By Linda Sutter, Investigative Reporter – October 13, 2021
The Del Norte Unified School District’s Citizens Oversight Committee (COC) for the Measure A Bond voted on in 2008 was unfortunately kept in the dark like a mushroom. The School Board thought teaching the COC about bylaws and the Brown Act was more important than teaching them what a COC was responsible for.
The COC was supposed to be an independent group that monitored the expenditures of the projects that were to get done. They were supposed to review the yearly audits and performance evaluations as well as review how bonds were bought and sold in the interest of frugal spending. In fact they should have been able to have meetings every other month if not every month to keep on top of everything going on. But that didn’t occur.
The Bylaws created by the School Board hindered the COC from being totally independent. It is true that the COC could not have a say on what the money was spent on, however, if the COC felt there were issues it should have been announced in their report to the public. That never occurred.
That never occurred because the school district did not properly have the COC trained which is a result of ignorance of the school board. Especially since Oversight school bond committees can receive free training.
In fact Dohn Henion, a sitting Chair on the COC, pointed out in February 2019 that the COC was not allowed to have their own attorney to remain independent. This was in violation of Education Code 15280(a)(1). Mr. Henion mentioned Grand Jury complaints to get what the committee needed. Those meeting minutes where he spoke were never approved.
The second thing the school board did that was not only in violation of education code but the California Sunshine laws as well as the Brown Act was to keep the Agenda’s, Meeting Minutes, audits, and other sources of information on a website. Transparency was basically non-existent.
The excuse for not keeping such menial items such as agendas and meeting minutes was someone died and everything got lost but the school district is now trying to rectify it. Is this the best Del Norte Unified School District can do?
What else occurred these years prior to being discovered this year? Audits were not completed by the mandated date of March 31st each year. The COC was at the beck and call of the School Board and the COC wasn’t even trained to know that these audit reports were due to them by March 31st each year.
During a conversation with Assistant Superintendent Jeff Napier it was revealed that there was virtually no COC for the last three years. This is in violation of Education Code and Proposition 39. If there was no COC monitoring the expenditures of this very important and precious use of taxpayers money, how was the School District able to use the last $5 to $10 million dollars in Bonds? Do we as a public take the School Board, the School District to court for violation of law? It is more than likely too late.
What can we learn from this to move forward? When people sign up for the COC which by law requires 7 members for a quorum, they need to demonstrate they are committed. The committee should be free from “friends” of the school board to prevent any form of fraud, which I found one board member who had a significant relationship with an appointed oversight committee member.
The COC needs to understand that they are an independent watchdog not a doormat or patsy to be used by the school district.
In essence, we have all been fooled by trusting our elected officials. This school board dictated to the COC, and did not have any understanding of what an COC does, blind leading the blind.
Maybe new legislation needs to be introduced that stops any and all expenditures of bonds if the COC is out of compliance.
And legislation needs to be developed that mandates specialized training to COC so the committee remains truly independent from the schoolboard.