Laguna Salada Union School District Response to the 2000-2001 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury Report
There have been many positive developments in Laguna Salada Union School District! The district has reported increased student learning in all grade levels for the past four years, as judged by statewide tests. Additionally, the facilities modernization plan is continuing on time and on budget. Vallemar School is completely modernized, Sunset Ridge opened on time, and Ingrid B. Lacy Middle School has begun construction with an expected opening in fall 2002. Additionally, the Cabrillo School Design Committee completed its work. The district continues to attract and retain highly qualified, credentialed teachers and administrators and excellent support staff. Laguna Salada Union School District has been recognized for its strong planning processes through its Strategic Plan and for major funding from foundations which contribute greatly to the district's work in improving student learning.
The Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees looked to the Grand Jury Report for constructive criticism toward helping the district develop an even stronger educational program and found the report disappointing. The Board of Trustees finds the tone of the report negative. Many of the criticisms are unsubstantiated, and the recommendations not congruent with the findings.
The Board of Trustees developed a process to review the recommendations and findings of the Grand Jury. Specifically, the Board, in a publicly noticed Work Study Session, reviewed each of the findings and recommendations, agreed to their response, reported the resources it wanted to use as explanation for the response, and directed staff to prepare a draft for their review.
1997 Measure D Bond Issue Response: The Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees disagrees wholly with the finding. The information around Measure D is inaccurate. For example, the Grand Jury reports "LSUSD will still have 9 active school sites, more than comparably sized districts…" In fact, there will only be 7 sites in LSUSD! The 1997 Facilities Master Plan, which predated the bond measure, contained several options with a middle school. The Board had not made a decision regarding a middle school before the bond was passed. After the bond passed, the Board decided to pursue modernization in the most financially accepted and prudent manner consistent with the Facilities Master Plan. The Board concluded it was more financially and programmatically efficient to have one, rather than two, middle schools built in the center of the community. Bond language requires a fair representation of intended use but does not require a public agency to identify each and every specific project. The Board is concerned the Grand Jury does not understand the complexity and fully inclusive efforts the Board authorized in the passage of the bond. The process was over a six year time period, and there was constant solicitation for community input. The Board's actions were not deceitful, were not financially risky, were not managerially unsound, nor were they unfair to the taxpayers. The taxpayers voted to pass the bond. Since the passage of the bond, the Board has received over $8.2 million from the Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) for the modernization project. This is an indication of financial intelligence, not deceit. The district has completed all projects thus far on time and within budget, an indication of outstanding leadership, not managerially unsound practices.
Proper Conduct for Closed and Open Sessions Response:
The Board disagrees wholly with the finding. The Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees absolutely supports open government and has followed the principles of the Brown Act as advised. See Recommendation 4.1 and 4.2. The Grand Jury provides three examples of perceived Brown Act violations. The Board will respond to each example below:
Example 1: Superintendent Contract (Board Policy 2121)
This policy does not differentiate between existing and extending contracts. The compensation percentage received by the Superintendent has not exceeded the compensation granted other employees. The Grand Jury has implied that placing the Superintendent's contract on the consent calendar violates openness requirements of the Brown Act. This is simply an incorrect legal conclusion. The Brown Act requires only that the contract be placed on the agenda for action/ratification. The placing of the contract on the consent calendar is customary among school districts. Any Board member or member of the public may request any consent item to be addressed separately on the agenda.
Example 2: Closed Session Conference with Board's Attorney
As noted previously, the Board followed County Counsel advice on this issue. The Board finds it offensive that the Grand Jury would expect the district to discuss and/or waive attorney/client material in a public meeting, thus exposing the district's liability. Please see County Counsel's response to this issue on the Grand Jury website.
Example 3: Transfer of School Principals
The transfer was a highly sensitive, personnel issue. The Board fully followed the Brown Act by discussing this matter under public employee evaluation. The Board is concerned with how the Grand Jury obtained closed session information regarding this issue.
Following Policies Response:
The Board disagrees partially with this finding. The conclusion that the Board didn't follow its own policies is too vague and unspecific for response. The Grand Jury only gave two examples of the Board allegedly failing to follow its own policies. In the first example, the Grand Jury claims the Superintendent was not evaluated by July 1 in 1999 and 2000. In fact, there were three evaluations in four years. One was delayed due to a Board member disagreeing with the process. In response to the second example, it is the current Board's policy that any one member may remove an item from the consent agenda.
