LOS ANGELES — The superintendent of Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego County has suspended all activity by Seville Group Inc., the program and construction management firm overseeing the district’s $644 million Proposition O bond program.
Acting superintendent Edward Brand made the announcement last week after the San Diego district attorney’s office filed 26 felony charges against the general contractor and several school district officials, including the former superintendent.
“Effective immediately, we are suspending all activities conducted by SGI, the program and construction management firm overseeing Proposition O,” Brand said in a statement. “While I’m not passing judgment on SGI or its team, I believe we need to be completely satisfied that there’s been nothing inappropriate done in the past or on current projects.”
The DA’s office brought felony charges last Tuesday against former superintendent Jesus Gandara, former school board member Greg Sandoval, and current school board members Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa. It charged that they accepted bribes and illegal gifts including free tickets to San Diego Chargers, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Lakers games.
Henry Amigable, an SGI executive, was charged with two felonies, one of them bribery of public officials.
The first phase of construction under voter-approved Proposition O allocated $187 million for new construction and modernization to nine of the oldest campuses in the district. That work is more than 90% finished. Completion of the remaining projects will be overseen by district personnel with assistance from the San Diego County Office of Education.
“We already have an in-house facilities management team, so it is just a matter of them assuming the role,” said district spokeswoman Lillian Leupold. “All the contracts with the subcontractors were entered into directly with the school district, so there will be no change to the people doing the actual work at the sites.”
School officials were not concerned about the allegations’ likely impact on future bond sales, since the district does not plan to issue bonds anytime soon.
“We are not selling any right now, because the assessed value does not allow us to sell any more bonds,” Leupold said. “We just sold $187 million a few years ago and that put us at capacity.”
The bond proceeds have been spent to fund the construction projects that were started five years ago, Leupold said. The remaining funds being spent to complete the projects were received as matching funds from the state, she said.
Sweetwater has also suspended the former district counsel, GCR Legal, from representing it in any legal matters. Under new guidelines, any attorneys working for the district must sign a 41-page retainer prohibiting them from contributing funds to Sweetwater school board candidates.
District officials don’t know at this point if the district will be responsible for the legal costs involved in defending current or former officials being prosecuted.
The district has $531.6 million of outstanding debt, according to its fiscal 2010 annual disclosure report filed Feb. 23, 2011, with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA site.