In a Dec 8 Pasadena Star News article entitled "PUSD financial troubles spread" (click here), Brian Charles and James Figueroa reported the following:
Allegations of improper billing, a school construction project more than $8 million above estimates and questions about the availability of timely financial audits have sent Pasadena Unified School District officials on a search for answers.
The district launched two audits this week. A forensic audit will focus on the allegations of improper billing which led to the termination of four consultants' contracts, the suspension of a fifth contract and landed PUSD Chief Financial Officer David Azcarraga on paid administrative leave.
The district will also ask a consultant to review bids for the Sierra Madre Middle School project. The school project was originally estimated to cost $23 million; bids for the project came in between $31 and $33 million.
Meanwhile, the Citizens Oversight Committee charged with keeping a watchful eye over expenditures on the $350 million Measure TT capital improvement project have a tough task in tracking the money.
Measure TT, passed by Pasadena voters in 2008, provided funding for renovation and construction projects at nearly 30 PUSD schools. Due to state education audit regulations, the bond audit for Measure TT can take up to nine months to complete, according to PUSD Chief Financial Officer John Pappalardo.
The 2010-11 audit was released until May 2012. The audit for the most recent year 2011-12 has not been released.
What this means is we will not be hearing much of anything for quite some time. Which, to my rather impatient way of thinking, indicates that this entire mess has been swept under the rug for the duration. Nine months is a long time, and so is the entire year it has taken for the 2011 audit to emerge. I don't know how you feel about this, but to me this looks like a matter for the District Attorney. Which may actually explain the long and winding process the PUSD is taking on this mess. "Process" is, of course, always the bureaucrat's friend. Especially in this case as some of the figures involved may be fearing something far worse than a forensic audit.
But what we can do is talk a little bit today about Measure CC. Because it does offer a few revealing insights into some of the players in the PUSD bond bingo process, the very same folks that have lead it into some of the current woes there.
As I am certain you recall, Measure CC was a PUSD parcel tax initiative that was voted upon and defeated in May of 2010. It had come close on the heels of the $350 million dollar Measure TT. Had Measure CC passed we all would now be paying a yearly $120 parcel tax to the school system. The initiative lost when it only received 52.46% of the vote. 55% was required for passage.
After the well-publicized debacles of Measure Y, which was apparently plundered of $100,000s of thousands of dollars by various unscrupulous operators, passage of Measure CC was never considered a slam dunk. PUSD financial record keeping in the case of Measure Y was considered to be so dismal by the D.A. that nobody was ever even arrested. This despite the strenuous objections of then Superintendent Edwin Diaz, who repeatedly vowed that the culprits would be brought to justice right up until the time of his early retirement and rapid migration to a new home somewhere up in Northern California.
Proving once and for all that in the case of the PUSD, crime does actually pay. And for those who are concerned about the fate of that missing Measure TT money (however much that may be), this does not bode well at all.
When Measure CC was a hot item in the minds of the minority community known as "voters," there were a number of folks involved that we have discussed quite a bit on The Tattler recently. Here is how they are ID'd on Ballotpedia (click here):
Pasadena school board President Tom Selinske: "When Sacramento fails to fund our schools by more than $20 million, we must take steps to ensure that every student continues to have access to a great education."
Ed Honowitz, PUSD board member: "This community ought to step up now and say, even in these tough economic times we need to support our children."
Peter Dreier of Citizens for Quality Schools: "All of us can afford to dig deep into our pockets and spend 33 cents a day."
George Brumder, on behalf of the Pasadena Education Foundation, said, "We will do everything in our power to see that the parcel tax will pass this spring."
Everything in consideration, that really is quite a rogue's gallery. While their hopes for Measure CC came a-cropper, they still do run that place, and right into a forensic audit I'm afraid. Who can tell how those parcel tax funds would have fared at the bond money equivalent of the Leakin' Lena.
Dr. Ross Selvidge, who was the person that successfully led the fight to defeat Measure CC (click here), recently wrote a letter to the Star News that summarizes beautifully a recent concern at the PUSD, that being having to compete with Charter Schools for students. Freedom of choice being considered a bad thing at the PUSD ("Pasadena Unified considers closing schools again" - click here). The captives apparently should not be allowed to escape, no matter how good the reasons for them wanting to do so. Here is what Ross has to say:
Regarding Renatta Cooper’s recent quote.
