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.