Judging from what we learned during the recent - and quite rancorous - Selinske vs. Baggett runoff election, there are really two Pasadena Unified School District Boards of Eduction to consider. There is the one led by the Selinkse - Honowitz faction, who pretty much represent the old guard big money establishment. And then there are those who side with the Scott Phelps and Ramon Miramontes point of view. One that is more concerned with actually running a school district with the needs of parents and children in mind.
And with Ed Honowitz, the Vice President of the Board of Education on hand to speak this evening, this will definitely be the establishment speaking. Ed being, along with political operative Peter Dreier, one of the leaders in the effort to re-elect Selinske.
And since Board of Education President Selinske, who won handily everywhere else, came to within less than 30 votes of losing Sierra Madre to Sean Baggett, it would appear that the establishment believes it has some fence mending to do here. Especially after having run one of the nastiest re-election campaigns in modern memory. A truly horrific effort, and in a Board of Education race no less.
This evening Board of Education Vice President Ed Honowitz, along with PUSD Chiefs David Azcarraga and John Pappalardo, will speak to the Sierra Madre City Council on such topics as school construction, test scores, budgets, and what exactly they are doing with all of that Measure Y and TT money. With Measure TT coming in at $350 million, and Measure Y at $240 million, you'd suspect there must have been quite a lot of school repair and new construction going on.
Think of it this way. If Sierra Madre is having some difficulty coming to grips with $19 million in water bond debt, how exactly are PUSD area property owners going pay off $590 million in education construction bond debt? This truly is a staggering sum of money, and unless educational Taj Mahals for our children are in the process of being built throughout the area, people really do need to be skeptical.
Now I personally do not expect much in the way of controversy from Ed and his guys. Tonight's meeting is designed more to chat up the citizenry, particularly in a town where what they have been pushing is not particularly popular. Sierra Madre parents have been in large part voting with their feet, with many taking their kids out of the Public School System and putting them into private and parochial schools. And often at great personal financial sacrifice.
But what should really be asked about tonight (and in the name of civility probably won't) is the latest fraud scandal to hit the PUSD. That being the payment of over $800,000 in Measure TT bond money to a recently fired one-man consultant firm that apparently didn't do very much for all that money. With similar fraud allegations a few years back over Measure Y money still fresh in the minds of many, this is yet another indication that the Board of Education and PUSD might not exactly be the most dutiful stewards of our money.
On May 11 the Pasadena Star News published an article that broke this latest scandal wide open. Two PUSD board members that didn't support Selinske (and by extension Honowitz), Scott Phelps and Ramon Miramontes, have called for an investigation. Honowitz, along with Selinske, for whatever reasons, have not. Perhaps because it happened on their watch when both were Board of Ed Senior Executive Officers? Apparently that political divide in PUSD's Board of Education extends all the way down to corruption investigations.
Here is how PSN staffer Brian Charles laid it all out:
PUSD consultant paid $824,690 before being fired - School board officials Tuesday called for an investigation into $824,860 in payments to a consulting firm working on the Pasadena Unified's Measure TT construction bond. The district will open its investigation into the matter in closed session on May 24. SCMC Incorporated of Thousand Oaks, a one-man consulting firm, earned the large sum during a three-year period.
(Later) However, some school board members question whether the district was looking close enough at the actions of SCMC, which prompted the probe. "First of all it's a lot of money and second it begs the question of where this money is going," PUSD board member Scott Phelps said.
(Later) But Phelps and Miramontes want a thorough investigation of SCMC's billing. And both want to know why PUSD ended its relationship with the contractor. "It's not just the amount of money paid to SCMC," Phelps said. Elected board members also want to know what caused "the separation."
Central to Phelps' and Miramontes' concerns is an August 2010 invoice where SCMC billed PUSD on 28 or 31 days that month, including a stretch of 13 consecutive days. From Aug. 16 to Aug. 28, SCMC's consultant billed for four 11-hour days and one 13-hour day. "You have to question the quality of the work ... if someone is working 13 consecutive days and billing for 11 and 12 hours. We have to question whether the work we asked to be done was completed," Miramontes said.
A second Pasadena Star News article, "Invoice details consultant's work on PUSD's Measure TT bond," can be accessed by clicking here. References to previous fraud controversies involving Measure Y money are made as well. You will also be able to examine the actual Measure TT billing documents in question.
Of course, these are not topics that our guests this evening will wish to discuss. I am certain, should the matter come up, all will claim that they cannot speak to a matter that is currently under investigation. But even that should be an uncomfortable experience for them, I'm afraid. Because the purpose of tonight's get-together is to convey the message that everything is OK, and no one needs to worry themselves too much over such things.
A message that the establishment politicians of the G4 City Council will be more than glad to help them convey, I'm sure.
Correction - Tomorrow night: In a meeting taking place elsewhere, the selection of the 4th of July Grand Marshal will be made. We will post any information here just as soon as we get it.