Friday, December 13, 2013

CBOC Secretary alleges Brown Act Violation

CBOC Secretary Charles Cowens has just submitted the following complaint to the DA:

WCCUSD CBOC Brown Act Issue

I am a member of the West Contra Costa Unified School District Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee. I am also a member of the Audit Subcommittee. WCCUSD's Bill Fay (Associate Superintendent - Chief Operations Officer) and his subordinate Magdy Abdalla (District Engineering Officer) have always maintained that the Brown Act does not apply to our subcommittee, because it doesn't have a regular meeting schedule. Members of the committee like myself disagree. 

Our subcommittee held a meeting on March 18th that was successfully noticed within the Brown Act on the home page of the Committee <> at the request of the then subcommittee chair Kris Hunt.  Later, under a new subcommittee chair Orlandus Waters, our subcommittee attempted to hold a meeting on November 7th. Mr. Waters submitted an agenda and request to notice the meeting on our website. It was not posted in time (or at all), Mr. Waters rescheduled for November 12th. When our committee chair Ivette Ricco talked to Abdalla on the phone, he told her he wouldn't post it because he didn't think it was covered by the Brown Act. Ms. Ricco submitted Mr. Waters request for noticing without mentioning the Brown Act, just public interest. This act of stealth Brown Act compliance did not succeed. No notice was posted. Mr. Waters proceeded with the meeting anyway. I attended under protest.

The next meeting is 5pm, December 4th. Ms. Ricco submitted an agenda and a request for noticing last Tuesday. It was simply ignored. We will have to meet under protest again.
What can we do? This is a legislative body (our subcommittee) that wants to comply with the Brown Act, but is prevented in doing so by the staff of the public agency it is associated with. This is absurd. The staff seems to have some theory that _only_ Brown Act meetings should be publicized at all. However, since they control our website, it's hard to do anything about this.
I have also attached an e-mail (2 page) to two school board members explaining my understanding of the applicability of the Brown Act to the subcommittee.
Thank you for any help you can give, 
Charles Cowens

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Background on Brown Act Issue for the CBOC Audit Subcommittee
Date: Wed, 13 Nov 2013 16:13:56 -0800
From: Charley Cowens <>
To: Todd Groves <>, Elaine Merriweather <> CC: Ivette Ricco <>

As Ivette has pointed out in her e-mail to the whole Board, there is a much bigger issue between CBOC and staff than just interpreting the Brown Act. However, as our respective board member nominators, I thought I would give you two a little more background on the Brown Act issue.
1. Everyone agrees the Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee is subject to the Brown Act as a "legislative body."
2. The Brown Act in 54952(b) distinguishes between advisory committees of a legislative body (not subject to the Brown Act) and standing committees (subject to the Brown Act):
"standing committees of a legislative body, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body are legislative bodies for purposes of this chapter." 3. Notice the word "or" meaning: if _any_ of these conditions are met, it's a standing committee.
4. The CBOC Audit Subcommittee has a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, in that:

A. It's listed in the by-laws as a committee.
B. It has a clear subject matter: the annual required audits including audit contracts, follow up, and the mid-year reports.
C. It has no implicit or explicit terminating condition.
D. It has a continuing membership including a chair throughout the year.

5. Therefore, meetings of the CBOC Audit Subcommittee are subject to the Brown Act requirements for notice, agenda, and public participation.
The interpretation of what a district-paid lawyer said about this during a training is going to vary by the listener. I remember a lot of hemming and hawing on this issue from him. A real legal opinion is written and includes a set of actual or hypothetical assumed facts and verifiable legal references. This doesn't exist from what I know.

I'm also including a link to an Attorney General's Opinion concerning a case very similar to the Audit Subcommittee that supports what I am saying. Key issues in this are:
1) It doesn't matter how you label a committee in determining whether it is a standing committee.
2) The dictionary is the main way you figure out what "continuing subject matter jurisdiction" means. Charley Cowens 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Letter from CalBOC Director

