REALITY CHECK

California Senate: District 15

Two San Jose Democrats, Assemblyman Jim Beall and former Assemblyman Joe Coto are competing to represent voters in a district that includes San Jose, Los Gatos, Saratoga and Cupertino.

The Beall campaign recently sent out a direct mail piece to district voters.

What's the charge?

The mailer tells voters: "We cannot afford promotions based on failure." Filled with photos of schoolchildren and outtakes of newspaper reports, the mailer asserts that Coto, who served 14 years as superintendent of San Jose's East Side Union High School District, had a record of fiscal mismanagement.

Is it true?

The charge is generally fair. Coto, the district's superintendent from 1989 to 2003, was lauded for efforts to improve student performance. And he points to district data showing that the East Side district had budget reserves of $8.1 million to $10.6 million in the years before he left office. Still, Coto's financial stewardship did come under fire during and after his tenure. The state's Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team in 2001 criticized lack of controls over the district's credit card spending. A 2004 civil grand jury report said the district "had a problem with a lax culture of financial accountability, including expenses charged to credit cards" that Coto's successor was working to correct. And a year after Coto left office, a state audit found about $15 million in unbudgeted expenses and funds improperly counted as revenue. Much of the imbalance involved practices under Coto's watch, including improperly spending land sale proceeds on operating expenses.

-- John Woolfolk, Staff