‘All the Money Will be Spent’

by Mark Scaramella, January 28, 2011

Especially if it's public money. Count on it, but don't try to count it. The numbers will change on you.

$15.25 million. That's the amount Anderson Valley voters have approved for rehabbing The Valley's crumbling schools.

How much will the actual work cost?

Nobody knows.

How much of the work will be done by local people?

We'll get back to you on that one, but probably not much.

How big a whack of the $15.25 mil will the bond company take for doing the paper work?

Nobody except them knows, and they're not saying.

Based in Emeryville, the bond company arranged a similar deal for Willits. Outside contractors have been given all the work so far. There is much unhappiness with the deal in Willits.

Responsibility for the Boonville construction project lies with the School Board with an Oversight Committee composed of local citizens. The Oversight Committee has no official role in the construction work.

The Oversight Committee’s only legally mandated function is to issue a report on whether the District spent the bond money properly.

Spent. Past tense. When the money is gone.

The Oversight Committee is, however, taking its work seriously. It met for the second time last Wednesday night and disencumbered itself of its by-laws.

Committee member Jean DuVigneaud conducted a step-by-step walk-through of the proposed by-laws, comparing them with the applicable education code related to projects like the $15.25 mil job Boonville is about to embark on.

DuVigneaud discovered that the boilerplate bylaws were effectively irrelevant because the State Education Code trumps by-laws of the ad hoc type, which those proposed for the Oversight Committee's were.

The rejected by-laws were sent to the District by the District's bond consultant without anyone having read them carefully, which is what boilerplate is designed for. Consultants, too, you could say. To go unread. Say what you will about Anderson Valley, we have a lot of people who not only read the fine print, they understand it.

DuVigneaud deconstructed the boilerplate by-laws so thoroughly they disappeared.

After some discussion, Oversight Committee chair Bill Sterling volunteered to redraft the bylaws to be more focused on how this particular Oversight Committee operates. Sterling also volunteered to draft a Memorandum of Understanding with the school board which, in theory, will make areas of responsibility clearer.

DuVigneaud emphasized that the key word in the ed code which applies to the Oversight Committee is “independent” — the School Board has no role to play with the Oversight Committee other than to appoint its members.

The District is moving ahead with the project and has been authorized to proceed with what they are calling “Phase 1” related to energy conservation, which seems to translate as solar panels and some insulation. An total of $6.2 million has been made available to Boonville so far.

Superintendent J.R. Collins estimated that approximately $1 million would be spent at the elementary school for energy-related projects, and $1.25 million would be spent at the high school. The work to be done with the energy-related money has not yet been defined, but presumably includes the aforementioned solar panels and insulation.

Collins pointed out that energy-related funds had to be spent in three years. After reviewing the rules with the Oversight Committee, however, it seems that the three year deadline began in 2009; it's not clear what has to be “completed” in these three years, one of which is gone already, or what the definition of “completed” is.

Collins is investigating.

The rest of the $6.2 million will be spent on roofing for buildings that are not scheduled for demolition and replacement of  “the north wing” — a string of about six classrooms at the elementary school. Replacement of six classrooms is major construction. After some discussion it also became clear that there is no plan at this time about how to remove the six classrooms and put up new ones without interrupting schooling. Collins plans to seek assistance on this point from the recently selected project architect.

Collins also pointed out that the construction project’s “Master Plan” — essentially a catch-all for everything the District once thought needed replacement or remodeling — calls for more projects than there is money for and that, therefore, “all the money will be spent.”

There are school buildings in Europe built in the Middle Ages. They are still in use as school buildings.

Our buildings lasted less than 50 years.

One might expect less haze and more precision by now on this project but haze prevails.

There is general agreement among the Oversight Committee that they should be consulted and fully aware of major project decisions before the school board takes final action on them. But exactly what role they'll end up with is as yet undefined.

* * *

At the next day's school board meeting, Collins announced that the District had finished interviewing the architects to oversee all this. They picked Quattrocchi-Kwok (Mark Quattrocchi and Steve Kwok), a Santa Rosa-based architectural firm. The next step will be negotiating a contract with Q-K. They'll want lots and lots because there is lots and lots to spend.

The Oversight Committee will be overseeing.

Asked if all of this rehab work sounded awfully vague and open-ended, Collins agreed that it did but the murk set in because what actual work will be done still has not been decided.

