San Diego County

Superintendent's Use of East County District Funds Questioned in Lawsuit

Cajon Valley school board member claims superintendent retaliated against her after questions use of district funds

A trustee for the Cajon Valley Unified School District claims the district’s superintendent and other board members retaliated against her for voicing concerns about frequent travel and alleged misspending of district funds.

Board member Jilane Barto’s claims are detailed in a federal lawsuit filed against Cajon Valley Unified superintendent David Miyashiro and four school board members: James Miller, Jo Alegria, Tamara Otero, and Karen Clark-Mejia. 

Barto claims she was targeted when she first questioned Miyashiro’s use of district funds and the superintendent’s travel at district expense.

Jill Barto_Cajon Valley
Cajon Valley School District Board Trustee Jilane Barto filed the lawsuit on Tuesday, November 26, 2019.

According to her lawsuit, “[Barto] raised issues about how much money District Superintendent Miyashiro has spent on his travel and conference costs, and raised questions about the size and nature of expenditures from his discretionary funds.”

Public records obtained by NBC 7 Investigates confirm district staff took frequent trips at district expense, and Miyashiro had attended conferences and “Ted Talks” in Vancouver, Chicago, Beijing, O’ahu, London, as well as Tallahassee, Florida.

The data reveals district staff has spent $1.1 million dollars on trips and conferences since March 2017. According to the California Department of Education, Cajon Valley Unified is the tenth-largest in San Diego County with 17,468 students. Miyashiro’s $295,596 salary makes him the second-highest-paid superintendent in San Diego County.

Miyashiro took 59 trips from March 27, 2017, through October 23, 2019, spending $327,640 in district funds. The superintendent funded 51 of those 59 trips from a discretionary fund approved by the district.

Barto’s lawsuit alleges Miyashiro and other board members retaliated against her after she spoke out about the travel and other issues, including the approval of a $600,000 contract to a business run by the son of a board member.

Barto also claims Miyashiro “prohibited [her] from contacting district employees directly,” and “refused to allow [Barto] to use her Cal Card” for district-related expenses.

Journalists Miriam Rafferty and Paul Kruze of East County Magazine have closely covered the district’s questionable expenditures . Their reporting raised questions about the school board’s approval of a controversial $600,000 promotional video and a sizable contract awarded to the son of school board president Tamara Otero. 

Cajon Valley School District offices in El Cajon, California.

The journalists said Barto has consistently been a fiscal conservative and voice of reason on the school board. But they said other board members frequently ignore Barto’s advice, and stifle her comments.

“Every time that she tries to do something that would be correct and in the voters’ interest, the other board members just try to stymie her,” Kruze said of Barto. “She is never allowed to speak her mind.”

In a statement to NBC 7, Miyashiro said, “Trustee Barto’s frivolous lawsuit is obviously off base...and an attempt to divert attention from issues I am currently unable to discuss.”

NBC 7 also reached out to the four other board members named in the federal lawsuit.

Trustee James Miller questioned the timing of the lawsuit, calling it “a calculated gain press and media interest...”

Miyashiro admits that he and other staff are required to make frequent trips but that they are needed to promote the district, and Miyashiro’s approach to education.

“These opportunities for require travel and business meetings and result in added value and revenue to the school district,” said Miyashiro.

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