Fogbelt Bond Shenanigans

by AVA News Service, January 28, 2011

Dear Editor,

On Tuesday, January 17, 2011, the Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) of the Point Arena Schools District held its final meeting regarding the Measure E Bond which voters passed in November, 2003.

To update those of you who have not been following the bond issues:

The bond was for $3,758,980 in order to build a Pre-K-Grade 5 elementary school in Gualala. Voters from Stewart’s Point to Elk (the district encompasses both Mendocino County and part of Sonoma County) had been informed “the school site approval process was nearly complete” and local taxpayers had already benefited from a “$600,000 State Planning Grant.” When something sounds too good to be true, IT IS!

John Bowers Sr. donated the land to the Point Arena Schools District to build the school on. The school district now owns the land.

According to the bond the taxpayers’ money was to be “used solely for the purposes and projects” stated in the bond measure which were: A. Build a Pre-K—Grade 5 elementary school in Gualala. B. Convert existing classrooms at Arena Union Elementary School to age-appropriate instructional areas (middle school) for Science, Music, Art, Library/Media, etc.”

Those in attendance at the BOC Meeting were: Dr. Colleen Cross, the new superintendent of the Point Arena School District; Crissy Sundstrom (her children go to the elementary school); Rick O’Niel (his wife is employed at the high school); Jeff Watts. They are the members of the BOC along with Vern McNamee who was unable to attend – lucky him! Arlene Taeger, facilities consultant and James DeWilder, trustee of the school board were also in attendance. This is the first time DeWilder has ever been to a BOC meeting but Dr. Cross explained to the members that she needed DeWilder there because he was “more familiar with the history of the bond.” Of course, this is in spite of two members in attendance that have been on the BOC since 2004, before DeWilder was even a trustee but we will get to him later.

When Dr. Colleen Cross became the new superintendent of the district she easily slid right into the rather small shoes of retired superintendent Mark Iacuaniello and also (like Iacuaniello) became the chairman/secretary of the BOC. Of course, this is in direct violation of California Education Code 15282. Also, the same Education Code states the member shall serve for two years with the limit being two consecutive terms. This code was also violated with its members. Minor infractions, I’ve been told.

In March 2007, a board meeting was held in Gualala which was filled to capacity with community members. The main purpose of the meeting in Gualala was to discuss the building of the elementary school. At no time, did the superintendent, board member or a member of the BOC indicate to the community that, perhaps, we should scale down the plans for the school in Gualala because is was not feasible to possibly fund such a large project. It was a very upbeat meeting with the belief this project was heading in the right direction and Iacuaniello promised to meet with the community again in Gualala as things progress (or don’t progress which was the case), this never ever happened.

In June 2008, the State Department of General Services – Office of Public School Construction, requested $82,301.00 returned to them from the district because “…no substantial progress had been made for the projects listed on the Attachment.”

In January 2009, the BOC made the recommendation to the Board of Trustees to split the bond in half. Half to go towards the Gualala school project and the other half to work on projects at the Point Arena Elementary School. The board requested this to be done by Iacuaniello at their January 2009 school board meeting. However, Iacuaniello did not bring this resolution back to the school board meeting in February. What he brought back was that $1.8 million would stay in a Gualala account, $1.8 million would go into an Arena Elementary School Account to proceed with building (not converting as the bond clearly stipulated) a library/media room, science lab and dining/community hall. What was left ($158,980) went into a fund marked “undesignated reserve.” Although this was not what the board stipulated for Iacuaniello to do and what the BOC requested to be done, the board adopted this resolution without a second thought.

This pretty much takes us to Tuesday, January 18th to item #6 on the agenda: Discussion with Action: Final disposition of Measure E Bond Fund Expenditures: Of course, I was the first to express my concerns and told them I believed since the intent of the bond (to build the elementary school in Gualala) was never adhered to for various reasons taxpayers should have the monies refunded to them minus the expense in doing so. I also stated that I believed a lot of things had been done under the table (some examples of which are already stated above) and the public was not made aware of many of the things that transpired. After all Iacuaniello did promise the community further meetings in Gualala and even though I requested this several times at various board meetings, it was ignored.

