Thursday, January 22, 2009

School Daze

What you'll find here are several brief snapshots excised from three notable articles covering this story. Links are provided if you somehow feel the need to read all of this stuff. But what's involved are Measure Y funds that somehow just, well, disappeared. Money that was supposed to help repair schools, but apparently didn't quite make it to class. We the voting public passed Measure Y a few years ago, and due to our generosity $240 million dollars was turned over to our very own Pasadena Unified School District. What happened to it after that nobody seems to completely know.

Snapshot #1: PUSD Leaders Urge Prosecution of Measure Y Fraud. Apparently the L.A. County District Attorney wasn't quite sure he wanted to prosecute the malefactors. This from a press release put out by the PUSD last December:
"We urge the District Attorney to re-open its investigation of Measure Y fraud on the Washington Middle School project," said Superintendent Edwin Diaz, who joined PUSD in March 2007. "Our forensic investigator uncovered a trail of improper and illegal activity and we strongly believe that the perpetrators should be criminally prosecuted. Tomorrow, I will urge the Board of Education to begin civil proceedings against those who we believe misappropriated scarce education dollars from our schools."

Snapshot #2: Seems pretty clear, right? Somebody stole money from the PUSD, and their forensic gumshoe proved it. So why wouldn't the D.A. touch this case, one that involved shady contractors stealing taxpayer money? In the article "One more look," published in December, the Pasadena Weekly had this to say:

However, when (Pasadena) detectives submitted their evidence, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges because the school district's Measure Y record keeping was not adequate to secure a conviction.

Now that is unfortunate. Somebody made off with over $200,000 in PUSD funds, and they don't even have the paperwork to prove it. In the real world something like that might actually get you in trouble with the boss. Even if you had a rough childhood. The Pasadena Weekly continues with more disheartening information:

In the newly released documents, forensic auditor Michael Ammermon ... states that between November 2006 and July 2007 the district paid $216,904 to Jessie Yzaguirre, 52, of La Crescenta, an unlicensed contractor. According to Ammermon, Yzaguirre used Advent Construction Co.'s name and business license number, along with a contact within the district, in order to receive money for work on renovation projects at Washington Middle School.

So the PUSD gave almost $217,000 in our cash to an unlicensed contractor using somebody else's ticket, and now they're surprised and outraged to discover that they were ripped off? Is it just me, or does the word 'chump' come to mind?

The final snapshot. In an article printed last week ("Documents allegedly show misuse of Measure Y funds"), the Pasadena Star News revealed an interesting dynamic involved in the disappearance of these funds:

When the discrepancies were discovered, district officials met several times with (Mark) Kingsbury, the assistant construction coordinator for Measure Y projects, who approved the invoices in question ... A month later Ammermon conducted a taped interview with Yzaguirre, who said he paid Kingsbury between $500 and $3,500 in $100 bills for every project he billed for, according to records ... "It is the only way I can get work or he won't hire me," Yzaguirre said in the interview ... Yzaguirre estimated he gave Kingsbury between $40,000 and $60,000 - "maybe more" - of the $216,000 he received from the PUSD, according to the documents.

And just when you'd thought you'd heard enough, the Star News had to go and add this:

The day after his alleged confession, Yzaguirre recanted in a garbled letter faxed to the district. He said his drug addiction caused him to fabricate the story about paying off Kingsbury.

Well, there you go. The PUSD, through its Measure Y construction coordinator, funneled nearly $217,000 in school repair funds to a guy whose addictions are so bad he doesn't seem to be able to tell whether he is telling the truth or lying. Sure hope the kids weren't around when he was hanging out at school.

You know, it's a good thing we just passed Measure TT, the "Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre School Improvement Bond," valued at $350 million. I mean, they're going to need at least some of it to replace the cash they lost from the previous school improvement bond. Right?

17 comments:

  1. Being in the conservative minority, I almost ALWAYS vote against these tax measures...they always seem to be open ended.
    Money never goes where it is suppose to.
    Decades ago, they told us the State Lottery would be a huge benefit to our schools. That never happened.
    Thanks for alerting us to this, Sir Eric.

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  2. So why is it Sierra Madre is married to the PUSD? I assume we shell out a lot of cash to them for the services they provide. But since we're buying, can't we make a better selection? Aracadia's schools are way better rated, why don't we buy our way into their system?

