HAYWARD -- School trustees have been overpaid for years, costing the district hundreds of thousands of dollars because it didn't follow state law.
According to state regulations, trustees in a district of Hayward's size -- where about 20,000 students attend class on a given day -- can be compensated $400 a month. But trustees each were getting $750 a month, the rate for a district with an average daily attendance of more than 25,000 students.
District officials said they haven't had such daily attendance since 1990, and as such, each trustee has been getting $350 more per month than allowed by the California Education Code. That amounts to an annual overpayment of $21,000, or $4,200 per board member.
It was unclear Wednesday whether the board members have made $750 a month since 1990 or whether they had been given an illegal raise since then. But board President Paul Frumkin said he still has his first pay stub from 2001 and it shows he earned $750, meaning the district's minimum loss could be nearly $190,000.
According to Superintendent Janis Duran, the error was discovered this summer because of board efforts to cut district costs.
It was corrected Aug. 25, and Duran said Hayward Unified is looking into whether it would be advisable to try to recoup some of the lost money. Because of the statute of limitations, board members could be liable for a maximum of three years of back pay.
Moreover, Duran said if they decided to make a claim against current and former board members, "the board members could conceivably counterclaim against the district for negligence," because the overpayment was a staff error.
"None of the current board members were in office at the time the error was made and all were unaware of the error," she said. "The district could conceivably win the underlying action for recovery but lose the counterclaim because of its negligence and end up having to indemnify the board members against whom they just successfully sued. The only winners in such an action may be the lawyers."
State and county officials said the matter is something that must be handled locally by the district, and ultimately it will be up to the board to decide whether to penalize its members. That in itself presents a conflict of interest, and Duran said if the matter were to be put before the board, they would select three members by lottery to make the decision.
Trustee Luis Reynoso said it's a moral issue, and all board members, going back before even the statute of limitations, should be willing to pay back the money. However, Reynoso said that even at $750 a month, they are underpaid for the work they do.
Union head Mercedes Faraj said they should do what is expected of their employees, and cited a recent case in which a teacher was forced to give back $9,000 in overpay that she wasn't aware of.
"I know you need money, and I know you are dogged in getting "... money," she told the board. "I hope the field would be level in this item and you would do the honorable thing, turn around, see what the difference is and pay it back to the community."
Board President Frumkin, who faces the possibility of $12,600 in back payments, said he wishes district staff members had caught the problem earlier.
"I'm amazed that no one did," he said. "There's been three changeovers since I've been here. "... Maybe this speaks to what that kind of turnover means."
Frumkin said that "as an act of good faith," he is not accepting his stipend for the remainder of his term, which ends in December. But he said the thought of back payments is daunting.
"I'm retiring -- I don't have that kind of money," he said. "I'd have to go on some kind of installment plan."