As a 19-year-old high school graduate in 1960, I left my family in Galveston, Texas for California. After arriving in Los Angeles, I began working as a janitor for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and enrolled at LA Community College. Inspired by the possibilities of a career in public service, I worked during the day and went to school in the evening. At the invitation of a friend, I became active in SEIU-Local 99 to fight for an upgrade in the classification of janitors to custodians and to ensure salary increases as well as healthcare and pension benefits for thousands of LAUSD employees.
Over the next 10 years, I earned my bachelor’s degree in Finance and Administration from California State University-LA, began teaching adult school and earned promotions to Plant Manager, Area Operations Director and Administrative Services Officer where I managed the preparation and control of a $100 million budget for 190 schools and 12,000 employees. I was later promoted to Principal Financial Analyst where I served as the fiscal manager for the Gifted, Early Childhood Education, Bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, as well as, the Educational Support Services and Medical Services Divisions.
In the 1980s, I continued my commitment to education by taking master’s degree coursework in Public Administration and began teaching classes in School Finance as an Adjunct Professor at Cal State–LA. During this time, while serving as Deputy Budget Director and Budget Director, I was proud to serve as the highest-ranking administrator in the Budget Services Division. In these capacities, I prepared and administered a $3.9 billion annual general fund budget and was responsible for managing all activities of the Budget Services, Financial Planning, and Internal Auditing Divisions.
In 1994, I was promoted to Chief Financial Officer (CFO), where I administered a near $7 billion budget and oversaw 500 employees who performed financial services. In a unanimous resolution of the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, I was honored to be credited with restoring the District to sound financial footing following massive budget cuts in the early 1990s. I also engineered complex strategies to achieve an upgrade in the district’s bond rating, orchestrated bond sales that saved taxpayers approximately $90 million, and established investment guidelines for internal and external use.
During my service as CFO, I never forgot my days as a custodian, which is why I established a Budget Advisory Committee comprised of SEIU, United Teachers of Los Angeles, the LA County Building Trades and other labor unions working with the District to ensure that they all worked collaboratively on issues relating to employee salaries, benefits, and pensions.
Throughout my career I served as State Finance Chair, Association of California School Administrators; Treasurer, Council of Institutional Investors (a shareowner-rights organization of pension fund assets then exceeding $1 trillion); CEO, Annuity Reserve Fund Board, overseeing pension portfolio management for 7,000 administrators and teachers; and, Chairman, Schools Federal Credit Union, serving 20,000+ school police, electricians, accountants, clerks, bus drivers, custodians and others.
Following my retirement from LAUSD, I continued to work toward improving public sector management by providing governance consultation to school districts, departments of education and municipal governments as a management consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers and IBM.
In 2008, I was elected to represent California’s retirees on the CalPERS Board, a position for which I was re-elected two times. Since 2008, I have held a number of committee assignments including chair of the Investment and Finance and Administration Committees and a member of the Pension and Health Benefits, Performance and Compensation and Talent Management committees. In January 2019, I was unanimously elected as President of the CalPERS Board of Trustees -the first retiree representative elected and the first African American.
I believe in giving back and in addition to my service on the CalPERS Board, I currently serve as a governing board member of the Robert Toigo Foundation, a nonprofit organization that mentors and encourages minorities and women to pursue careers in finance; personnel commissioner for the Los Angeles Community College District; board member of the Pacific Pension & Investment Institute, an educational organization that assists pension funds, corporations, financial institutions, and endowments worldwide with their fiduciary responsibilities, particularly in Asia and the Pacific region.