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  3. Having a decent public school system is about the best way to improve home values. SM's biggest downside for prospective residents with kids is our PUSD situation.

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  4. All of this was know before the recent election when Measure TT was on the ballot.
    http://insidesocal.com/pasadenapolitics/2008/10/pusd-bond-audits-a-mess.html

    Yet after the Star News broke this story in October, John Buchanan spoke about the wonderful things PUSD had done with the Measure Y funds. He even made cannned phone calls urging a yes vote on Measure TT.

    Heads should roll. The California Contractor's License Board will take action against unlicensed contractors.

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  5. Mr. Green Jeans was involved in this? Now it all makes sense.

    Is there an issue on the planet that Buchanan isn't on the wrong side of?

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  6. In 1991-1992 a group call Sierra Madre Parent For A Better Education tried very hard to change from the Pasadena School District to Arcadia School Districts. They were met with heavy resistance from some of the residents in town and PUSD. It got all the way to the State of California for a hearing. The ruling was againt the group stating that the "poor quality of education was not criteria". PSUD agrued that Sierra Madre leaaving PSUD would upset the racial balance. At that time the were less than 250 students attending the all of the PSUD schools K-12. (Sierra Madre Elem, Don Benito, Wilson, Marshall, and PHS. Enrollment had been declining since the early 1970's when cross town bussing was in force and continued to decline after the ruling.
    I was part of that group. We wanted safe schools that provided a quality education for children. Race was never the issue.

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  7. Interesting. Sure explains our booming in-town private school business. But since the PUSD isn't bussing students into Sierra Madre anymore (with the exception of those who were coming here before the policy change), does this 'racial balance' argument hold any longer?

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  8. Anyone who followed the council hearings on Measure TT heard for themselves the evasive answers given by the school district representative. Don Watts was the man of the hour, trying to pin down the district rep. on expansion plans, or expenditure guarantees. Everyone realizes that there is no binding obligation for any of the Measure TT money to come to Sierra Madre, right? There are, of course, good intentions, and we know what is paved with those. Couldn't tell if I was listening to an education administrator or a developer.

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  9. You child only gets one chance at a good education. Don't trust PUSD with your child's education.

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  10. Considering that Measure Y had the big time support of the likes of Bart Doyle, you definitely have to be suspicious. As well as Measure TT. A regular "Where's Waldo" of redevelopment, this guy. He's always there somewhere.

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  11. Pasta's got it right.
    PUSD is the lower echilon of public education.
    If you can't afford, private school, move to Arcadia or Temple City.

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  12. It's shocking, it's disgusting, and it should be, but it isn't surprising. You dug up another one this time, Sir Eric. How can people mess with the potential lives of our kids and not get punished??

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  13. Mickey: PUSD wants the $$$$ from the ADA. (average daily attendance)

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  14. Our State of California is bankrupt.
    Our Country is on the verge of a major depression.
    In order to provide citizens of Sierra Madre with essential services.....our city council is going to have to really cut costs and then cut them again!
    Mayor Zimmerman, Mayor Pro-tem MacGillivray and Councilmember Watts have done a superb job of balancing our city budget. More tough decisions are going to have to be made.
    "algore" Buchanan is a fool at best, an obstructionist at worst. So is Joe SGAG Mosca.
    Remember all the dirts always want more TAXES, more TAXES and then more TAXES, they use schools and services as their "spin". Don't buy into it. It's all about building, building and more building...no matter what.
    PSUD needs to be investigated. The story Sir Eric posted is shocking and very disturbing.
    We all want to improve our schools........but I for one will not be foolish enough to support any of these bogus tax measures.
    Most politicians are crooks and/or bums. We are so fortunate in Sierra Madre to have three people who truly serve and care about Sierra Madre and the people.
    Kurt, MaryAnn and Don.....
    thank you for protecting us!

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  15. I find it very hard to believe John Buchanan had anything to do with this scandal. Correct if I'm wrong, but wasn't he backing increased funding where his children go to school in Sierra Madre? Come on.

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  16. Um, I don't think anyone said Buchanan was part of this scandal. He loudly supported Measure Y, and that was happily laughed at.

    And Sierra Madre public schools are part of the PUSD. It is a centralized system not based on this side of the hill. But thanks for playing. Please don't forget to pick up your hat and coat on the way out.

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  17. Pasta, I remember the phone call from City Council Member John Buchanan urging a vote for TT. Do his children now receive preferential treatment at the school?

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