SACRAMENTO — It was a fall from grace for a man who has championed public schools across the state.
Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Association, announced his retirement amid revelations he had charged thousands of dollars to a company credit card at area casinos, and according to the most recent tax filings, was drawing annual pay of more than $500,000.
"I am sorry if my actions have damaged the reputation of CSBA and the vital work being conducted," Plotkin said Friday in a prepared statement. His retirement is effective Sept. 1.
The timing of the revelations couldn't be worse — coming the same day officials in the small Southern California city of Bell resigned after their sky-high salaries were made public, and just weeks after CSBA sued the state demanding more money for public schools.
An act of "hypocritical audacity" is how state Sen. Gloria Romero described the situation.
"Hearing about this compensation package is absolutely incredulous and undermines any moral authority that CSBA had in filing their lawsuit," said Romero, the Los Angeles Democrat who heads the state Senate's education committee.
Romero and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, brought CSBA officials in for questioning this week. Romero described the meeting as "tense," and said legislative leaders are looking into what oversight authority they might have.
CSBA President Frank Pugh said the organization will hire an independent firm to review staff salaries and expenditures. CSBA no longer will allow its executive director to use a company credit card for personal use, he said.
"We are taking all of this very seriously," Pugh said in a brief interview outside CSBA's West Sacramento office.
CSBA is not a government agency, but is indirectly funded by taxpayers. Much of its funding comes from more than $5 million in membership dues paid by public school districts, which are taxpayer funded. CSBA employees receive pensions through the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
CSBA spokeswoman Brittany McKannay would not release Plotkin's current salary, saying the information is confidential. Pugh also cited the confidentiality of personnel issues in declining to disclose details of Plotkin's retirement package.
The most recent available tax filings show Plotkin was paid $540,395 during the 2007-08 fiscal year, an amount that included a $175,000 bonus. Filings show he earned $352,636 during the 2006-07 fiscal year and $289,810 in 2005-06.
The 27 members of CSBA's board of directors approved Plotkin's pay.
Assuming his pay has not been substantially reduced, it would exceed the annual salaries of executive directors of similar Sacramento-based associations that advocate on behalf of local governments. Among them: Chris McKenzie, executive director for the League of California Cities, who makes $267,902; Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, who is paid $266,366; and Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, who makes $223,020.
Each of those groups voluntarily provided the current salary information.
CSBA is a nonprofit group that represents more than 1,000 school districts and county offices of education. It offers professional development for school board members and staff, and is a strong voice in the Capitol, lobbying on behalf of public schools.
Tax filings in 2008 reflect salaries for five of the seven members of CSBA's executive staff. Each was paid at least $165,000. After Plotkin, Deputy Executive Director Martin Gonzalez was the next highest paid, earning $233,545, including a $15,000 bonus.
Most of CSBA's staff took a 3 percent pay cut in 2009 and are not scheduled to receive raises this year, McKannay said.
The executive pay figures irked local education leaders, who have been hammered by budget cuts. School districts have laid off thousands of teachers over the past year, shaved days off the school year and slashed programs and opportunities for students.
Even while slashing its budget, the Sacramento City Unified School District paid CSBA more than $25,000 in membership dues.
"I think we deserve some answers on this," said Sacramento City School Board President Ellyne Bell. "As we pay our dues, we have expectations that certain things are being done. If this money is being used in a different way, we need to get that corrected."
Problems in CSBA came to light Tuesday when KCRA reported that Plotkin allegedly withdrew more than $11,000 in cash using his company credit card at area casinos. Plotkin told KCRA he paid back the money.
CSBA refused to release credit card statements to The Sacramento Bee, but confirmed cash withdrawals were made.
Plotkin, 56, is well-regarded in education circles. He has been executive director of CSBA since 2001. Previously he served as a consultant for the Senate Committee on Education and was a Rio Linda Union Elementary School District school board member for 20 years.
Former CSBA Executive Director Davis Campbell will replace Plotkin.