Guest Column: LBUSD Superintendent’s Pay Ninth Out of 26 OC School Districts

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By Steve McIntosh

Some like to know where our hard-earned money goes. Most don’t realize, that approximately 62% of their property taxes, go to schools, and 89% of district funding, comes from that property tax. Also, $2.05 per square ft of every remodel or new construction, goes to the Laguna Beach Unified School District. We all have a stake here.

For the past few years, the District has been embroiled in controversy.  As a parent of a senior who “graduated” this year, I’ve been watching what is going on at the District for years. I have attended over 15 Board meetings and have been disappointed with what I’ve witnessed. This is about the long-term shaping of our schools and giving a well-rounded, quality education for our kids. I feel it’s time to speak up.

It seems like our small, “high performing” district is losing some of its luster and it just may not be what the School Board Majority and the Superintendent would have us believe.  Much of the current controversy, appears to have started in 2016, when Superintendent Sherine Smith retired. 

A search firm presented 40 candidates, including Joanne Culverhouse, the much-loved principal at 3 of our 4 schools, for 15 years. She left in 2014 becoming Assistant Superintendent at Palos Verdes Unified. Many were left scratching their heads, when Culverhouse didn’t get a second interview, and Jason Viloria was hired. Viloria, a four-year resident here, and friend of a board member, came from San Dieguito Union High District, where he was an associate superintendent for only 11 months.

Viloria smooth-talked his way into the coveted position, beating out 39 others. Most who had significant years of actual superintendent experience and came from districts where they managed three to 10 times the amount of schools and students we have here. In business, if you pay top dollar, you expect top, experienced talent. Not only did Viloria lack the experience, it is apparent he lacks the creativity, judgment and a connection to this city, to run a district that was not just “high performing”, but had soul, uniqueness, imagination and was known for out-of-the-box thinking and programs. 

Viloria was hired at our small, four-school district, at the starting base pay of $240,000 plus benefits, per year. Surprising, since outgoing Smith, was making $248,692 base pay after six years, and had to wait four to get her first raise.

In a February 2019 email between Board Member Wolff and Viloria, Wolff asks about principals attending board meetings. Viloria replied mentioning pay,  “It is interesting, as the Executive Team, ie Assistant Sups and myself are underpaid by county average” (Wolff and fellow board members are responsible for approving raises for Viloria). This is four months before Viloria and two Assistant Superintendents received generous pay increases. Email acquired by California Public Record Act, is on the district website. Look quickly, it might disappear.

Besides being totally false, it’s extremely unprofessional and a blatant example of manipulation, which Viloria has a reputation for. He also mentions she could bring the items up with the other members, which could be a violation of the Brown Act!

Below is a description of the raise approved by the Board Majority, with Perry absent.  You can see how the “raises on raises” work.  Also, see the second chart below that shows Viloria ranked number 9 in compensation, out of 26 districts in Orange County, in 2018. Note the number of schools.

In a recent forum, School Board candidate Kelly Osborne said, that the number of schools should have nothing to do with Viloria’s pay and in fact proclaimed, “We might be underpaying.” As a candidate that says she is “data-driven”, apparently, she hasn’t taken the time to actually look at all the data. 

The California Department of Education sure shows that the number of schools and students has an impact on superintendent compensation. Viloria’s compensation numbers are way above the state average of $186,823 for a district with less than 3,000 students.

The Board working harmoniously with the Superintendent is great, however, this relationship has become so cozy, and lucrative for Viloria, that they have forgotten who they all actually answer to, and that they are playing with our money and our kids’ futures!

It’s time for a change of the Board majority. Let’s bring some openness, fairness and real transparency, not just the illusion of it.

Steve is a parent of a recent Laguna Beach High graduate and a longtime Laguna Beach resident.

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