Immediately, DeWilder took offense to my statement and informed the BOC that only I and Action Network continued to want to have the elementary school in Gualala because their decisions on what was happening with the bond funds have been in the local paper (the Independent Coast Observer) and no one has stepped forward to speak out against it. I am not sure were DeWilder thinks the 72% of the voters who voted for this bond disappeared to! Could it just be that there are quite a number of community members who just do not subscribe to the local paper!

DeWilder informed the BOC that the district has been operating with a deficit. Not only is this statement totally untrue, it truly doesn’t mean diddlysquat as far as what they have been operating on because the district can’t use bond funds to pay for anything other than what is stipulated for in the bond! However, for the sake of argument let's say he is actually telling the truth. (I know it is a stretch but use your imagination). Our school district received OVER SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS last year to educate 416 students (Pre-K through 12th grade). If our district is operating from a deficit as DeWilder would indicate, I believe the fault would fall on the shoulders of the superintendent and the board of trustees because they are the ones who approve the expenditures! As a matter of fact, when I met with Dr. Cross (when she came to the district) she admitted to me she was quite surprised to see how much money our district does receive for the number of students we have! As this was not the case in the district in Southern California where she came from!

DeWilder then informed the BOC that there was declining enrollment. Again, not true, I informed the BOC that for the past two years there had been two kindergarten classes. He argued with me regarding this! Here is a trustee who sits on a district board, was actually board president for two years and has no earthly idea of what he is talking about!

You see I don’t think Dr. Cross had DeWilder there because he knew the “history of the bond” as much as she wanted him there to put me in my place and get the proposal put through the BOC and sent to the school board to be voted.

Sorry, I digress.

The BOC members were presented a packet (a clear violation of 72 hour Brown Act Law) in which there was the following proposal: Gualala School would get $95,119 and Arena Elementary would get $95,110 from the Undesignated Reserve Fund which essentially means they are splitting the fund in half. From each of the funds they would both split the current banking/legal charges in half and this would give both the Gualala School and the Arena Elementary $92,619.

However, the cost of defeasance (retiring the bond) is $33,500 to be paid only out of the Gualala account. When I questioned this, Dr. Cross she informed me the reason for this is because, “IT IS FOR THE GUALALA BOND”! I wanted to say, “HUH” like my little two year old grandson does when it just doesn’t make sense and can’t comprehend what is being said to him. Only due to Gualala Bond Fund, the “Undesignated Reserve Fund” received $52,583 worth of interest but did any of these monies go toward just the Gualala Bond since “It is the Gualala Bond” – you guessed right! No way! I questioned this again at the board meeting on 20th of January and Dr. Cross informed the public that because this had nothing to do with the Arena Projects but only the Gualala Bond monies that is why they are charging the entire fee to Gualala.

I guess this would be another “huh” moment because the so-call Arena projects would have never even been on the ballot if it weren’t for the community wanting the Gualala school built!

The bottom line is instead of getting $1,993,619 returned to the taxpayers (which I suggested) they will only be receiving $1,848,250 from the Gualala School Bond and $82,619 will be “available for bond approved Arena (elementary school) Projects.”

Dr. Cross informed the BOC since they no longer have to meet the BOC was being dissolved and thanked them for their service. Not sure how this can be since there continues to be $82,619 of bond funds still to be accounted for by the BOC! She informed the BOC the rest of the monies in the fund were to be spent on building an overhang over the cafeteria building so the students would not have to stand in the element. Not one BOC member said anything in regards to seeing the contractor’s proposal, wanting to stay as the committee until all funds were gone — nada!

One final note DeWilder did inform the BOC members he believed within a couple of years when the economy begins to straighten out that they could consider putting another bond out to for an elementary school in Gualala. He was joking, right! There is an old saying, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” and I am no fool! I am waiting for that one person in Gualala to come up with an idea of a Charter School so people living in the Point Arena School District don’t have to take that long trek up from Gualala to Mendocino to send their children to school!

On Thursday the 20th of January and the board did pass this proposal again without a single discussion. I reiterated to the board what I stated at the BOC which was, “in good faith we should return all funds possible because the only reason the bond was put on the ballot November 3, 2003 was to build the school in Gualala.” Again, DeWilder told the board the Arena Projects were placed on the ballot because they were just as important as the school in Gualala! Huh!

Respectfully,

Susan Rush
Manchester

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