The ghost of Juanita Perea's tenure as executive director of Oasis Charter Public School has come back to haunt her. Now a teacher at Salinas City Elementary School District, Perea's time at Oasis was plagued with allegations of mismanagement and poor leadership.
Today that ghost took the form of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, the agency charged with enforcing, among other things, state conflict-of-interest laws. The FPPC found Perea violated state law by striking maintenance and landscaping contracts with a company owned by her husband, enriching him to the tune of $132,000 for two years' work.
In a proposed stipulation, decision and order the FPPC is scheduled to hear when commissioners meet July 18 in Sacramento, an investigation confirmed that contracts approved by Perea with Jimenez Gardening Maintenance and Handyman, from 2015 through 2017, were conflicts of interest.
Perea approved the contracts without Oasis' school board, the FPPC found. "Perea directly and unilaterally hired and approved the payments to Jimenez Gardening," according to the proposed settlement agreement and attached findings. "The decision to hire Jimenez Gardening was not approved by the school board, nor were other bids for the pertinent services solicited."
In 2015, Perea approved work totaling $39,840. The following year, she approved work for a total of $45,434.51. And in 2017, she approved work for $46,795. All told Oasis paid Perea's husband's company $132,069.51.
The FPPC counted each year's worth of jobs as one violation, for a total of three counts.
Perea also approved work between 2012-2014 totaling $35,400.58. The FPPC did not pursue violations for those years, both "in the interest of settlement," according to the investigation report, and because the statute of limitations to investigate those contracts has expired. Perea cooperated with FPPC investigators, according to the report.
The FPPC recommends settling for a fine of $12,000; the maximum penalty for these three counts is $15,000.
The FPPC investigation was one of several that took place during Perea's tenure.
One investigation was conducted by Alisal Union School District, Oasis' chartering district. In the middle of that probe, AUSD moved to revoke the school's charter, but advocates for keeping the school open, including the school's governing board, addressed enough of the findings to change the district's mind. Perea resigned in the middle of that investigation.
While executive director at Oasis, Perea filed statements of economic interests which are meant to publicly disclose any money that could be made from her position. But as the FPPC has found, the school did not have a conflict of interest code until November 2017.
Because Perea did disclose that she had a financial stake in the landscaping contracts, the FPPC recommends a fine of $4,000 per violation, lower than the $5,000 per violation maximum. "The violations appeared to be the result of negligence, at most," according to the investigation report.
In its investigation, the FPPC found that Perea didn't know that hiring her husband's company could be a conflict of interest and only realized that it could be in the summer of 2017, during a retreat. After that retreat, she terminated the business relationship between the school and her husband's company. The last payment to Jimenez Gardening was made on August 2017.
The Oasis governing board discussed Perea's FPPC case on June 18 in a closed session meeting. There was a motion to pay 25 percent of her legal fees for the FPPC case, but it failed to pass, the governing board reported.
The FPPC cannot comment on pending settlements. Perea has yet to comment.