What did Jay Schenirer know, and when did he know it? That was the question put to the District 5 city council candidate Jay Schenirer at a Hollywood Park neighborhood meeting a few weeks back.
More specifically, what did he know about the notorious California Administrative Services Authority pension scheme instituted for top Sac City Unified School District administrators while he was on the Sacramento City Unified School District board back in 2000?
Schenirer has downplayed his role in the CASA snafu—which ended up costing the district $4 million, mostly in legal fees.
In 2004, the Sacramento County grand jury found the school board “failed in its oversight responsibilities” in approving CASA. Schenirer says he was just one of several board members who supported the plan, and that the board got bad legal advice from SCUSD staff. “It was a 15-minute item before the board,” he told the Hollywood Park group.
But that’s not exactly how former SCUSD chief financial officer Laura Bruno remembered it when she gave a deposition in a CASA-related lawsuit back in 2008.
For the last two years, the district has been suing its old lawyers for malpractice in the pension deal. But earlier this week, a jury cleared the lawyers of any wrongdoing.
In contrast to Schenirer’s own description of his role in the CASA debacle, Bruno characterized him as being very much in the loop, and an early and enthusiastic booster for CASA—which set up an alternative pension system for some school district administrators.
In her deposition, Bruno said, “There had been, I suspect, conversations between Jay and Jim on this,” meaning then-Superintendent Jim Sweeney, who would have benefited from a greatly inflated pension under CASA.
Bruno also said she was given the “go-ahead” by Schenirer and another board member to bring the CASA concept to the SCUSD board of trustees.
But Schenirer said it’s just not true that he had any special role in the formation of CASA. “For her to say I gave a go-ahead, I have no memory of that. I had no power to do that,” Schenirer told Bites last week.
“I wasn’t pushing it. I voted for it. I asked a lot of questions and was satisfied with the answers. That’s why I voted for it.” He said the plan was always represented to him as being “cost neutral” to the district.
The Sacramento City Teachers Association helped get Schenirer unelected from the school board in 2004, and would like to keep him out of City Hall, too. Over the weekend, the union posted Bruno’s deposition and a broadside against Schenirer on its website.
The union is also pretty worked up about Bruno’s revelation that Schenirer was actively pushing staff to help Mayor Kevin Johnson’s St. Hope organization with the takeover of Sacramento High School.
“We were encouraged by Jay Schenirer specifically, to give them as much help as we possibly could to help them get off the ground and get going,” Bruno says in her deposition.
Again, Schenirer says this is exaggerated. “I certainly was there and I played a big role. But I was in no position to tell people what to do,” he told Bites.
This city council race has been mostly free of negative campaigning. But Schenirer’s opponent Patrick Kennedy (who serves on the school board now) has always been critical of Schenirer’s vote on Sac High.
Until now, he hasn’t really challenged Schenirer on CASA, though now he says, “Jay’s assertion that he was just one in seven board members doesn’t seem to mesh with the facts.”
Schenirer says CASA was one mistake, made by him and six other people, 10 years ago. But it clearly won’t be behind him until at least November 2.