A list of credit card transactions released by Stockton Unified officials may show that trustees didn’t go over their spending limits as earlier reported.
What the lists also show is that trustees take advantage of discretionary spending, doling out hundreds of dollars to local restaurants, casinos, coffee shops and bakeries.
Board President AngelAnn Flores handed out the packets more than a week ago, and the district handed over similar lists on Friday. The district’s documents shed some more light on the district’s spending policy.
First, the reports include both local spending and travel spending, two pots in the eyes of district officials. The lists are broken up into fiscal years, showing Trustee Cecilia Mendez stayed under her limits, opposite of what was previously reported based on papers handed out by Flores. But, she charged more than 150 meals to taxpayers over a two-year period.
In May and June 2021, alone, she went to Mi Ranchito restaurant in Stockton 15 times. On more than one occasion, she ate at the restaurant multiple times a day. In two years, she ate there at least 85 times. Taxpayers footed the bill for her and others.
Trustees have $3,000 in discretionary money, which they can spend as they see fit, as long as it relates to district business. Their travel spending is a little looser, with predetermined amounts and extra if they go over while away at training or conferences.
Mendez has an extra pool of money to spend on travel because she represents the board at the California School Board Association and as an Assembly delegate.
She released a statement late this week about her spending, defending her charges and favorite Mexican food restaurant.
“I am required to have additional travel and attend additional meetings outside the role of a board trustee. I have always followed the rules and process and have always turned in my receipts showing exactly what district business is taking place,” she said. “I have also had to put other board members travel expense on my card when their cards were not working. All receipts have been verified and approved.”
She said she chooses Mi Ranchito for district business because of the “reasonable” prices.
In total over two years, she spent just shy of $5,000, mostly on Mexican food.
District officials spoke out after The Record and social media posts reported on the charges.
“Trustee Mendez’s report shows a combination of discretionary funds and travel expenses which gives the appearance of overspending discretionary amounts, but that is not the case,” spokeswoman Melinda Meza said.
District officials checked receipts.
“Each receipt was turned in and approved,” Meza said.
Earlier this week, members of the board voluntarily turned in their credit cards “in an effort to maintain the focus on students and ensure transparency and public trust.”
Behind the scenes
Flores took to the floor during the last 15 minutes of last week’s budget oversight committee meeting to address her credit card use. The topic had not been discussed earlier in the public meeting, which centered on Stockton Unified’s implementation of Allovue, a new administrative system.
“Behind the scenes, I’ve been asked to provide receipts regarding my credit card expenditures,” Flores said as she handed a packet to everyone in the room — community members, district employees, media, and other board members. It’s unclear if she knew at the time that the reports were incomplete.
“I just want to put it out there that I have similar expenses as other board members … as far as I know, they have not been called in to be questioned about their expenses,” she said.
The expense reports provided show that Flores spent a total of $3,185 from October 2020 to December 2022. A stay at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel and a $500 rental car were some of her top expenses listed. She also charged nearly a dozen gas station trips to her credit card. Gas is not an allowable purchase due to the district’s mileage reimbursement policy, though it’s unclear if that applies to filling up a rental car.
The reports provided also show that Alicia Rico spent $1,973, while Ray Zulueta spent $2,886 in 2021 and 2022 — mainly on fast food and Uber rides, which were allowed at the time. Meals can be charged on the district credit card when traveling or for business meetings. Lyft and Uber trips aren’t allowed to be expensed as of July.
Former Trustee Zachary Avelar spent $568 from December 2021 to December 2022, with $61 coming from a purchase at Kings Card Club, a local card room that also sells alcohol and food. It’s unclear if Avelar spent public money on alcohol or gambling. Alcohol, illegal drugs, tobacco products, gambling, and betting are all restricted from purchase by the district, Stockton Unified’s credit card policy shows.
Avelar left office in December after he was defeated by Kennetha Stevens in the 2022 general election.
Record reporter Hannah Workman covers news in Stockton and San Joaquin County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @byhannahworkman. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.