Date:    January  8,  2013   To:    WCCUSD  Board  of  Trustees  and  Superintendent,  Bruce  Harter  
From  Alicia  Minyen,  Board  member  of  the  California  League  of  Bond  Oversight  Committees  (“CalBOC”)   and  concerned  taxpayer  
Re:    Resolution  No.  55-­‐1213  –  Waiver  from  Ed.  Code  15106-­‐Seeking  Debt  Ceiling  Increase  
I’d  like  to  express  serious  concerns  regarding  WCCUSD’s  impending  bond  indebtedness  waiver   application  from  Ed.  Code  15106.    Further,  for  reasons  expressed  below,  I  object  to  such  a  waiver,  and   question  the  actual  motivation  and  need  for  Measure  E,  a  $360  million  bond  ballot  measure  voted  on   November  6,  2012.      Please  read  this  letter  during  public  comment  and  enter  this  letter  and  its’   supporting  Exhibits  into  the  record  and  minutes.    Also,  please  be  sure  to  provide  the  State  Board  of   Education  a  copy  of  this  letter  and  its  Exhibits  as  a  formal  objection  to  the  waiver  from  Ed.  Code  15106   for  Measure  E.  
Because  the  smallest  increase  in  a  school  district’s  bond  indebtedness  limit  can  equate  to  hundreds  of   millions,  or  in  WCCUSD’s  case,  almost  a  billion  in  extra  debt  service,  it  is  important  that  WCCUSD’s  Board   of  Trustees  only  approve  such  increases  in  extraordinary  circumstances  considering  the   extreme   financial  burdens  imposed  on  its  entire  Community.    Based  on  my  review,  WCCUSD’s  Measure  E  waiver   should  be  denied  given  the  reasons  below  and  that:    1)  voters  were  provided  inadequate  and  misleading   disclosure  regarding  the  waiver  and  its  need  to  extend/increase  bond  indebtedness;  2)  WCCUSD  has   sufficient  current  funds  available  (exceeding  $400  million  in  bond  proceeds  to  fund  priority  projects  i.e.,   $280  million  from  Measure  D  and  $130  million  in  the  Building  fund);  and  that  the   cumulative  amount  of   outstanding  debt,  which  would  exceed  $3  billion  including  interest,  could  cause  a  material  financial   hardship  on  local  struggling  families,  like  my  elderly  in-­‐laws  who  are  on  a  fixed-­‐income  while  struggling   with  increased  medical  care  costs.      
Basis  of  Objection:  
  1. WCCUSD  may  have  obtained  authorization  from  the  voters  of  Measure  E  under  false  pretenses.     Ballot  disclosure,  which  is  the  75  word  text  prominently  disclosed  at  the  top  of  the  voter  Ballot,   failed  to  disclose  WCCUSD’s  current  5%  debt  ceiling  limit  under  Measure  D,  and  failed  to   disclose  its  definitive  need  to  obtain  a  waiver  from  Ed.  Code  15106  in  order  to  sell  Measure  E   Bonds.    Therefore,  WCCUSD’s  claim  that  the  Community  desires  Measure  E  is  in  question.    
  2. In  fact,  ballot  language  stated  that  Measure  E  would  be  sold  at  legal  bonding  capacity  limits,   which  was  2.5%  at  the  time  of  the  Measure  E  vote.    Specifically,  WCCUSD  prominently  disclosed   in  the  Ballot  language,  “  issuing  $360,000,000  in  bonds  within  legal  rates  and  bonding   capacity  limits  with  independent  audits,  citizen  oversight,  and  no  money  for  administrators’   salaries?”  
1  |  P a g e    
  1. WCCUSD  claims  they  disclosed  the  waiver  in  its  long-­‐form  ballot,  however,  such  disclosure  was   misleading  since  the  language  used  suggested  that  WCCUSD’s  seeking  a  waiver  was  only  a   possibility,  when  in  fact,  WCCUSD  definitively  knew  prior  to  placing  Measure  E  on  the  ballot   that  it  needed  a  waiver  from  Ed.  Code  15106  in  order  to  sell  any  new  bonds  outside  of  Measure   D.  
  2. Further,  WCCUSD  made  it  difficult  for  the  voter  to  ascertain  the  meaning  of  Ed.  Code  15106   since  WCCUSD  failed  to  define  and  explain  Ed.  Code  15106.    It’s  unreasonable  to  expect  t he   voter  to  do  legal  research  and  look  up  the  law.    Also,  WCCUSD  claims  ballot  arguments  disclosed   the  waiver,  however,  WCCUSD  should  realize  that  ballot  arguments  do  not  carry  the  same   weight  and  it  is  the  responsibility  of  WCCUSD  to  provide  clear  and  full  and  fair  disclosure  of  all   material  facts  surrounding  the  bonding  capacity  limit  and  waiver  rather  than  relying  on  the   Community  to  make  such  disclosures  in  ballot  arguments.  
  3. You  state  that  the  necessity  of  the  waiver  from  Ed.  Code  15106  was  a  matter  of  public  record;   however,  such  waiver  was  never  discussed  in  a  regularly  scheduled  Board  of  Trustee  meeting   prior  to  the  Measure  E  vote.    Furthermore,  most  voters  have  no  children  in  WCCUSD  and  do  not   have  the  ability  to  anticipate  WCCUSD’s  pursuit  of  such  a  waiver.      
  4. WCCUSD’s  current  debt  is  excessive  and  well  above  the  indebtedness  of  districts  with  similar   student  populations  and  having  a  similar  number  of  facility  sites.    Please  see  attached  Exhibit  A   which  shows  that  WCCUSD’s  Community  must  pay  $1,761,526,489  billion  (not  including   Measure  E  and  not  including  the  $280  million  remaining  on  2010  Measure  D).      
