Fresno Unified School District is paying $39,000 in retirement plan contributions in addition to a year’s pay totaling $287,385.25 to former deputy superintendent/chief financial officer Ruth Quinto, who remains on paid administrative leave through Sept. 30, 2021.
The School Board approved Quinto’s resignation agreement by a vote of 4-3, with trustees Carol Mills, Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, and Terry Slatic saying they voted no because they didn’t want to pay Quinto over and above what was in her contract.
A Fresno labor attorney says it appears the district is paying Quinto more than she would have been entitled to under her employment contract in exchange for her promise not to sue Fresno Unified.
Quinto, meanwhile, has been hired by the Malibu City Council as city treasurer. She started that job in November.
District officials say that the payoff to Quinto conforms to her contract.
After repeated requests under the California Public Records Act over several months, GV Wire℠ obtained more specifics of what Quinto’s resignation is costing taxpayers.
Salary and Benefits
According to the district’s law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo, the district is paying for Quinto’s salary and contributing to district-funded retirement plans through Sept. 30, 2021. But employer payments on her behalf to the state pension system and Quinto’s vacation accrual ended in September.
Barry Bennett, a Fresno attorney who teaches public and private labor law as an adjunct faculty member at the San Joaquin College of Law, said he was not surprised to hear that Fresno Unified had stopped contributing to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System on Quinto’s behalf. Employers are no longer allowed to continue making CalPERS contributions for workers who are on paid leave and not actively working, he said.
“It used to be that if a district wanted to get rid of somebody, the superintendent or somebody like Ruthie, we’d negotiate a period of administrative leave for them, (such as) the last year of their contract and make contributions during that time,” Bennett said. “But then the agency started cracking down on it because they said it’s not earned compensation, because they’re not doing anything for it. They’re just on leave. So that put an end to that scam. And so now they have to find some other way to funnel money to these people.”
A section in the resignation agreement in which Quinto waives her right to sue the district under age discrimination laws includes this sentence: “By entering into this agreement, Ms. Quinto acknowledges that she is knowingly and voluntarily, for just compensation in addition to anything of value to which Ms. Quinto was already entitled, waiving and releasing any rights she may have under the ADEA and/or OWBPA” (laws banning age discrimination).
Quinto’s 2014 employment agreement contains the following about the district-funded retirement accounts, which are separate from her CalPERS pension: “The Deputy Superintendent shall only accrue an entitlement to these employer contributions on a monthly basis during the term of her employment with the District.”
When Does District Employment End?
But even though her resignation is effective Sept. 30, 2021, Bennett said, her active employment ended when she went on paid leave on Oct. 1 of last year.
“It (entitlement) would normally end as soon as the resignation was effective, it wouldn’t go on beyond that,” he said. But to forestall any potential future litigation, Bennett said, “they’re continuing the contributions.”
When told that the resignation agreement does not specifically mention payments to the retirement plans, Bennett said, “Sounds like maybe it was poorly drafted. But it seems like the intent was to pay her beyond what she would be entitled to normally under her employment agreement and to continue contributions beyond the time where she would normally receive them. And that is in exchange for her not suing them.”
Bennett said he assumed the resignation agreement contains a “huge” release provision from future litigation.
He is correct — two pages of the five-page agreement are devoted to Quinto releasing the district from any and all claims under a variety of state and federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and waiving her right to sue for age discrimination.
Mum on The Details
GV Wire℠ had to make repeated requests for information under the California Public Records Act before the district, through its law firm, provided more specific information about what Quinto is being paid for quitting her job.
In fact, when the trustees’ 4-3 vote on the resignation agreement was announced at the Sept. 16 board meeting, she was identified only by a number — 1046186 — and not by name.
It turned out that the agreement had been approved by trustees two weeks earlier in a closed session that preceded a special board workshop meeting.
But it was not reported publicly at that meeting because it was not finalized until two days later, when it was signed by Quinto and Superintendent Bob Nelson.
“The events of 2020 have been challenging for all of us. And as some of you know, we have a young son at home in remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And it’s now time for me to devote a renewed degree of focus and vigilance to his well-being and his at-home education, which I know has been challenging for our community.” — former Fresno Unified CFO Ruth Quinto
And it remained under wraps at the next board meeting on Sept. 9, when Nelson made the surprise announcement that Quinto would retire from the district at the end of the month. He thanked her for her service and then gave her the opportunity to address the trustees and the public.
Neither Nelson nor Quinto gave any hint in their public statements of any behind-the-scenes legal wrangling. Hints of that appear in the resignation agreement that says “certain differences, claims, and potential causes of action have arisen between the district and Ms. Quinto with regard to Ms. Quinto’s employment with the district.”
