Former Capo Unified Superintendent Didn't Report Swanky Spa Getaway

In Your Facial
Former Capistrano Unified Schools Superintendent A. Woodrow Carter didn’t report that he went on a swanky spa retreat—then later tapped one of the retreat’s sponsors for a lucrative contract

Days after the Weekly published a story online about embattled Capistrano Unified School District Superintendent A. Woodrow Carter’s romp through wine country on the dime of a handful of educational construction, architectural and financial companies, Carter was fired Monday night for “material breach of contract.”

Documents and records obtained by the Weekly revealed that one of the “sponsors” that paid for Carter’s retreat later received a lucrative architectural contract with CUSD.

Board president Ellen Addonizio told the Weekly that the board learned about the getaway weekends about two months ago, but she could not confirm whether the revelation of the trips, which included wine tastings, spa and facial treatments, and lavish dinners—and which were never disclosed as gifts by Carter on state public-disclosure forms—was one of the reasons Carter was canned.

The board put Carter on leave on Jan. 6. In late February, the trustees gave Carter a list of 60 detailed charges; last week, he submitted a 22-page rebuttal. (Calls and e-mails to the district requesting the list were not returned).

In late 2007, about a month after beginning his post as CUSD’s newest superintendent, Carter accepted an invitation to spend a weekend at the Temecula Creek Inn—a lush wine country hideaway with a golf course and views of vine-covered hills—for the California Superintendents’ Health and Wellness Institute. Carter didn’t give many details about the retreat in his weekly memo to the board, and no one asked much about it.

The retreat happened months before he became mired in controversy over a $58,000 pay raise for himself, a $400,000 severance package and allegations that he negotiated a teachers’-union contract without board approval.

“Susan,” a district parent who wishes to remain anonymous, became suspicious of a second similar retreat after noticing Carter’s midweek absence last July and asking a board member where he was. “I was told that he was at a health-and-wellness institute in Napa,” she says. “It didn’t sound like a legitimate trip.”

After filing public-records requests with the district, the results of which she provided to the Weekly, she discovered that the event was the Second Annual School Administrators Health and Wellness Institute. The cost to the district to send Carter to the 2007 one in Temecula was $200. The rest of that weekend—including two nights at the inn at $209 per room, plus all meals, wine tastings, private spa and facial treatments, and golf games—was paid for by a handful of sponsors, one of which was the Northern California-based firm WLC Architects, which holds dozens of school-construction contracts around the state and donated $181,000 to public-school-construction-bond-measure campaigns last year.

According to public records, including the conference agenda, Carter and the dozen or so other superintendents from around the state who attended the retreat were encouraged to take a “Relaxation Break” on Oct. 27 by indulging in scheduled, in-room spa and facial treatments for two hours before the evening’s “Networking and Wine Tasting” session, all on the dime of WLC and the other institute sponsors.

Several months later, the district awarded WLC a lucrative contract—at Carter’s urging.

Reached at his home in Dana Point last week (before he was fired), Carter declined to comment on anything related to CUSD. “It’s an ongoing issue,” he said.

About a week and half after the first wine-country excursion, Carter stated in his Nov. 9, 2007, memo to the board that he planned to search for and hire a new master architect to handle district projects and a huge school-facilities report (known as the Facilities Master Plan), even though three architectural firms for these projects had already been vetted and hired by the district in 2006. Carter said he wanted to get “new eyeballs on this procedure.”

By early February 2008, in one of his memos to the trustees, Carter said that he had met with five architectural firms; he announced his first choice, WLC, at the Feb. 25 board meeting and recommended that the board approve a draft contract with the company, which the board did in a 6-0 vote. Phone messages left with WLC seeking comment for this story were not returned.

By April 21, 2008, the board voted to approve an initial contract with WLC for close to $1 million for a Facilities Master Plan proposal.

Board president Ellen Addonizio says the board of ?trustees was never informed that WLC was a sponsor of ?the retreats.

According to the board minutes, just before this vote was taken, Carter also recommended that Don Hensley of WLC, “our Master Architect,” be appointed as the architect for the design of theaters at three different high schools (with contracts between $2 million and $3 million per school). Legal counsel approved WLC’s no-bid appointment for the theater projects. WLC has since been given the contract for two of the three theaters.

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