The superintendent of the Poway Unified School District, up for a $62,735 pay hike, is permitted to spend thousands of dollars a year on meals, travel and other business expenses on a district-issued debit card, per his contract and district policies.
Superintendent John Collins, one of the top paid superintendents in the county, will likely receive an increase to his base pay to $297,735 from $235,000 in April, according to contract documents being discussed by the school board.
According to his negotiated contract, Collins is to be reimbursed for all business expenses. However, instead of paying out-of-pocket and being reimbursed, the school district uses a purchase card program, like many other governmental agencies throughout the county and state.
In 2012, NBC7 Investigates found Collins spent at least $15,610.32 on meals, travel and other expenses and his administrative assistant spent another $9,984.37 on his behalf on a district-issued debit card. In 2013, from January through September, the most updated data available; Collins spent $9297.44 on business expenses. For example, he dined out at establishments like Downtown Johnny Brown’s, flew to Sacramento for conferences, as well as stayed in hotels like the Marriot, Sheraton and Portola Hotel and Spa in Monterey.
“Dr. Collins serves on a number of local, statewide and national boards, consortiums and associations,” stated a written response to NBC7’s questions about the district’s debit card usage. “PUSD serves as a model for many K-12 educational entities and therefore our Superintendent does travel throughout the year.”
The district also stated that many of the charges on Collins’ debit card included travel expenses of other employees and board members. The district added that all purchases are in-line with the department’s policies and budgets.
NBC7 Investigates asked Superintendent Collins for months to participate in an on-camera interview about the district’s debit card spending practices, which total $1.4 million a year for the business expenses of 171 employees. Instead, the district issued a 21-page response to our written questions and provided a user’s manual for Poway’s purchasing card program.
Collins’ contract, which is up for board discussion, includes a section on “reimbursement for expenses” that specifically names membership dues in the Association of California School Administrators. That’s one of the most expensive charges on Collins’ debit card in 2013 at $2,215.40.
District officials confirm that all of Collins' reimbursable items are debited from the card rather than any additional stipends or purchase order reimbursements.
NBC7 Investigates compared Collins' business expenses with top administrators and superintendents in districts across the county.
In Escondido, then-Superintendent Jennifer Walters spent $880.93 on business expenses and travel in 2012. In San Marcos, Superintendent Kevin Holt spent $6,353 on entertainment, retail, services and travel on his taxpayer-funded credit card. In San Diego Unified, a district three times larger than Poway, NBC7 Investigates combined the business expenses for former Superintendent Bill Kowba, who resigned in Feb. 2013, and current Superintendent Cynthia Marten for fiscal year 2012-2013. The pair spent a combined total of $13,151 on travel, meals and conference registrations.
One of the largest districts in the county, the Poway school district has a $250 million annual budget and more than 35,000 students.