  5. WCCUSD  has  sufficient  funds  available  to  provide  its  priority  and  critical  safety  needs  of  its   students.    For  example,  WCCUSD  has  over  $280  million  in  2010  Measure  D  bonds  available  for   sale,  and  $130  million  in  its  Building  Fund  (as  of  June  30,  2012).    The  district  may  also  have  state   matching  funds.    Please  inquire  of  staff  to  determine  the  actual  number  of  available  funds   available  for  construction.          
  6. WCCUSD’s  Community  will  owe  more  than  $3  billion  when  it  sells  the  remaining  $280  million  in   2010  Measure  D  bonds  and  sells  $360  million  in  2012  Measure  E  bonds.    Currently,  WCCUSD’s   bonds  make  up  over  20%  of  a  taxpayer’s  property  tax  bill.    (See  Exhibit  B.)    Should  all  the   remaining  bonds  be  sold,  WCCUSD  bonds  could  make  up  more  than  30%  of  a  taxpayer’s  tax  bills   sucking  billions  in  discretionary  income  out  of  the  Community.    This  alone  could   jeopardize  the   district’s  viability  since  families  will  be  discouraged  from  moving  into  a  district  that  has  excessive   school  bond  debt  coupled  with  POOR  PERFORMANCE.      
  7. WCCUSD  claims  they  have  a  disadvantage  over  other  districts  because  of  its  lower  assessed   valuation  vs.  student  enrollment.    However,  the  district’s  analysis  appears  skewed  and  reality   shows  the  opposite.    WCCUSD  improperly  compares  themselves  to  some  of  the  richest  districts   in  the  State  of  California,  and  their  analysis  fails  to  compare  WCCUSD’s  voter  approved  bond   indebtedness  as  compared  to  voter  approved  bond  indebtedness  of  other  districts.    Also,   WCCUSD  should  compare  voter  approved  bonds  per  student,  compare  the  age  of  school  sites,   and  compare  number  of  school  sites.  
  8. Further,  the  Bonding  Capacity  chart  included  in  the  waiver  application  is  not  accurate  since   WCCUSD  shows  its’  current  bonding  capacity  at  2.5%  when,  in  reality,  its  current  bonding   capacity  is  5%  when  considering  its  5%  2010  Measure  D  waiver  already  sought  and  approved.    
2  |  P a g e    
By  considering  the  current  5%,  WCCUSD  actually  enjoys  the  3rd  largest  construction  bond   program  in  the  entire  state  (just  behind  the  largest  and  second  largest  school  districts  in  the   State.    Therefore,  WCCUSD’s  claim  of  inequity  among  other  schools  is  unfounded.  
  1. WCCUSD  also  does  not  appear  disadvantaged  since  it  has  received  over  $1  billion  so  far  in   capital  improvements,  far  above  average.    See  Exhibit  D,  “Capital  Asset  and  Debt   Administration”  from  WCCUSD’s  June  30,  2011  audit  report.      
  2. Furthermore,  the  Bonding  Capacity  chart  attached  to  the  waiver  application  fails  to  show  that   the  “Est.  Bonding  Capacity”  comparisons  are  NOT  VOTER  APPROVED  AMOUNTS.    For  example,   Mt.  Diablo  is  shown  to  have  a  $722  million  bonding  capacity,  when  in  fact  their  bonding   program  is  voter  approved  at  $598  million,  which  is  over  $200  million  less  than  WCCUSD’s   current  bonding  capacity  even  though  Mt.  Diablo  has  MORE  facility  sites  and  MORE  students  to   serve  with  similar  and  aged  facilities.  
  3. WCCUSD  enrollment  is  shrinking  and  doesn’t  make  sense  to  improve  schools  that  may  have  to   be  closed  prior  to  the  bonds  being  paid  off.    Please  see  Exhibit  C,  which  shows  that  WCCUSD’s   average  daily  attendance  has  declined  over  15%  over  the  last  9  years  (or  from  32k  to  27k   students).    (Please  also  note  that  WCCUSD’s  bonding  capacity  Chart-­‐Exhibit  B  shows  an  incorrect   number  of  students  of  $29,883,  which  happens  to  be  the  student  population  for  San  Ramon   USD.)        
  4. WCCUSD  claims  the  bond  program  has  been  well  managed  and  transparent.    However,  this   claim  cannot  be  substantiated  since  WCCUSD  failed  to  obtain  independent  performance  audits   in  accordance  with  Generally  Accepted  Government  Auditing  Standards  (GAGAS)  prior  to  2011.     Instead,  prior  to  2011,  the  bonds’  performance  audits  were  “agreed  upon  procedures”  where   WCCUSD  influenced  the  scope  of  the  audit,  which  may  have  compromised  the  integrity  of  the   audit  results  and  raises  questions  as  to  whether  or  not  that  bond  proceeds  were  spent  properly.  
  5.  WCCUSD  has  spent  bond  proceeds  on  nonpriority/noncritical  projects  that  give  the  appearance   of  favoring  richer  areas  within  WCCUSD  over  school  sites  in  poorer  areas.    For  example,  El   Cerrito  received  an  extravagant  Theater  where  Richmond  High  failed  to  get  necessary   improvements  needed  to  keep  students  safe.      
  6. WCCUSD  claims  improved  bond  ratings,  however,  the  Board  should  recognize  that  WCCUSD   purchased  credit  enhancements  for  its  bond  offerings  and  the  ratings  may  not  reflect  its  natural   rating.    Furthermore,  the  insurance  providers  to  the  bonds  have  been  downgraded,  as  reported   in  emma.msrb  as  of  December  2011.  