Quinto Explained Why She Left
But the reason for her retirement, Quinto said at the Sept. 9 meeting, was family-related: “The events of 2020 have been challenging for all of us. And as some of you know, we have a young son at home in remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And it’s now time for me to devote a renewed degree of focus and vigilance to his well-being and his at-home education, which I know has been challenging for our community.”
The same night that Quinto’s retirement was announced at the board meeting — and a week before the district publicly revealed the existence of the resignation agreement — GV Wire℠ asked Fresno Unified to provide Quinto’s contract, information about her pay and benefits, and whether she would be paid anything in excess of what was called for in her contract.
Six days later, after a follow-up query from GV Wire℠, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry emailed Quinto’s employment contract for 2014-17 that was effective Jan. 9, 2014 and raised Quinto’s annual salary from $197,880 to $211,732.
The fringe benefits section of the employment agreement included information about her state pension and two district-funded retirement plans plus details about health care benefits while Quinto was employed and later during her retirement.
According to that agreement, the district had elected under a new state law to cease paying to CalPERS the 7% of Quinto’s reportable compensation — the employee contribution — that the district had previously paid on her behalf. The district continued to make the employer’s share of contributions for Quinto’s CalPERS pension.
The employment agreement also reported that in addition to the CalPERS contributions, the district was contributing to two retirement plans, a 403(b) and 457(b), on her behalf. Both are tax-deferred retirement savings plans similar to 401(k) plans but designed for public school or local government employees.
How Much Was She Making?
Henry also emailed to GV Wire℠ a daily salary schedule for classified (nonteacher) managers reporting that as of July 1, 2020, the position of deputy superintendent was paid $945.48 daily. Over a 260-day work year, including vacation and holidays, that would total $245,824.80.
“In addition, as approved by (the) Board’s action on Nov. 6, 2019, Ms. Quinto received a career increment of 7.5% consistent with the career increment applicable to all other management employees, resulting in a total annual base salary of $256,279,” Henry said in the email.
Quinto’s contract provided health care benefits, 25 days of vacation, and contributions to the two district-funded retirement plans, and it would have been effective through June 30, 2022, had Quinto not resigned, Henry said in the email. In addition, Quinto had accrued 170.8 hours of vacation time prior to her resignation and would be paid in cash, she said.
GV Wire℠ noted in a follow-up email the next morning that Henry had not responded to a question about whether Quinto would be paid any additional compensation for resigning.
Meanwhile, at the board meeting later that evening, chief of staff David Chavez announced the result of the vote on the resignation agreement taken in closed session at the Sept. 2 meeting. The announcement was the first public mention of the agreement’s existence.
What’s in The Resignation Agreement
GV Wire℠ asked Henry that night to provide the agreement, which by then was already nearly two weeks old. Five days later, Henry forwarded it by email and noted that a letter of reference from Nelson noted in section 7 of the agreement was not being provided because it was a “confidential personnel record” and exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act.
Under the agreement, Quinto used accrued paid sick leave from Sept. 14 through Sept. 30 and went on paid administrative leave the following day. Her resignation will be effective at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30, 2021, the agreement said.
The agreement spells out that Quinto will receive her regular monthly salary, minus any withholding, be paid for 170.8 hours of accrued vacation time but was no longer entitled to vacation leave accrual as of Oct. 1. The agreement also specifies that the district will continue to provide health, dental, and vision benefits through her paid leave, and after that she will have health care coverage for life as promised in her employment contract.
There is, however, no specific mention in the resignation agreement of paying other fringe benefits.
Three Trustees Said No
The three trustees who voted against it — Jonasson Rosas, Mills, and Slatic — made it clear that they opposed the deal because they believed the district would be paying out money that was not in Quinto’s employment contract. But they would not, or could not, say how much extra the district was paying, and said they were limited in how much they could disclose. They provided the following statements to GV Wire℠.
Jonasson Rosas: “I voted no because I take the responsibility of utilizing our limited funds in the best way to serve our students, and this was not it.”
Mills: “Comments are limited because of personnel restrictions. I voted against the agreement because the amount is in excess of the amount in the contract.”
Slatic: “I voted against this because I did not agree with the terms of the agreement as it pertained to additional money, that was not on the employee’s contract, being paid. The reason that we have employment contracts with senior staff is to define the financial terms of their employment and the financial terms of their leaving employment.”
Based on the trustees’ opposition to the terms of the resignation agreement, GV Wire℠ made repeated subsequent attempts seeking to determine how much the district was paying Quinto in salary and other compensation.
Contract Amendment Provided
On Oct. 2, Henry emailed a 2019 amendment to Quinto’s contract that had raised the deputy superintendent’s annual salary to $265,279. She also emailed the minutes of the Nov. 6, 2019 meeting at which trustees voted to approve the revision.
