Ex-Poway schools chief to repay district $185K as part of plea deal

POWAY, Calif. — Ex-Poway Unified School District Superintendent John Collins pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor financial disclosure charge and was immediately sentenced to five years probation in a plea deal in a case in which he was accused of misappropriating more than $345,000 in public funds.

The Poway Unified School District and Collins also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit related to the allegations, which is expected to be finalized Wednesday night. That settlement involves Collins paying the district $185,000 over a period of time, according to Judge Frederic Link.

“This is basically a win-win for a lot of people,” Link said.

Collins is required to abide by the terms of the civil settlement and follow the law as part of his probation, or face the risk of once again facing the criminal charges.

After several days of testimony at a preliminary hearing — a proceeding held to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial — Collins pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge relating to his failure to declare outside income to the Poway school board. Other charges connected to the alleged misuse of vacation and sick time and a district purchasing card were dismissed.

Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr said the civil settlement amount is likely more than the district would have been able to recover had Collins been convicted at trial in the criminal case.

Schorr said his office started an investigation after getting complaints about Collins from community members.

Collins was fired in July 2016 after an audit found the alleged misappropriations. At the time he was let go, Collins was the highest paid superintendent in San Diego County, with an annual salary of $308,900 and a total compensation package of more than $457,000.

Link, whose legal career spans nearly five decades, said he learned a lot in this “unusual” case, in which there were questions about whether the matter was best dealt with as a criminal or civil case.

Collins’ attorney, Paul Pfingst, had argued that the case boiled down to a contract dispute.

Link said the case illuminated “glaring problems” with payment of money in school districts.

“It’s my understanding this kind of activity is happening not just in Poway, it’s happening in a lot of districts,” the judge said.