  7. WCCUSD  claims  it  has  not  exceeded  tax  rates  for  prior  bonds,  however,  the  Board  should  note   that  many  of  its  prior  bonds  are  at  the  maximum  tax  rate  of  $60  per  $100k  that  would  otherwise   have  been  exceeded  if  certain  bond  refundings  have  not  taken  place.      Further,  these  refundings   were  only  possible,  by  chance,  because  of  a  decrease  in  market  interest  rates.    Otherwise,  the   tax  rates  for  prior  bond  measures  would  have  been  exceeded  over  the  constitutional  limit.    Also,   by  WCCUSD  currently  being  at  the  tax  rate  limits,  such  as  with  Measure  J,  it  raises  questions  as   to  the  reasonableness  of  WCCUSD’s  growth  rate  projections  and  its  ability  to  meet  Measure  E’s   promised  tax  rate  of  $48  per  $100k  without  having  to  resort  to  Capital  Appreciation  Bonds,   which  have  already  been  sold  under  prior  bond  measures.    If  WCCUSD’s  true  intent  were  to  not   sell  Capital  Appreciation  Bonds  under  Measure  E,  then  the  Board  would  have  passed  a   Resolution  to  prohibit  the  sale  of  Capital  Appreciation  Bonds,  like  other  districts  have  done  (e.g.,   San  Diego  Unified).  
3  |  P a g e    
Outside  Support  May  Be  Unreliable:  
  1. WCCUSD  sought  approval  of  the  waiver  by  members  of  the  WCCUSD’s  Citizen’s  Bond  Oversight  
    Committee  (“CBOC”)  on  December  5,  2012.    However,  it  appears  certain  members  of  the  CBOC   are  not  independent.    For  example,  a  member  of  the  CBOC  who  was  also  running  for  WCCUSD   school  board,  and  while  Chairing  and  serving  on  the  CBOC,  received  $20k  in  campaign   contributions  from  Seville  Group,  the  construction  management  company  who  is  paid  with  voter   approved  bond  proceeds.      (See  attached  Exhibit  E.)    
  2. WCCUSD  claims  that  certain  cities,  like  City  of  Pinole,  support  Measure  E.    However,  after   reviewing  Pinole’s  minutes,  it  does  not  appear  that  WCCUSD  provided  all  material  facts  to   Pinole’s  Councilman  to  make  an  educated  vote.    For  example,  it  appears  that  City  of  Pinole  was   not  told  that  WCCUSD  has  over  $280  million  in  2010  Measure  D  bond  funds  available,  and  that   WCCUSD  was  already  granted  a  5%  debt  ceiling  in  2010  (which  is  effective  through  2020).    In   addition,  the  City  of  Pinole  was  not  given  an  estimated  cost  of  Measure  E,  was  not  told  that  the   district  needed  a  5%  debt  ceiling  through  2025,  and  Pinole  was  not  informed  of  the  total  debt   service  that  the  taxpayers  of  Pinole  will  be  required  to  pay.  (See  attached  Exhibit  F.)  
Possible  Hidden  Agenda  Regarding  Measure  E:  
  1.  The  motivation  behind  Measure  E  is  in  question  and  a  waiver  from  15106  appears  incredibly   pre-­‐mature.    Specifically,  in  reviewing  other  school  district  waivers,  there  is  no  other   circumstance  where  a  school  district  sought  an  increase  in  their  debt  ceiling  when  there  were   significant  bond  funds  available  (such  as  WCCUSD  having  $280  unissued  and  available  funds   under  2010  Measure  D  and  having  funds  available  from  unspent  bond  proceeds  residing  in  the   Building  Fund).    Further,  there  is  no  other  circumstance  where  a  district  sought  a  bond  ballot   measure  knowing  prior  to  vote  that  a  waiver  from  15106  was  definitively  necessary.    Generally,   it  is  unforeseen  circumstances  that  cause  a  school  district  to  seek  waivers  from  15106,   sometimes  years  after  a  bond  ballot  election,  because  growth  rate  projections  were  not  met,   which  ultimately  prevents  any  subsequent  sale  of  bonds  under  a  pre-­‐existing  bond  measure.     Districts  under  these  circumstances  reach  out  to  the  State  for  a  debt  ceiling  increase  because  all   funds  have  been  exhausted  and  the  only  means  of  raising  new  capital  is  by  risking  its  operating   budget  through  leveraging  of  district  assets,  such  as  through  a  Certificate  of  Participation,  Bond   Anticipation  Note,  Lease  Revenue  Bond  offering,  or  Lease.    This  is  not  the  scenario  for  WCCUSD   since  they  have  significant  available  bond  funds  and  are  not  immediately  faced  with  having  to   leverage  its  own  capital  assets  to  make  necessary  repairs/improvements.  
  2. Suspicions  are  also  raised  as  WCCUSD  has  received  significant  sums  of  campaign  contributions  in   connection  with  all  of  its  bond  measures.    There  is  a  pattern  where  such  contributors  receive   contracts  paid  for  with  bond  proceeds  that  suggest  a  motive  of  pay  to  play  and  gives  the   appearance  that  Measure  E,  as  well  as  some  prior  bond  measures,  were  more  politically   motivated  as  evidenced  by  the  excessive  amount  of  bond  indebtedness  and  those  who   benefited  from  the  bond  proceeds.    (See  attached  Exhibit  G.)      

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ohlone principal suddenly resigns (letter to President Kronenberg)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Giorgio Cosentino <>
Date: Sat, Aug 10, 2013 at 10:58 AM
Subject: Ohlone principal resigns
To: Madeline Kronenberg <>
Cc: Charles Ramsey <>, Todd Groves <>, "Enos, Randall" <>, Elaine Merriweather <>, "Harter, Bruce" <>, "Harrington, Theresa" <>, "Taylor, Adam" <>, Bill Kelly <>, Sherry McCoy <>, Ohlone PTA <>, "" <>, Bayside CouncilOfPTAs <>, Myrna de Vera <>

Dear President Kronenberg,

I have just been informed that Ohlone Principal, Mickie Giacomini, has just resigned after one year of employment with the WCCUSD to take a job closer to her home in Rockin, just weeks before school begins.  I repeatedly communicated to you and Director Taylor that your hiring of someone living in Rocklin made no sense, that I predicted this happening.   And it has. With short notice.  Like some sort of sick joke.

I am requesting a complete investigation into this hiring decision.  I want to know how the job position was advertised, where it was advertised, when it was advertised, how many applicants, the qualifications of each applicant, who sat on the review panel, what feedback was received from the review panel, etc.  I want to see copies of all primary documentation.  Dr. Harter made this hiring decision at the same time all other Hercules principal positions were changed.  He even replaced the Hercules Middle-High School principal with a first-timer.  For their first stint at the helm, they are responsible for two schools and a WASC survey this coming school year.  I am now questioning that decision, too.

I'll be honest and say I can't tell the difference between just making do with what you have at your disposal, incompetence, or retaliation as a result of the Measure K fallout, which included then President Ramsey's negative comments directed at Hercules.  If Mr. Ramsey never made those comments, then I might be able to accept this as par for the course with the WCCUSD.  I hope that is the case, that Dr. Harter was simply forced to make do with a lousy deck of cards.  Is that what happened?

Please investigate this not just for me, but as part of the WCCUSD quality improvement process.  What is the corrective action to this incident?  I hate to say I told you so, but I did, and still have the emails to prove it.  I told you she would leave for a job closer to home. As the liaison to the Hercules schools, I ask that you please provide a summary of your investigation to the citizens of Hercules.  

Thank you, President Kronenberg.

Giorgio Cosentino

Thursday, August 8, 2013

No Accountability for Richmond High School Tragedy?