According to the minutes, Nelson reported that Quinto’s contract included a 3% salary increase in accordance with the California Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers and a 7.5% career increment that applied to district management employees; paid medical, dental, and vision insurance coverage; lifetime health benefits; additional retirement contributions of $37,000 per year; 25 days of paid vacation yearly; and professional dues to the Association of California School Administrators and California Association of School Board Officials.
The motion to approve the contract amendment, made by trustee Valerie Davis and seconded by trustee Keshia Thomas, passed on a 7-0 vote.
Henry reiterated in that email to GV Wire℠ that Quinto was not being compensated through the resignation agreement in excess of her contract.
But the district still balked at providing more specifics on how much Quinto would actually be paid.
Compensation Query Gets Response
An attorney with the First Amendment Coalition, a San Rafael-based nonprofit that advises journalists about obtaining public records, recommended that GV Wire℠ submit a California Public Records Act request asking the district to provide Quinto’s compensation for salary, retirement contributions, and other benefits over several fiscal years. GV Wire℠ emailed the request on Oct. 13.
On Nov. 18, an Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo attorney responded that the district had “no records in its possession or under its control that ‘separate the compensation [of Ruthie Quinto] into relevant categories (salary, contribution to retirement accounts, other categories).’ “
However, in response to the public record request, attorney Bryan Martin reported that Quinto will be paid a salary of $265,279 for the 2020-21 fiscal year for three months of active employment and nine months of paid leave.
In addition, she will be paid $88,426 in salary for the 2021-22 fiscal year, the final three months of paid leave that ends Sept. 30, 2021, Martin reported.
On a quarterly basis, that’s about a third more than Quinto’s quarterly salary in the current fiscal year.
District officials could not immediately answer why the salary varied among the documents provided by or on behalf of the district. Nor could they immediately provide the cost of Quinto’s health care coverage during her paid leave.
Martin reported that the district contributed $13,728 during the current fiscal year to CalPERS on Quinto’s behalf.
The district also is contributing $39,000 this year and $9,750 in 2021-22 for “retirement contribution,” he reported. The law firm reported that the district contributed $36,500 in 2017-18, $37,500 in 2018-19, and $38,500 in 2019-20 to Quinto’s retirement plans — not $37,000, as reported in the district minutes.
By comparison, the minutes of the Nov. 6, 2019 board meeting reported that the trustees had approved a contract revision for Nelson that included $18,000 in additional retirement contribution payments — about half of what Quinto was getting that year.
Heading to Malibu
Meanwhile, the ink was barely dry on the resignation agreement and Quinto was still on paid sick leave when she applied for the Malibu city treasurer job.
A city staff report said Quinto submitted her proposal on Sept. 18. After a virtual interview and deliberations by staff, the city of Malibu announced on Nov. 17 that Quinto, through her firm, Quinto Consulting, LP, had been hired as the city’s treasurer.
Under the contract, Quinto is paid $2,000 monthly to provide financial services, primarily overseeing the investment of the city’s reserves. The contract also provides for Quinto to be paid $200 hourly for additional on-call service, not to exceed $11,000 per year.
The city’s news release noted that Quinto and her family had recently relocated to Malibu, “and this position will enable her to use her extensive background in municipal finance to serve her new hometown.”
Prior to working for Fresno Unified, Quinto was city controller with the cities of Fresno and Moreno Valley in Riverside County.
Targets of SEC
Quinto’s proposal to the city of Malibu to win the city treasurer contract lists several references with municipal finance connections. Two of them — former Clovis Unified Superintendent Terry Bradley and Chet Wang of Keygent LLC — were targets in Securities and Exchange Commission investigations.
Bradley, Wang, and Keygent, a municipal adviser firm based in El Segundo, were cited in 2016 in an SEC probe into misconduct involving insider information in school district financial adviser hires.
After his retirement from Clovis Unified, Bradley started up a Fresno-based educational consulting firm, School Business Consulting Inc., and was hired by Keygent as an adviser.
The SEC found that when Keygent was vying to become municipal adviser to five Valley school districts, which were not named, Bradley supplied confidential information about the hiring process, including advance notice of draft interview questions and specifics of some competitors’ proposals. Investigators determined that Keygent helped on initial drafts of interview questions and also suggested a revision to a request for quotation that would require a competitor to reveal negative information.
And while her new hometown is Malibu, Quinto hasn’t cut her ties with Fresno. She’s listed in the charter application and on the website for Golden Charter Academy as a member of the board of directors.
Fresno Unified board clerk Thomas, who had seconded trustee Claudia Cazares’ motion to approve Quinto’s resignation agreement, is the school’s vice president. Thomas’ son-in-law, former NFL strong safety and Edison High graduate Robert Golden, is the school’s CEO.