run over a man you harassed, killed a Vietnamese women with a potato peeler, a Vietnamese boy in his back yard a the same cop killed a man in his apartment along with killing a Deputy’s retarded boy, a homeless Japanese man and an immigrant killed for smoking in the wrong area at Starbucks. You have a long list of ruthless kills. So stop bellyaching.

    Sincerely

    Jack Slade

  9. SCCOE is worse than any mismanaged, misguided homeowner’s association, and an HOA up until now was the bottom of the barrel.