As the San Diego County grand jury opens an investigation this week into allegations of corruption in the Sweetwater Union High School District, new intrigues play out in Calexico with Sweetwater’s former attorney firm, GCR, LLP. The firm was released from Sweetwater in January 2012 but continued to serve as counsel to Calexico Unified School District.
At an August 8 Calexico Unified board meeting, Yuri Calderón, who was at the time a principal in GCR, was serving as district counsel. That night, the financial consulting group Caldwell Flores Winters, Inc., was granted a $65,000 contract to help the district renegotiate Certificates of Participation. (COPs are an alternative infrastructure financing method.) The board voted 4-1 on the contract. Trustee Kim Joong cast the dissenting vote.
Enter the Imperial County Office of Education. Because last year Calexico Unified teetered on the brink of financial insolvency, it is incumbent on the office of education to oversee district finances.
In early November, Anne Mallory, superintendent of the county education office, sent a public records request to Calexico trustees and district superintendent Maria Ambriz. The letter, which was leaked to the Imperial Valley Press, begins, “I have just learned that the attorney for the Calexico Unified School District, Yuri Calderón, is an executive with Caldwell Flores Winters, Inc, a financial firm that has been retained to perform substantial work for the district….”
Yuri Calderón, who was contacted at the offices of Caldwell Flores Winters on November 19, said he resigned from GCR and divested himself of any interest with the company on August 30. He averred he has not done work for Calexico Unified since mid-August and went to work for Caldwell Flores Winters on September 1.
There are problems with Calderón’s timeline.
In an August 2 presentation to Sonoma County’s Gravenstein Union School District by Caldwell Flores Winters, Calderón is listed as an associate.
Additionally, an attorney for the Imperial County Office of Education, Richard Currier, said in an October 11 meeting between the office of education and Calexico Unified that the district described Calderón as counsel for the district.
In a November 20 interview, Currier also said that in that meeting the district never informed county representatives that Calderón had resigned from GCR or that he was working for Caldwell Flores Winters.
Calderón is still listed with the State Bar of California as a GCR associate.
During the November interview, Calderón said he is “taking a break” from practicing law and that he is simply an employee of Caldwell Flores Winters and has no financial investment in the business.
Calderón also said the county office of education’s letter that was “leaked” to the press was all part of the county’s attempt to “change the conversation. The school district [Calexico Unified] has successfully turned itself around in less than a year and put its fiscal house in order…but the county keeps pounding on the district.” Calderón also said that Caldwell Flores Winters has had contracts with the district going back seven years.
In the end, the County did not allow the district to restructure the Certificates of Participation and Calexico superintendent Ambriz said Caldwell Flores Winters will not be paid the $65,000 consultant’s fee. Ambriz also said she requested and received a copy of Calderón’s resignation, which is dated August 30.
Currier said that had the financial restructuring occurred, it would have cost taxpayers $1.89 million over the term. “It’s basically like living off your credit card,” said Currier.
Regarding the relationship between Calexico Unified and the county office of education, Currier commented: “I can say with certainty that it has never been our intent to have difficult relations. It’s more that in the last couple of years the district has been less than fully cooperative at times and not fully disclosed information.”