SchoolsFirst would like its over one million members to believe their board members are elected…

Our Board of Directors consists of 13 Member volunteers elected from and by the Membership…

The problem with that statement is the membership hasn’t had an election for a board member in years according to an email received from SchoolsFirst Vice President, Tony Diaz.

The Board chooses its own nominees for the exact number of “openings” and then “elects” them by acclamation – a model implemented in a number of authoritarian countries around the world.

SchoolsFirst would also like their members to believe the board members are volunteers.

SchoolsFirst, like all federal credit unions is a non-profit, tax exempt, and member owned credit union. Its board members have a fiduciary responsibility to its members. Transparency should be even more important for a volunteer of a credit union like SchoolsFirst that serves 1.2 million members overseeing $27 billion of their funds. Members should know how their deposits are being used.

A review over a five-year period of board member John Didion raises questions about whether the term “volunteer” is appropriate for its board members.

Because Mr. Didion served in an executive position with the Rancho Santiago Community College District (RSCCD) he was required to complete a “Statement of Economic Interest” (700 Form) every year of his employment.

SchoolsFirst board members are not required to complete 700 Forms unless they work in certain public sector positions. A rare look of the gifts Mr. Didion received and his reporting of expenses as a SchoolsFirst board member was possible because of his employment with the RSCCD.

John Didion

The December holidays are a rewarding time for a SchoolsFirst board member. Over three Decembers Mr. Didion reported receiving a total of $1050 in gift cards. During one holiday season he received a pair of cuff links and champagne valued at $400 courtesy of SchoolsFirst.

Wine, a decanter, a picnic set, headphones and wireless speakers were also reported as gifts received from SchoolsFirst.

The gift cards, cuff links, wine, champagne and the other items pale compared to the reimbursements Mr. Didion received for attending conferences as far away as Eastern Europe. In the period reviewed, he was reimbursed $49,450.65 for conference attendance.

Mr. Didion reported little as to the type or destination of the conferences, but the total was as high as $10,292 for a single conference. He did indicate on one 700 form that the $4,943.68 received was for just four days at a conference in Colorado.

The $6,173.95 Mr. Didion reported on another 700 form included a note referring to the “WOCCU Conference”.

WOCCU are the initials for The “World Council of Credit Unions”. Its annual conferences are held all over the world. The year Mr. Didion requested the $6,173.95 reimbursement the WOCCU held a 3-day conference in Gdansk, Poland.

The conference included sightseeing tours for participants and companions and advertised to “…leave attendees in awe of the beauty and historical significance of Gdańsk.”

Mr. Didion also reported a total of $19,161.88 for “mileage, meeting and technology” with $3500 in just one year alone.

While Mr. Didion’s reporting included only five years, there are a dozen other SchoolsFirst board members who have “volunteered” for as many as three decades. Only a handful have completed Statement of Economic Interest forms based on their work in the public sector.

One SchoolsFirst board member, Renee Hendrick submitted 700 forms for her work with the Orange County Department of Education. Appointed without an election to the SchoolsFirst board in 2015, Ms. Hendrick received over $15,000 in a four-year period for conference travel, continuing education, reimbursement for her internet service provider and a stay at the exclusive Torrey Pines resort in La Jolla.

Like Mr. Didion, she was rewarded during the holidays and received a $300 gift card courtesy of SchoolsFirst in her second year as a board member.

As for Mr. Didion, he is beginning his 22nd year with another three-year term as a SchoolsFirst board member.

Once again, the 1.2 million members were not provided the opportunity to vote because Mr. Didion was “reappointed” by his fellow board members as their only nominee.

Dr. Barry Resnick has been a professor of counseling in the Rancho Santiago CCD for 42 years and was a 2020 Semi-Finalist for OC Teacher of the Year. He has resided with his family in the city of Orange for 35 years.

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