The Op-Ed by Jim Provenza and Tim Taylor largely focused on the positive steps that the current school board has enacted in Davis to put the district on sound financial footing.
Their article focused on the hiring of Bruce Colby as their deputy superintendent for business services, more transparency; realistic and understandable budgets, prioritizing critical needs and requirements.
One of the key indicators of success they show was the ability to recoup the $4.5 million for the construction of Montgomery Elementary School:
“We believe the changes we are putting in place are already showing results. In August, the State Allocation Board awarded the district $4.5 million in matching funds for construction of Marguerite Montgomery Elementary School — funds denied to the district in prior years. In making its decision, the State Allocation Board members noted that changes in management practices were a key factor in its decision.”
At the time, this seemed like a relatively non-controversial column, designed most likely to create the perception in the community of fiscal responsibility ahead of a key vote in the community on Measure Q.
However, former school board members Marty West and Joan Sallee, apparently are digging up past grievances that divided them on the past board.
“Now that renewal of the parcel tax is behind us, however, we would like to respond to the many accusations the 2006 and 2007 school board majority has made about financial mismanagement of the Davis Joint Unified School District. We are responding specifically to the op-ed article Jim Provenza and Tim Taylor published on Oct. 7 in The Davis Enterprise.
We did not reply at the time because we did not want to generate more negative publicity about the schools while Measure Q was pending. The board majority’s false allegations and insinuations of past financial mismanagement have become so numerous and frequent, however, that the community is in danger of actually believing them. It is time to set the record straight.”
While one can respect the fact that they did not want to cause a stir during the election, the question does arise why that article necessitated any kind of response at any point in time. There is no election at this time. Why dig up the past? Was there really a compelling need to respond at all?
West and Sallee make several charges of mismanagement aimed at the current school board:
“Any financial mismanagement that has occurred has been on the 2006 and 2007 school board’s watch. In early 2006, the board majority rescinded the $5.5 million contract we had signed to sell the Grande Avenue site, thus jeopardizing funding for building a student commons at the high school and modernizing Emerson Junior High School.”
At the time the new board was elected there were a number of concerns about the property, the sale price, the openness of the previous process, and the exchange property. Of course, at this point in time, one could argue that the $5.5 million contract does not look so bad. In fact, even at the time, Keltie Jones the holdover from the majority on the Sallee and West board, disagreed that the board could get more money for the property. Nevertheless, the Grande Property issue figures to be one of the big controversies for the new board and indeed the city of Davis itself as it lies at the very core of development policies and disputes over growth.
There are two key points of contention that I believe need to be addressed although speaking to some of the board members they pretty much disagreed with the entire editorial.
Marty West and Joan Sallee write:
“Much has been made of the district’s ultimate success in August 2007 in obtaining $4.5 million from the state for the 2001-02 construction costs of Marguerite Montgomery Elementary School. We are also delighted at this successful result of many years of work by many people. When we learned in 2003 that a new regulation jeopardized our application for state construction funds, we supported the superintendent in his immediate efforts to secure the funds. More than 70 other school districts had run afoul of the same obscure regulation.
Eventually, the state allowed Davis and the 70 other districts to reapply, but the state then denied Davis’ application because student enrollment had declined during the intervening period. Davis appealed this decision over the state staff’s objection. It was only with the strong and effective intervention of Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, Supervisor Helen Thomson and state Sen. Mike Machado that the political members of the State Allocation Board overruled its staff and granted Davis’ appeal on its merits.”
In August of 2007, the district was able to recoup the $4.5 million from Montgomery Elementary.
At the time Assemblywoman Lois Wolk argued before the State Allocation Board citing fiscal responsibility and acknowledging mistakes in the past:
“Wolk told the State Allocation Board that since January, “the district has a new superintendent, and a new business officer. … Heads have rolled, indeed.”
“I ask you not to penalize the children who are not responsible for the mistakes” made by the district in the past, Wolk said, describing the $4.5 million sought by the district as “critical” to the district’s future construction plans.
Thomson likewise mentioned that “many changes had been made” in the district. She apologized for “the high-handed and arrogant manner” in which earlier appeals had been argued.
The bottom line, Thomson said, is “the school district does need money for this school.””
West and Sallee are correct that other districts ran afoul with the regulations. However, that does not put the district beyond blame here.
“State Sen. Bob Margett, R-Altadena, expressed less sympathy. ” ‘Intent’ language doesn’t cut it with me …,” he said. “I’m concerned there was not attention paid to the regulations that were in place” at the time Montgomery Elementary was built.”
According to a 2007 Davis Enterprise article something along the lines of 60 school districts did not meet the state’s paperwork requirements, however the school district missed a deadline for even applying for the matching funds. Some have charged that this deadline was missed due to Deputy Superintendent Tahir Ahad and his involvement with the Fairfield-based educational consulting company, Total School Solutions.
Of course, Joan Sallee was a strong supporter of Ahad praising him as she left office as “the best school district business officer in California.” According to Jeff Hudson’s 2006 article, Marty West also heavily praised him.
The other point of contention that Joan Sallee and Marty West raise involves the termination of Superintendent David Murphy.
“They ended Superintendent Murphy’s contract prematurely, costing the district another $200,000.”
Both Sallee and West were strong supporters of Superintendent Murphy during his tenure, they were part of a 4-1 vote to extend his contract another three years.
It was Joan Sallee who largely let the cat out of the bag back in April that David Murphy was not merely retiring, but rather being fired.
She told Jeff Hudson of the Davis Enterprise at the time:
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Murphy’s retirement. … I am very sorry that the current school board did not see fit to retain his services. The district has suffered a grievous loss, at a time when we can least afford it.”
Again the severance package makes for an inviting target for critics of the school district, but the bottom line is that first it is one-time money. And second, the school board felt impelled to put the district on more sound financial ground. To the district, the severance package must have seemed like chump change compared to the amount of money that the fiscal mismanagement by the former Superintendent cost.
Apparently the feuds of the past are not over. Neither Joan Sallee nor Marty West seem content to let this go.
However it is interesting to note the second sentence from their Op-Ed:
“We congratulate Susan Lovenburg and Richard Harris on joining the school board and look forward to working with them on the difficult issues facing the district.”
The suggestion here is that Sallee and West are supporters of the new board members, which means nothing in and of itself. However, one wonders how many of these issues we might see revisited in the coming months.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting