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.




Charles,

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.

Giorgio

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.

Respectfully,
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: 'sbe@cde.ca.gov'
Cc: Christine Gordon (CGordon@cde.ca.gov)
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.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

WCCUSD teacher turnover a valid concern


Recently, I inquired with WCCUSD HR Director, Kenneth Whittemore, as to the particulars of the district's turnover.  He said it was difficult for him to get a handle on because of the many personnel issues the district has faced in recent years, including layoffs.  

My inquiry prompted trustee Todd Groves to comment that I should pull back my "oversight" of the district.   My query had nothing to do with oversight.  It was motivated by my wanting to better understand one of the key  causes of a compromised education process.  The following article validates my concern, citing lack of teacher turnover at this one Richmond school as a cause for success.

http://www.contracostatimes.com/west-county-times/ci_22606719/collaboration-innovation-fuel-gains-at-richmond-elementary-schools

The district should be able to provide all stakeholders with a detailed analysis of turnover within the district and at each and every district school.  We need to know where the turnover hotspots are before we can address their causes. If the district cannot provide this information, then it is time to find a new Superintendent.