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Former Poway schools chief claims innocence

Evidence against John Collins includes financial reports "replete with errors"

John Collins
  • John Collins
  • image from KPBS

The civil trial against former Poway Unified School District superintendent John Collins — accused of collecting $345,263 in unauthorized vacation pay over the course of a three-year period — continues in San Diego Superior Court. Several hearings are scheduled in the coming months.

Meanwhile, according to a spokesperson for the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, no criminal charges have been filed.

In May 2016, Poway Unified placed Collins on administrative leave after the superintendent (who at the time was the second-highest-paid schools chief in the state) made repeated requests for the board to approve a buyout of his employment contract and allegedly directed staffers to cut him checks for vacation time. Collins also allegedly withdrew large sums of money from the district's revolving cash fund for his personal use, including cash to pay for his home internet and cable services.

In July 2016, as reported by the Union-Tribune, Poway Unified filed a civil lawsuit in order to retrieve the money. According to the lawsuit, Collins, a longtime Poway Unified employee, and his wife, a teacher for the district, were in the midst of major financial woes: the bank had foreclosed on their house.

A search of Collins's district-issued iPad revealed text messages to and from his wife indicating the couple was having trouble paying credit cards, maintaining a sufficient balance for groceries, among other financial problems. In one text message included in the district's lawsuit, Collins had apologized to his wife for a spat at a football game: "All I was trying to do on my phone at the game tonight was to figure out a way to get the money needed to help both us and Ginger before December. I think I found a way."

Poway Unified officially terminated Collins on July 10, 2016. Five days later, the district filed a civil lawsuit to force repayment.

"[The] District seeks to enforce an important right affecting the public interest, the reimbursement of taxpayer funded monies improperly paid to Defendant. This action confers a significant pecuniary benefit to the taxpayers of the City of Poway and the County of San Diego, because it is the reimbursement of taxpayer monies. In addition, all students and employees of the Poway Unified School District will receive a pecuniary benefit because the monies will be returned to the general fund of the District which budgets for salaries, expenses, textbooks, software and all other related educational expenses."

Collins, however, has refused to admit to any wrongdoing. His attorney issued a statement to the media (published by Voice of San Diego) in the days following his termination. The attorney accused the district of relying on financial reports that were "replete with errors, both legal and substantive, including privacy violations of Dr. Collins and others....

"For the almost 3 decades that Dr. Collins has served Poway Unified School District, he has had the best interests of its students and its employees in mind. Dr. Collins will vigorously defend against these charges, and expects to take affirmative and decisive action in response to the district’s actions."

Collins's defense in court has also not changed. According to subsequently filed court documents, Collins has denied all of the 18 counts against him.

In a December 29 statement, a spokesperson for the San Diego County district attorney's office said no criminal charges have been filed against Collins. The spokesperson said no other information on the investigation was available at the time.

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We all must ask if the DA is even making a start on an investigation. As far as school district corruption goes, she's usually AWOL. Oh, she did finally bestir herself in So County and brought charges against rip-off artists in the Sweetwater district, Southwestern College, and in San Ysidro. But when it came time to get tough in the plea bargains, she went very wobbly on it all, aided and abetted by the wishy-washy judge. So, if you're hoping for charges by the DA, hope away. Just prepare yourself for either a long, long wait, or no charges at all.

Yeah, I know, the bar for criminal prosecution is lower when tax money is involved. All the more reason that his conduct should get a fine-tooth review by the DA. Poor old Poway, the place that was so proud of its municipal government and proud of its school district just can't win any more. A big dose of skepticism on the part of the local residents--the voters--would go a long way toward getting the ship righted.

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