Mon. Mar 4th, 2024

Commentary and Opinion by Samuel Strait – March 19, 2022

It is not often, at least in Del Norte County, that I get to witness two
dumpster fires in the same day.  How lucky am I? Following the agony of
Friday morning’s judicial stumbling’s March 18th of the Del Norte Unified School
District’s legal team in stalling much needed reform of the district’s
$25 million Bond Citizens Oversight Committee (COC), I attended a scheduled meeting of
that Committee.  It commenced with an obtuse comment by the COC’s chair,
Steve Lyons, that with the mornings dismissal of a Writ of Mandate that
the Committee had smooth sailing ahead.  Unfortunately for Chair Lyons,
he had little in the way of cognitive ability to understand that the
COC’s problems may just be beginning.

The meeting itself was largely unremarkable as to content, with only the
continued resistance to ideas presented by Committee Member Angelina
Countess-Bieber to inject some sort of sanity into the activities of the
Committee, largely ignored.  I might add at their peril.  What was of
interest to the entire community was an address by Assistant
Superintendent, Jeff Napier, who outlined just what he felt the
responsibilities of the COC actually was. It was a rather interesting
admission by the unelected bureaucrat, that most in the community have
an entirely different concept of how “Oversight” actually is defined
within the context of this situation.  Nothing like a moving definition
to end the day’s proceedings.  Seems when it comes to any government
agency electing to utilize local Oversight Committees as a check on
government spending, we are faced with an illusion designed to avoid the
higher barrier of 55% voter approval which this particular bond measure
failed to produce.

In his remarks Napier went on to disclose that the power to check any
expenditure of the Bond funds lay in the hands of the actual school
board and the Committee’s sole task is to transform information spoon
fed by the district into a language that the community can understand.
Yet even this simple task has eluded all previous COC’s and the current
one as well.  The COC is not even a true “Oversight” Committee by any
definition of the word “oversight”.  They may as well have been called
the Del Norte Unified School District’s  “GO Bond” Translating
Committee.  CTC, it has a nice ring to it, but as to oversight not so
much.  In simpler terms, an oversight committee is simply bureaucratic
speak for “the community’s vision of how the money is to be spent is
irrelevant”.  “Only the district’s division of experts is allowed to
form a vision and act on it with the blessing of a ‘rubber stamp’ from
the actual school board.”   The school district can market any funding
effort to the public, often utilizing misleading goals and objectives,
while soft peddling actual intentions to create an entirely false
narrative as to its intentions.  More often than not, priorities
expected by the public, are completely ignored in favor of the
bureaucratic vision.

Instead of the illusion that the district was “over crowded”, and in
desperate need of additional new classroom space as marketed by the
district in the run up to approval of the 2008 bond money, the district
quickly pivoted once the bond money was in hand and used it largely to
paint over years of general neglect by the district of annual
maintenance.  Not that it wasn’t noticed by maintenance staff, but lack
of financial resources allocated to the issue when the district elected
to address increasing staff wages and benefits was the key to this
continuing build up of a general maintenance train wreck.

Instead of unnecessary new classrooms, the district administration
elected to use the funds on updated heating and cooling systems for
every school, updated technology, fire suppression systems, carpets, new
windows, painting, landscaping, fencing, and other features largely in
contradiction to the community’s vision of new classrooms and
facilities.  By in large most of the $25 million was spent in this
fashion with only token nods to some of the more “popular” desires of
the community.

For me, the school district’s behavior with the GO Bond funding was not
unexpected, as governing agency’s have a long established pattern of
shading the truth when it comes to asking for voter approved additional
funding.  The suggestion of a “COC” to keep expenditures on track is a
dead give away that things are not on the up and up, yet voters never
learn from past experience with government deceit.  We currently are
juggling two additional “COC’s” which have no power to protect the
public from government adventures outside of what the public expects. 
Both governments and the school district have taken full advantage of
that inability for a COC to have any effect on government policy when
spending voter approved money for specific purposes.  Money that very
likely would not have been approved if it had to meet the higher 55%
approval rung.  The local school district has expended nearly $24
million of the $25 million Bond funding, most of it on painting over
previous school board mismanagement of district facilities.  Any
surprises here that it has happened, comes not from me….  It is all a
repeat like watching that rerun of a movie that you never liked in the
first place….  Almost as if the local school district administration
was perpetually starring in that awful rerun.

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