As the trial for those responsible for the horrific, two-plus hour vicious, unrelenting gang rape comes to a close, I have to ask, where's the accountability for those who failed to protect this 16 year old girl from harm in 2009?  Did anyone resign?  Was anyone terminated from employment?  I just came across the following quote recently posted on the Richmond Confidential blog by Mr. Don Gosney, a co-organzier of the WCCUSD's Ivy League Connection. 
Mr. Gosney writes 
"This young woman got her settlement ($4 million) because the school district failed her in so many ways. She got a settlement because there was inadequate security at the homecoming dance. She got her settlement because the area where the crime was committed was blocked off from the view of anyone who might have been able to stop the crime (keep in mind that this was right in front of 23rd street). She got her settlement because the District failed to properly illuminate this area. And she got this settlement because had it gone to a jury they would have given her everything the District owned. Mistakes were made by a lot of people–the kinds of mistakes that were easily preventable and this is one of the reasons why she got this settlement."
I agree with his assessment 100%.  Yes, the “district” (Superintendent, Associate Superintendent responsible for safety, the Principal, the Board, and district police) failed her. The Superintendent as Chief Safety Officer failed her.  I taught at Richmond High School for three years.  Bad things happened on that campus because the campus was not an island, that it was not isolated or immune from the violence of the surrounding community.  Hardly a day went by without some sort of act of violence.  Beatings, threats of bodily harm or worse, lock-downs, loaded guns in lockers.  So school staff remained in a constant state of vigilance.  Every day we taught, we had to protect our children from harm.  It was part of our job description.

The brutality of Richmond does not recognize boundaries.  It is continuous.  Yet the security that night was not continuous.   Police patrolled the streets.  Security watched over the kids in the gym.  But nothing in between.  When I worked as a security guard for such events, there was always someone responsible for patrolling the perimeter.  And where there was little to no lighting, you paid extra attention to those areas, not less.  I would have expected the same protocols from those responsible for ensuring the safety of our children, but to my knowledge, it didn’t happen.

Where there were no watchful eyes, a crowd of approximately 20 individuals participated in the most barbaric acts against this child for a period of no less than two hours on the school campus.  So again I ask, where is the accountability?  A payment of $4 million dollars is not accountability.  It is an admission of guilt. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The CBOC makes demands!

At last night's joint WCCUSD Board/Citizens Bond Oversight Committee meeting, the CBOC members stood up to the board and told them enough is enough!  Under the leadership of Chair Ivette Ricco, they voiced their "frustrations" regarding the lack of support from the school board and Superintendent Harter's staff, support critical for meeting their oversight objectives as outlined in Ed Code sections 15278-->15282. 

The frustrations cited included lack of response from district staff for requests, lack of communication including input for suggestions presented by the CBOC, lack of clear policies and organizational structure, financial audits delayed to the point of compromising the review process, a dysfunctional website, etc.   It was even mentioned that a citizen had filed a Uniform Complaint against the WCCUSD for violations pertaining to the CBOC's lack of compliance with the Ed Code.

Trustee Elaine Merriweather acted like these were new revelations, that she was now interested and concerned.  This was nothing new and every board member knew it, unless they've been asleep at the wheel.  To her credit, President Kronenberg began offering solutions.  She didn't minimize the complaints brought forth. And she didn't get defensive.  She handled the situation well.  Much of these festering problems occurred under the responsibility of Trustee Charles Ramsey.  I'm not sure what his reluctance has been to address some of these concerns.  Does he resent the oversight process, seeing it as an annoyance or distraction? 

The chain-of-command is CBOC-->School Board-->Superintendent-->District Staff.  If the needs of the CBOC were not being addressed, then our school board is responsible.  Watch a CBOC meeting and you will see a group of very dedicated, intelligent citizens, not a band of malcontents.  These individuals bring validity to the oversight process.  Some have extensive auditing backgrounds.  They are articulate, reasonable, and fair-minded.  They are who you want on your oversight committee.  Let's support them in their efforts to oversee this very large school bond program.  If they get frustrated and resign from the committee, we'll have an even bigger problem.

I recently began reviewing some old meeting minutes and came across a comment from a previous WCCUSD Trustee, David Brown.  He said the bond program process is one that includes promises not being met.  I'm sure this will always be the case, that sometimes promises will not be met for a variety of reasons.  With a completely functional oversight program, the citizens can be assured that the bond program process has been at the very least, fair, objective, and functional.  With this functionality, the WCCUSD will have the trust and support of all stake-holders.    

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Music is returning to our elementary schools!

Further evidence that maybe we are beginning to leave the recession behind us, the WCCUSD voted to restore the elementary school music programs.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Who is the WCCUSD?

