From the daily archives: Wednesday, December 14, 2011

By Patricia A. Aguilar

In a meeting held at noon in Calexico’s district office, school board members meet to discuss the current situation regarding the misappropriation of measure J funds.

Measure J was a bond measure passed by the citizens of Calexico approving the collection of funds to help improve the current school conditions, most specifically the Calexico High School. The goal being to reduce classroom sizes by expanding and renovating the local High School. Despite the approval of the measure, no visible signs of renovations have been evident.

Calexico Teacher Association president Enrique Servantes stated that “walkways and cement had been constructed on school grounds illegally” and that the contracts for the work had never gone to bid and the board at that time had never seen or approved any of the construction that has occurred at the High School. “This is why we will never pass another bond in this city” stated Servantes.

During Superintendent Richard P. Fragale’s report it was revealed that only three sets of minutes since 2004 had ever been taken by the Measure J Tax Oversight Committee.  An audit was then conducted on the accounts and it was found that 7,500 were misappropriated and would have to be paid back through the general funds.  “It’s our local taxpayer’s dollars that need to be paid back.” stated Fragale.

The board agreed with the Mr. Fragale and authorized a Forensic Audit to be conducted by an outside company to ensure that no additional funds would need to be paid back. The directive was also issued to refer the issue to the District Attorney’s office as it was evident that some form of fraud had been committed.

 

Patricia A. Aguilar

Teachers, parents and members of the community filled Cesar Chaves Elementary School’s cafeteria this Tuesday for a Special Meeting by the Calexico School Board. The special meeting was created to address the financial crisis the district is in and the potential consequences of a state take-over and to inform the public exactly just what is at stake.

The main focus of Tuesday’s meeting was to allow Joel Montero, Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) CEO and Arnold Preciado, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Imperial County Office of Education to present to the board and public on what process and impact of a state takeover entails and to provide the board and public the opportunity to ask questions on the potential state takeover.

Arnold Preciado presented the current financial situation the district is in. The situation, while dire, is largely in part due to the state’s deferrals to school districts. The funding for a district comes mostly from the local property taxes, and in areas such a Calexico where they are low, the state normally will make up the difference.  Unfortunately, the current economic strain has created a situation in which the funds that would normally sustain the district have been withheld by the state, and in fact additional cuts will be implemented by the governor in mid-year cuts. This leaves the district without any money to pay its basic bills, and much less any of the district employees. The projection shows that should the district continue in its current course, come May of 2012 the district will be 6.5 million in the red, and that does not include the trigger cuts to be issued by the governor.  In addition, over the last few years the district has had a decline in enrollment and a deficit spending that has not been fully addressed.

The School Board had the opportunity to have a question and answer session with Mr. Montero, followed by an open public question and answer session. Various persons spoke at the podium, some questioning the accuracy of the school districts’ budgets or urging the board not to allow a state takeover.  When asked if the district had any chance of avoiding a state takeover, Joel Montero stated that it could be avoided but action had to be taken immediately.  “The solution will be based on the boards’ ability; the districts’ ability and the community’s ability to work together… avoid a state takeover at all costs”. Montero stated emphatically.  His recommendation to start fixing the problem would be to first agree on the number (the cost) it will take to bring the district back into a safe place again. Yet it was emphasized to the board and those in attendance that the time for decision making was now, the longer the board waited in taking action, the fewer choices there would be down the line; “Timing is critical”. Montero said.  One parent, Diana Peterson, spoke to Mr. Montero on her concerns of what a state takeover would do to the community. Mrs. Peterson, who has relatives in King City, noticed a significant spike in crime and drop of enrollment in the King City district after they had been taken over. Mr. Montero responded that such occurrences are typical of districts that have been taken over. He went on to state that districts that are taken over have more difficulty attracting talented individuals to work for them, and often families will move their children to other districts to provide what is in their view a better education. While a state takeover would continue to provide core curriculum, additional courses and programs could be prioritized and cut, the final decision would be up to the state appointed administrator.

At the end of the public Q&A session, trustee Joong Kim began to read a prepared statement to Mr. Montero in which he stated he had no confidence that the board had the ability to find the funds and avoid a state takeover. Despite numerous attempts by board president Ruth Duarte to insist Mr. Kim ask a question instead of making a statement; Mr. Kim continued his prepared speech despite being called out of order. Ultimately order was restored to the meeting and school board president Ruth Duarte issued a closing statement in which she called for a return to the negotiation table and to “stop playing games” ; a statement that drew heated comments from the audience. As Duarte spoke, trustee Kim interjected with his own statement that “all five board members should be recalled” due to the inability to manage the districts’ finances. The meeting ended soon after.

 

 
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