Breaking: Sweetwater Schools using public funds to promote Ricasa during re-election?

Barry Jantz Barry Jantz 13 Comments


In the midst of a re-election challenge, Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) President Arlie Ricasa is receiving significant positive name recognition from a taxpayer-funded public relations effort, paid by Sweetwater schools.

Ironically, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) confirmed yesterday it would investigate a complaint filed on September 20, 2010, against Ricasa for alleged improprieties associated with using funds raised for her current campaign to retire debt from a prior election.  Ricasa was a candidate for the 78th State Assembly District two years ago, losing to eventual general election winner Marty Block in the 2008 Democratic primary contest.

The Union-Tribune ran a story about the FPPC complaint today.  Attached is the full complaint.

Yet, what the FPPC complaint and UT story do not address may be even more significant, while equal cause for an investigation by the appropriate authorities.  In recent weeks, the Sweetwater School District has facilitated a full-fledged marketing campaign – at public expense – proclaiming its achievements, while hi-lighting the name of Board President Ricasa.

On September 29, 2010, Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara mailed a letter to district parents, celebrating increasing test scores.  The letter, addressed “Dear Sweetwater family member,” included enclosures of recent news clippings about the student academics, complete with a quote from Board President Arlie Ricasa.

How many parents were sent the packet of information?  SUHSD should answer that question, but there is nothing in the letter to suggest that it didn’t go to every family.  On its website, the district notes it has 42,000 students.  Potentially, that’s a lot of mail, also very likely exceeding the state prohibition on publicly-funded mass mailings that tout the name of an elected official.

The district also ran at least one newspaper ad, of the full-page variety, on page five of last Thursday’s South County edition of the Union-Tribune, also proclaiming its positives and again giving recognition to Ricasa as the board president.

The chronology of events seems a bit coincidental.   The complaint against Ricasa was filed with the FPPC on September 20.  Nine days later, September 29, several thousand letters were mailed to district residents, quoting Ricasa.  Sample ballots, then absentee ballots started getting mailed to voters from the County Registrar about that time, a month from the November 2 election.  Then, October 7, a full page ad appeared in the newspaper, again mentioning Ricasa.

Anyone check the price to run a full-page Union-Trib ad lately, or the costs associated with printing and mailing thousands of letters?  My guess is that the school district didn’t report the amounts as an in-kind contribution to Ricasa’s campaign.   After all, that would be illegal.

The timing of the school district PR campaign, polishing the name of Arlie Ricasa with public monies during her re-election, all conveniently timed with sample and absentee ballots being in the hands of voters, couldn’t be more suspicious.

Ricasa faces a challenge from Andrew Valencia.  The race seems to be a hodgepodge of unconventional alignments and philosophies, with the Sweetwater Education Association — the teachers union — endorsing against incumbent Democrat Ricasa, opting instead to support Republican Valencia.  The local Labor Council is apparently even staying out of the race as a result of the union’s non-support of Ricasa.  That’s all for another story, perhaps.

The immediate issue of interest is the mysterious timing of the school district’s marketing campaign.  It must be strange politics – or internal influences – that a school board superintendent would be so ethically tone deaf as to approve pro-Ricasa letters, ads, artwork and related expenditures during his board president’s re-election, and think no one would take note.  Especially given all the government “watch-dogging” taking place in the county and around the state in recent years.


This article also appears at the FlashReport.


Comments 13

  1. As a result of this piece, I have been contacted by parents indicating that the Sweetwater district is also funding numerous official robocalls “from Ricasa” as well, touting various district events and such, throughout the election season.

  2. I knew Arlie Ricasa was up to no good! This pretty much answers why she’s been running for State Assembly so many times. Why stick around when the ship is sinking?

  3. This Superintendant and 3 “select” Board Members are worse than the Mafia. They attempt to control teachers through district quarterlies and micro manage an ever-growing discontented certificated staff. They disregard the Unions, work around California Laws, hire their friends over more qualified site management. They need to recognize they are lucky to have retained the teachers that were recruited from other districts, during the former Superintendants regime.

  4. We believe the last point could have been made simply by using the word “Mafia,” without interjecting race into it, so we have edited it appropriately.

