The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) is one of the busiest elected bodies in the Bay Area. Aside from their twice monthly Board meetings, they also host numerous subcommittee meetings—Bond Oversight, Facilities Master Plan, Clay Investigation, Governance, Academic, Community Budget Advisory, Safety and School Climate, Technology and others. Some of these subcommittees host multiple meetings each month with some meetings hosted almost at a moment’s notice.
Take, for instance, the Clay Investigation Subcommittee. They don’t have a regular meeting schedule and the two Board members sitting on this subcommittee (Board members Liz Block and Val Cuevas) often call meetings where the public has no reasonable expectation to know when these meetings might occur, where they might be held, or even that these meetings exist.
They are often held during the regular work day, which precludes regular working people from attending and participating.
Even though the mantra at public meetings these days is “TRANSPARENCY”, if these meetings are held with no expectation that the public can or will attend, is this really transparent?
At the Board meeting of Wednesday, January 20, the Board reviewed, through the Clay Investigation Subcommittee, a report from their forensic audit team investigating alleged mismanagement of the $1.6 billion Bond Program.
It is yet unclear exactly what people are looking for and what they expect to do with this information. When asked over the past 18 months, the responses aren’t that illuminating.
What is known is that a tremendous amount of bond funds are being pulled from the renovation of schools to finance the investigation and possible actions once the Board (and their supporters) have the findings of the investigation. Supporters of these expenditures point out that the millions to be spent by the WCCUSD is small in comparison to other forensic audits and how, even though they’re talking about millions of tax dollars, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of the program.
When I spoke I pointed out to the Board that because these funds are from the Bond Program, it means that just for this phase of the investigation, the interest alone will exceed $1 million. When these bond measures were placed on the ballot, nowhere was there any reference to anything other than the building or repair of our schools. Nowhere was there a request to use our tax dollars for investigations. So how is this transparent if the Board is using a bait and switch scheme to finance their efforts?
Because this is “borrowed money”—money approved by the voters for new and repaired schools—we’ll be paying interest in these funds for another 40 years. The request from the Clay Subcommittee at this evening’s meeting included as much as an additional $800,000 for this phase of the investigation plus as much as an additional $200,000 in legal fees—just for this phase of the investigation.
While I rose to speak against the continuing investigation and expenditure of bond funds, I was, as I often am, very much in the minority. Jack Weir of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association suggested to the Board that if the investigation digs deep enough they may very well find a lot more and he strongly suggested that the Board goes after any mismanaged funds. The speakers supporting the continuing investigation and the expenditure of the additional funds were much the same speakers who routinely attend these meetings and speak urging Board members Cuevas and Block to continue on their current path and investigate anything and everything associated with Bond Program actions made by Board members past and present (excepting themselves, of course), District staffers past and present and every vendor ever used by the District on this program.
District Staff recommended a lower expenditure. They made the argument that some of what the forensic auditors would be doing has already been performed by the Bond Program’s performance auditor so there was no need to pay for more duplication of efforts.
The motion to reject the staff proposal and accept the full recommendation of the Clay Subcommittee was respectively made and seconded by the authors of the recommendation: Board member Cuevas and Board member Block. They both spoke at length, giving their own reasons, and spoke about their laborious efforts. After Board member Cuevas spoke, many members in the audience gave her a standing ovation.
When Board member Kronenberg spoke about the need to remove any cloud hanging over the District, her message brought multiple rounds of applause from the investigation supporters in the audience.
Her comments made for three voices of support and cemented the victory of the motion.
Several Board members voiced concerns—both privately and in public—about the need to rebuild the trust of the community with this issue so if the District’s proposed parcel tax extension is put on the November ballot it might receive the 2/3 majority needed for passage. They proffered that their vote in support of this continuing investigation might win back that confidence and a negative vote would doom the parcel tax—which would bring much needed funds (in the neighborhood of $60+ million) to continue the funding of athletics, libraries, counselors and more.
And with that the Board voted 6-1 to continue with the full forensic audit and spend the Bond funds to finance it with the two student Board members supporting the motion and President Randy Enos voting against the motion as written.
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