Yesterday’s article is unusual however in terms of just how much I learned from a simple critique of an Op-ed.
The main purpose of the article was really to question some of the claims made by Joan Sallee and Marty West in Sunday’s Davis Enterprise. Frankly, I saw no reason to write the article to begin with. The Op-Ed that they responded to was an October Op-Ed by sitting school board members Jim Provenza and Tim Taylor. That article was an assessment of the current budget status and the steps taken by the current board to improve the budget process. It was not a criticism of either the past board or even former Superintendent David Murphy.
The most troubling aspect of the recent Op-ed by Sallee and West however at this point seems to be the relationship between Marty West, a former school board member, and Tahir Ahad, former Deputy Superintendent who while working for the school district, on the side was running his own consulting business.
It was Tahir Ahad who missed a crucial deadline that cost the school board roughly $4.5 million with Montgomery Elementary school.
Salle and West in fact defend this action arguing that the problem was not the missed deadline but rather the confusing and complex law:
“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.”
As one person familiar with the situation told me, what does the state’s obscure regulations have to do with missing a deadline?
To make matters worse, the school board and Tahir Ahad compounded that mistake by attempting to sell the Grande Property for $5.5 million. Sallee and West defend this decision:
“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.”
As several people indicated to me, the modernization of Emerson would be twice that price. What the Grande sale was about was covering themselves on the loss of $4.5 for Montgomery. The problem with Grande is that they sold it for at least one and possibly two million below market value. Moreover they did not open it up to competitive bidding and therefore it had to be parceled into a land swap rather than an outright sale.
This was also the decision of Tahir Ahad. With a small amount of digging, the Vanguard quickly learned yesterday that in fact, Marty West is a senior consultant to Tahir Ahad’s educational consulting company, Total School Solutions. Of course, this fact was never disclosed in the Davis Enterprise article nor did the writers of the article mention Tahir Ahad by name even though it was several of his policies that they defended.
It was Tahir Ahad’s work on the side with Total School Solutions that diverted much of his attention and eventually led to tough new conflict of interest policies.
In early 2007, the school board discovered that they lacked the policy to enforce California conflict of interest laws:
“California law prohibits school employees from receiving compensation for outside employment that is inconsistent, incompatible, in conflict with, or inimical to an employee ‘s duties, or to the duties, functions, or responsibilities of their District. However, we have been advised by counsel that this law cannot be enforced in absence of a board policy.”
Tahir Ahad’s consulting company represented a large problem to the district. One thing that the Vanguard will look further into is the charge that the school district did business with Total School Solutions.
On the surface, dealings with Henry Petrino raise red flags. Mr. Petrino was the facilities director for the district. He would retire but then came back as an independent contractor to do further work on district facilities. However, at the same time he did contracted work on school facilities, he was also employed by Total School Solutions. It was Mr. Petrino who had the responsibility of preparing the application for the Montgomery School Funds.
The Vanguard will further examine this story. It seems very curious as to why Marty West and Joan Sallee would want to revisit these issues, unless they were counting on the fact that no one would do any sort of digging into their assertions. This was best ignored by the two distinguished former school board members. The district has immense challenges facing it in the coming months, it does not need to rehash past mistakes and dealings. That said, we see no need to allow two former school board members to whitewash the past either.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting