After a seven-hour contentious school board meeting, the Sweetwater Union High School District decided it will not pay legal fees for current and former school officials charged in an alleged pay-to-play scheme.
Hundreds of people packed into Hilltop High School's gym in Chula Vista Monday night to discuss the request by former member Greg Sandoval, current members Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa to receive $400,000 in legal fees.
Parents held signs with the messages “Why Are You Still Here?” and “Resign or Recall.” Many people in the crowd wore buttons saying “Stop Corruption. Save Sweetwater.”
“Our students and our community deserve better than this disaster,” one speaker told the board.
In December, the homes of current and former school board members were raided after the San Diego County District Attorney accused them of accepting gifts from contractors and then awarding lucrative contracts to the same contractors.
Sandoval, Quinones, Ricasa and former school board member Jesus Gandara have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Board member Bertha Lopez, whose home was also raided but was not charged, initially requested $100,000 in legal fees but withdrew that request.
Among the gifts allegedly received: lavish meals, airline tickets, Lakers and Rose Bowl tickets. Meanwhile teachers told NBCSanDiego the district’s financial situation is so strapped financially they expect Hilltop High School to run out of paper in March.
While the sitting board members weren’t able to vote on their own specific case, they were able to vote on each other’s cases.
After 2 a.m. Tuesday, the district announced the requests for Sandoval, Ricasa and Quinones died for a lack of motion. Lopez withdrew her request.
Quinones’ attorney Marc Carlos likened the atmosphere at the board meeting to the infamous Salem witch trials.
“This is basic business activity which they performed on a day-to-day basis which they were empowered to do and which they were required to do by the district,” said Carlos.
An attorney not connected with the case says board members can be indemnified --- under certain circumstances.
“If the district chooses to pay legal fees, they have to make specific findings. One that the activity alleged is within the scope of their duties as a board member. Two that it's in the apparent interest of the district,” said attorney Michele Hagan.
The Sweetwater Union High School district’s attorney posted an update to Twitter overnight saying the items on last night’s agenda can be brought back up for a vote at a later date.
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