Who is the WCCUSD?
Is it the area Director who has been very helpful with my requests?
Is it the school employees who are giving it 100% every day?
Is it the teacher who told me I should avoid enrolling my child in the district?
Is it the school board that took 3 months to respond to my reports of Ed Code violations?
Is it the district employee who told me he never responds to emails?
Is it the thugs who will smash your windshield when you protest the conflict-of-interest scenarios that exist on the CBOC?
Is it the Ivy League Connection, who are doing great things for some of our kids?
Is it a board President who has difficulty accepting criticism?
Is it the district who generously mailed me documents in response to my query?
Is it a board President who will publicly attack two cities for not supporting a parcel tax?
Is it the district employee who was demoted at their previous place of employment for allegations of grade fraud? (Note to this employee--if you are innocent, consider suing those who have defamed you).
Is it a district who did not provide a safe prom for the girl who was brutally raped?
Is it new and safe schools?
Is it the district that was recently sued by the ACLU for failing to meet the needs of some of our neediest students?
Is it the district that compassionately fights every day to bridge the achievement gap?
Is it the board that holds "Public Comment" very late in their meetings?
Who is the WCCUSD?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My request for an ethics and conflict-of-interest policy

I recently sent the following letter to Trustee Ramsey and President Kronenberg.  I have not received any reply.


Does the WCCUSD have an ethics and conflict-of-interest policy?  If so, can you please forward me a copy.  Have you read about Lockyer's request for a legal opinion from the Attorney General with respect to bond measure campaign practices?  It was reported here.

The treasurer said that some school districts have given underwriting firms “an exclusive, sole-source contract” to sell bonds “in return for obtaining pre-bond election campaign services” from the firms.
Under some agreements, he continued, underwriters who stand to profit from selling bonds conduct voter opinion surveys or help prepare ballot arguments. Other agreements “specify [that] the underwriting fees paid in connection with any subsequent bond sale will reimburse the underwriter for pre-election campaign services provided.”
Charles, has the WCCUSD engaged in this practice that Mr. Lockyer is referring to?  I have to ask because as a result of some of my own observations.  You know the adage, "Follow the money trail."  It is why I became concerned enough about the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee.  The money trail flows freely from those employed-contracted with the district to those on the CBOC, that the fox is guarding the henhouse.  
The union rep on the committee is just one example, although the Associate Superintendent disagrees with me, his reasoning being that the union rep is not employed with the district.  The union rep represents people employed with the district and gets paid from their union dues for doing so.  The money trail is contiguous.  The CBOC committee chair receiving $20,000.00 from the very Bond Program Manager (SGI) the district has contracted with is a huge conflict-of-interest in my opinion.  These same folks give large amounts of money to board candidates during their election bids.  There is also the Trades Council Rep on the CBOC. The Trades Council is affiliated with the pipe-fitters union who also has a PAC that also contributed to the Chair's WCCUSD election campaign bid. If these folks get elected, they then vote to renew the contracts with those who made such contributions.  It's human nature, right, to reward those who have been kind to you?
In addition to the union reps, board members have their own appointees on the CBOC.  At one time, the recipient of the $20,000.00 from SGI was also a committee appointee of yours, Charles.  Maybe everything is ethically kosher with the WCCUSD bond program and oversight committee.  I'm no expert, so I did ask some folks to check in on our operation to see if any tidying up is necessary, some recommendations perhaps.  If not, I stand corrected and apologize for any inconvenience I might have created in the process.  

Thanks for your understanding, Charles.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

School Site Councils are "Good stuff!"

My letter to Hercules principals:

Dear Hercules School Principals, 

Recently, I decided to visit our schools in Hercules to have a closer look at the situation at hand as my daughter will be enrolled in the not-too-distant future.  My motivation for this is to help garner more support for our schools in Hercules, especially after the Measure K defeat.  The vehicle I am using for doing my homework is the School Site Council meeting as it includes a built-in component for community involvement, so I have decided to attend all Hercules school site council meetings. 

I believe I made the right call as I have already been rewarded with some very positive glimpses of what you are doing in your schools.  I want to borrow a line from Hanna Ranch Principal, Greg Santiago, who on a couple of times during their SSC meeting, exclaimed "That's good stuff!"  He was referring to those things being tried that resulted in a very positive learning experience for the kids at his school.  At the meetings I have attended thus far, I have witnessed involved parents, devoted teachers, concerned citizens, and hard-working principals coming together for our kids at this meeting.  That in itself is good stuff!

Those who know me know that I tend to focus on the negative, that my own saying might be something more like "That's bad stuff!" as I demand change, more oversight, modified election procedures, etc.  There are others like me and what harms the support for our schools is when the bad stuff gets more visibility than the good stuff.  I'm not saying that I am going to turn away from the bad stuff, but I am going to make a commitment to help accentuate the good stuff that is going on in our schools in Hercules.  I am even contemplating starting a Hercules Education newsletter if there is an interest for such.