"Whenever we vacate a school we open the door to another charter, and that causes us to lose more students."
It is refreshing for the President of the PUSD Board of Education to be so candid about how she views the priorities of PUSD.
If PUSD closes schools because they are surplus in the face of a continued decline in enrollment, more charter schools might open and be able to offer parents of children in the District a broader choice of educational options. And that would be bad.
If PUSD loses more students to charter schools because parents think they are better for their children, PUSD will suffer since it never reduces spending commensurate with declines in enrollment but will have fewer students generating the per-student revenue from the State on which PUSD depends. And that would be bad.
If PUSD is ever to gain the confidence of parents in the District, it cannot tolerate the destructive mind-set that wider educational options are bad, and that the children of the District exist primarily to generate revenue for the PUSD.
In addition, here we are. More than four years after embarking on a $350 million voter-approved bond spending program for school repairs and upgrades, and after continued large declines in enrollment, PUSD announces it will finally present “possible options” sometime next year regarding what schools or other facilities may be closed or disposed of in order to bring its oversized facilities in line with its much smaller student population.
But we have heard that before. And PUSD just keeps holding on to the first priority; spending that bond money as fast as it can.
Of course, one of the questions remaining would have to be who exactly has been spending that Measure TT bond money? Something it will now apparently take a forensic audit to answerer.
And who knows? Now that we are about to go into a two year period where Sierra Madre will effectively have no representation on the Pasadena Board of Education, perhaps one of the schools that will be closed is the Sierra Madre Middle School? We will have nobody there to fight against that.
Oh, and thank you, Bart. Does anything you touch ever live?
Crime Town: Sierra Madre
There are a couple of articles on the Pasadena Star News website today that could indicate the recent MOU signed by the SMPOA (or is that SMPA?) and the City of Sierra Madre is paying only small dividends for the residents here. The first article, "Sierra Madre home burglarized, laptops, jewelry stolen" (click here), reports the following:
A home on the 600 block of Auburn Avenue was burglarized sometime Monday of two laptops and jewelry, police officials said.
The burglary occurred sometime between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday when the occupants were not home, said police Sgt. Rueben Enriquez.
The burglar broke the front door and broke a window to gain entry into the home. The estimated worth of the stolen property was not immediately available and the incident is still under investigation, Enriquez said.
Enriquez urged residents to be cautious when they leave their homes, look around and make sure no suspicious people are watching.
That advice from Sgt. Enriquez is comforting. Perhaps the SMPD can put out a memo informing us about what a suspicious person in Sierra Madre might look like?
The next article is titled "Single-car crash leads Pasadena Police to stolen Sierra Madre car" (click here). This is what is reported:
Pasadena police officials found the stolen car of a Sierra Madre resident early Tuesday morning after it was apparently involved in a crash, police officials said.
Pasadena police found and reported the abandoned and damaged 2005 white Ford Ranger, which was registered to the Sierra Madre resident, just before 7 a.m. Tuesday with the keys still in the ignition switch, said Sierra Madre police Sgt. Reuben Enriquez.
The Sierra Madre resident, who did not even know the car had been stolen, had accidentally left his keys on the seat of the car but had locked the doors, Enriquez said.
The car, which was parked on the street in the 500 block of Highland, was stolen sometime after 10:30 p.m. Monday night, he added.
You will notice that Sgt. Enriquez took pains to report that the keys to this vehicle had been left inside the victim's car. I recall that when the officers showed up at my house after it was robbed, the first question they asked us was if we had left the doors unlocked. Which we had not, and informed them of that fact.
Needless to say, our robbery never did show up in the idiotic Police Blotter.
Here's why. It is always the first priority of the SMPD to establish that a burglary is the fault of the victim, and therefore can in no way be blamed on the quality of the policing in this town. My request is that if you are ever robbed in this town (and the chances are pretty good that you will be), never let the SMPD con you into telling them that your doors were unlocked. It is a cruel question to ask crime victims still in shock from being robbed. Under such conditions, how can anyone possibly remember something like that?
To do otherwise is to face the possible indignity of having your robbery show up in the Police Blotter as being the fault of nobody but your own self.