  5. About 172,000 registered voters in the Sweetwater District. Based on the 42,000 students, and assuming that some households have more than one student, it’s safe to estimate that the mailer (and the robocalls) went to more than 35,000 households with probably at least 55,000 adults, many of whom would be voters. UNLESS, for instance, the district mailed to more than just students’ households, for some reason, such as the need to put Arlie’s name in front of other than parents. If the DA or FPPC doesn’t investigate this, who will?

  6. 10News is doing a story tonight, Friday. Indications are that the district says the robocalls noted in my prior comment are from Ricasa’s campaign and nothing to do with the public agency. As the info coming from parents was unsubstantiated as to the source of the calls, I can’t argue it one way or the other. If someone has a copy of the call on voice mail, please let me know. That aside, the marketing campaign noted in my original post remains substantiated.

  7. The robocalls are Ricasa’s voice on the call, she talks about the district, but she falls short of saying the magic words, “vote for me.” Leads me to believe that the district is behind the calls. If it’s found out that it is by her campaign, the calls omit the legally-required “paid for by” line.

  8. I am a teacher in SUHSD. We use a phone system (I think the name is edconnect) that phones all students and staff in the district. Although I do not have a recording of any of the phone calls, Arlie Ricasa definitely is the voice of ALL district wide school news that is received via edconnect. Teachers noticed at the end of last school year that Ricasa was the voice of the messages; prior to the upcoming elections, it was always the superintendent.

    Also, I’m guessing that the Mafia comment referred to the Mexican Mafia. This is what the nickname of the board is throughout the district, even among the administrative staff. This nickname has been around for many years because of the way the board operates.

  9. Although Arlie Ricasa is the target for this article, there is another incumbent candidate who is reaping the benefit of district paid ads, parent letters, and newsletters……Jim Cartmill’s picture is in the recent Sweetwater Inside Your Schools newsletter that was placed inside the middle of the Chula Vista Star News. How convenient for their campaigns that they were the only two board members mentioned in the newsletter. I wonder how much that newsletter cost the taxpayers? And what a coincidence that this is the first time Sweetwater has ever published these newsletters.

  10. I believe it’s her opponents accusing Arlie Ricasa of using public funds to support her campaign. She is not that type of person. She is an ethical person and a mother of 5 children, I believe. I’ve known her for numerous years and she still is the same down to earth person she was before her political career. If she were reaping the benefits from the funds of the district, I think she would be living the lifestyle. Yet, she still lives in the same house she’s owned w/ her brothers for the past 15 years!

  11. D. Hahn, Arlie Ricasa isn’t telling you the whole truth.

    It is fact, that the CA Department of Education is investigating Arlie Ricasa’s misuse and abuse of taxpayer money to support her re-election.

    It is fact, that Arlie Ricasa is being investigated by CA state officials for FIVE different campaign finance violations.

    It is fact, that Arlie Ricasa has (edited by Rostra Admin).

    Arlie Ricasa may be a nice friend and neighbor, but in this election, we’re not voting for who the nicest person or best neighbor is. This election voters are electing the right candidate.

    The City of Bell showed the world what happens when elected officials run amok and misuse taxpayer funds. It’s unethical and — in Bell’s case — illegal. That’s why I support Andrew Valencia for election over Arlie Ricasa. She’s been there for 12 years. This is supposed to be school board, not the U.S. Senate.

    Vote for Ricasa if you want, but keep in mind that if she’s found guilty of the violations she’s charged with by the state, she could find herself ruled ineligible to hold office, and taxpayer money would be wasted in having a special election to fill the seat.

    Just sayin’ 🙂

  12. OK, “Support Excellence”…

    Pick a handle and stick with it…last week you were “Eastlake Resident.”

    All due respect, but the Dept of Ed is investigating? Not its purview. The FPPC is in fact investigating. That is a fact, yes.

    Your fourth paragraph may be your opinion, but it is unsubstantiated at present…we don’t play that game here, Dem or Rep, friend or foe, so we have edited it…please document or prove your allegation, or try rewording it. No libel, unless you can prove it.

    Your second to last paragraph….there are no charges at present. There is an investigation.

    Caution, commenters, we play in both facts and opinions here, but we don’t play in opinions as fact. Know the difference. If you are not smart enough to know the difference, please don’t comment.

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