Essentially the voters approved a blank check of up to $15.25 million, hoping that it would be reputably spent. If the Oversight Committee doesn’t like the way it’s spent, they can… Well, they don’t have much real authority other than to complain about it in an annual report.

On February 16 the District’s “Superintendent's Select Committee” (Consisting of the Superintendent, the School's business manager, Mr. Sterling, and an advisor or two) plans to interview construction manager candidates. We still hope this person will be chosen from candidates drawn solely from the Anderson Valley or, failing that, Mendocino County.

The School Board, aka Collins and Board Chair Marti Bradford and nobody else, briefly discussed our Brown Act complaint from last year. We naively assumed that the Superintendent's job description just might be public business. Superintendent Collins naturally reported that the setting of the Superintendent's objectives was a legitimate part of the Superintendent's closed session evaluation. He cited the district's legal combine based in Santa Rosa as authority, which is like asking the mountain lion if he should be eating venison. The lawyer you pay (out of school money, of course) is the lawyer who tells you what you need to hear.

When we suggested that, dubious legal advice aside, the board should solicit public input as to the Superintendent's duties, Mrs. Bradford haughtily replied that the school board were already members of the public and they got all the input they needed without additional information from the random unwashed. The other board members sat silent as if mesmerized by Mrs. Bradford's Nurse Ratched presumption that she, as always, spoke for all of them.

Bradford's assumption ignores the historical fact that the Anderson Valley School Board, for two decades now, simply functioned as auto-approvers of whatever Collins and the senior teaching staff want. There has been zero public accountability for many years. Things have gone on as they have for this long because most of the district's students are from immigrant families who assume that the smiling gringos down at the school house are managing things just fine.

Their children already know better.

District business manager Patti Wilson told the board that the District's budget was precariously balanced based on optimistic assumptions that they would get approximately the same amount of funding they got last year. Mrs. Wilson, wife of  Valley fire chief Colin Wilson, also said that there may be some significant increases in health insurance for school staffers, which would put a big hole in the district’s precariously balanced budget.

The district, Mrs. Wilson said, received a clean fiscal bill of  health from a recent audit with only two minor findings requiring simple correction. Anderson Valley Unified has never flunked an audit. But guess who pays the auditor?

Notebook

Trustee Erica Lemons reported that it seemed to her that interest in school sports is way up both from students and the general public. Attendance at ball games is up. Participation is up. Cheerleaders are up. Energy is up.

Libidos, too, apparently, as we shall see.

A student who went to Mexico for the Christmas holiday decided not to come back.

Math teacher Nat Corey-Moran was approved for a one-year leave of absence, meaning a substitute will be required for the year Corey-Moran is gone. Leaves of absence, historically, are available to whomever asks for one without regard for the  effect of year-long absences on the alleged course of instruction.

From the “Safe and Healthy School Committee” Report’s Discipline Goals Committee for November 30: “High school discipline committee and individual teachers feel that the dress code is still an issue. The adults are the weak link. The teachers will practice and calibrate on dress code and other infractions. The dress code is hard to enforce. 'Jim' [high school principal Jim Tomlin — the school apparat always refers to its individual members by their first names] says there is too much ‘kid input’ and it is the adult’s responsibility. Cleavage is also the issue for students and some staff. School uniforms is a possible solution. Discipline is our opportunity to teach not punish.”

Male students undoubtedly want more cleavage, while a few adults on the campus seem to be at least dimly aware that teenage girls packaged like sausages just may constitute a ongoing distraction in a classroom stuffed with beckoning bosoms and perpetually priapic teenage boys.

But all this is typical of what has become of public ed over the past 50 years. We've got teachers dressed like slobs, everyone on a first name basis, barely literate communiques from marginally literate teachers and administrators, cleavage the issue of the day, and always the idiot sign-off.

“Discipline is our opportunity to teach not punish,” indeed.

Also from that same stumbling report: “Keith [local Deputy Sheriff Squires] came through with the [dope] dog and Patti [presumably Ms. Wilson, the District’s business manager, but who knows?] feels that there is no sense of drugs on campus as in the past. Jim [Tomlin] mentioned that he also feels that the school culture is good and positive with a focus on academics.”

“No sense of drugs.“

“Jim feels that school culture is good and positive with a focus on academics.”

Cleavage, however, remains a problem.

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