What I ask from you is that you see your SSC meeting as an opportunity to share the good stuff that is happening at each of your respective school sites, that you devote the necessary time to these meetings, and that you give them maximum visibility.  These meetings are a conduit for parent-community involvement that is necessary for our schools to succeed.  It is at these meetings that parents learn how to help their child succeed in your respective schools.  A positive experience at these meetings also results in more support for your school.   Our children need to know that they are going to a school that is filled with good stuff, so let's not let them down.

Thanks for accommodating my requests for meeting agendas, minutes, etc.  I'll see you at your next SSC meeting.  Take care.

Giorgio Cosentino, Hercules parent

Friday, March 22, 2013

Time to revisit district elections

If Pinole and Hercules each had a representative on the school board, the Measure K parcel tax increase would have passed, with there being more money for our teachers and classrooms.
It didn't pass because Hercules and Pinole didn't feel represented. There was no buy-in. Worse yet, the reflex action of the then board President was to scold these two cities as a result of their lack of support instead of taking the time to understand their concerns and garner the support, and try again for the much needed parcel tax increase. It was easier to blame the two cities than to share responsibility for this failure.
In 2008, when there was an effort to change the WCCUSD board election process to district wards, there was much opposition from El Cerrito, including the respective County of Board of Education trustee. In 2008, there were 3 board members from El Cerrito. In 2013, there are still 3 board members from El Cerrito.
In 2006, a Hercules candidate received only 8% of the vote for WCCUSD board. Hercules and Pinole are faced with problems unique to them, including potential bankruptcy, so deserve to have their own representation, as do other areas-cities.
Let's increase the buy-in and support for the WCCUSD by resubmitting the petition for district elections.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Complaint against WCCUSD submitted to SBE

From: Cosentino, Giorgio
Sent: Friday, March 15, 2013 12:37 PM
To: ''
Cc: Christine Gordon (
Subject: Uniform Complaint regarding violations of the WCCUSD Bond Oversight Program

Uniform Complaint for violations of Ed Code 15278-->15282 are as follows:

1.         The legally required position of Business Organization representative was vacant from 3/13/12 to at least 6/21/12.  There is no membership list after 6/21/12.  There was also no membership list available on the website from 3/4/10 to 3/13/12.
2.         The legally required position of Senior Citizen representative ended 4/2011.  This position was filled 9/2011.
3.         A representative of Local Union 1 has been a voting member of the committee since 10/18/06.  Employees of the WCCUSD are represented by Local 1.
4.         During the 2012 election campaign for WCCUSD school board, CBOC Chair (and board candidate) Robert Studdiford received $20,000.00 in campaign contributions from Seville Group (SGI) while he was seated on the committee.  Per the WCCUSD board meeting minutes, SGI retained their contract with the WCCUSD as “Program Manager of the bond program.”  Mr. Studdiford’s received campaign contributions are documented on the CA460 form.

5.         The annual reports have not been published in a timely manner.
a.        The 2008 Annual Report was approved March, 2010.
b.        The 2009 Annual Report was approved April 27, 2011.  This report cannot be located on the CBOC website.
c.         The 2010 Annual Report was approved February 27, 2012.  A “draft” copy is on the website.
d.        The 2011 Annual Report was approved February 27, 2013.

When I inquired with one CBOC member about the delays with the reports and the website issues, they replied “The CBOC has no real admin backup to do such work.”  The law requires that such administrative support be made available.

I did voice my objections to the Local 1 position to the school board on 2/6/13.  I voiced my objections again at another meeting on 2/12/13.  The board clerk, Charles Ramsey, said the issue would be raised at the next CBOC meeting on 2/27/13.  At this CBOC meeting, the district CBOC liaison, Associate Superintendent Bill Fay, said that the union position was legal because the union rep was not employed by the WCCUSD. 

I understand that there will always be vacancies on any CBOC, but my concern is that the combination of unlawful positions in addition to conflict-of-interest scenarios such as committee members receiving monies from those contracted with the WCCUSD magnifies the impact of the vacancies of these legally required positions.  In addition, each WCCUSD board member has an appointee on the CBOC.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The WCCUSD is ethically challenged

The WCCUSD leadership is ethically challenged, hence the additional scrutiny on every action and decision.  They bring this upon themselves.  The following are some examples of why some ethics training is in order:

When a board president publicly singles out and scolds two cities for not supporting a tax measure, ethics training is needed.
When important details of a bond measure are buried in the small print, ethics training is needed.
When a school board stacks the deck by placing union reps on the citizens bond oversight committee, ethics training is needed.
When oversight committee members receiving campaign contributions from contractors fail to recuse themselves from that committee, ethics training is needed.

When the school district repeatedly violates accountability laws put in place for purpose of providing transparency and accountability, ethics training is needed.
With some ethics training and strict adherence to accountability laws, the district will be subjected to much less scrutiny.