Non-profit Foundation Response:
The Board disagrees wholly with this finding. The Grand Jury's concern that the Laguna Salada Asset Management Foundation may violate the Brown Act is incorrect. The district acted in the formation of foundation under the advice, consultation and guidance of special legal counsel in the area of real property transactions for school districts. The attached By Laws (Attachment 2) clearly state that meetings will be conducted according to the Brown Act and clearly state the intention and responsibility of this foundation.
2000 Audit Response:
The Board disagrees wholly with the finding. As stated in Recommendation 4.9, the finding is inaccurate. Attachment 3 contains the finding of the audit. Board
Authority and Authority to Delegate Response:
The Board disagrees wholly with the finding. Every contract, including the hiring and firing of personnel, comes before the Board for approval. There is no evidence to support the "finding" that a construction manager was paid before Board approval. No other examples were provided in the report regarding this vague and ambiguous finding.
Board Conflict Response:
The Board disagrees partially with the finding. While it is accurate that the Board has experienced some conflict among its members, the current Board is operating in a professional manner. The Board has adopted procedures for effective communication and is following them regularly at Board meetings. The Board has held conflict resolution sessions, and one Board member, Judy Metcalf, has not consistently attended. The Board intends to continue with facilitated communication sessions and will continue to encourage all Board members to attend. The Board takes exception with the term "dysfunctional". This is a trite, inappropriate, overused term that does not reflect a sophisticated understanding of the operations of elected officials.
The Board would like to make the following direct response to the Background section of the Grand Jury Report.
The background section of the Grand Jury Report presents a quote: "Perception of Board policies and regulations is that they are of little value". Readers of this report might think this statement is from a Financial Audit. Such is not the case. The Board authorized a Curriculum Audit which had this finding. It was this Curriculum Audit which was the impetus for the development of the District Strategic Plan. The recommendations from the Curriculum Audit are addressed in the Strategic Plan. The Board of Trustees has been clear that it needed to update its policies. It intentionally moved in the direction of the policy update in a consistent and carefully thought out manner. This procedure included: the Curriculum Audit, the development of the Strategic Plan and integral work with CSBA. The Board has put time and resources over a long period to review and update its policies. The implication of the Grand Jury is that the Board has done nothing and needs to do so. This is blatantly wrong. The tone and unfounded negative findings, in general, sully the district's reputation for potential parents to the district.
Laguna Salada Union School District Response to Recommendations
Note: The district received a report on County Counsel Advice Regarding Ralph M. Brown Act with recommendations. These recommendations, the district's response and the County Counsel's response are included here for full disclosure of the Grand Jury's work in its investigation of the Laguna Salada Union School District.
County counsel should renew his efforts and those of his staff to advise the Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees that all business be conducted in the open unless such business is excluded by a specific provision of the Brown Act.
Does not apply to the District County Counsel Response: The County Counsel's Office always uses its best efforts to advise its clients as to the legal requirements of the Brown Act, and will continue to make every effort to ensure that its client follows the law.
County counsel and the Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees shall in the future properly place on the agenda or publicly announce the subdivision of Government Code §54956.9 authorizing closed sessions of the board of trustees and make a public announcement of the action taken in closed session pursuant to Government Code §54957.1.
The Board of Trustees always follows the Brown Act and will continue to do so. Recommendation 4.2 will be implemented. County Counsel Response: The County Counsel's Office agrees that the Laguna Salada Board of Trustees should comply with the Brown Act, but disagrees to the extent the Grand Jury is implying that the Board has not followed the Brown Act in the past.
County counsel should recuse himself and his staff from serving each of the parties in a situation where an issue between them occurs when his office is or has been counsel for the parties.
Does not apply to the District.
County Counsel Response:
The County Counsel's Office agrees that it should recuse itself when appropriate. The Office is uniquely aware of conflict of interest law and recusal requirements and will certainly avail itself of the recusal process if and when the circumstances justify such an action.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors should continue to provide adequate annual funding to the grand jury solely for the purpose of obtaining separate counsel when it is investigating an entity or district represented by county counsel.
Does not apply to the District.
County Counsel Response:
The Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees and administration should complete the revision of the district's policies before the start of the 2001-2002 academic year. Thereafter, board members should take deliberate steps to cause their practices to conform to the new policies.
The Board of Trustees will not implement these recommendations because they are unwarranted. Prior to the Grand Jury investigation of the district, the Board had a process in place for reviewing and wholly revising the Board policies including training. The Board recognized the policy revision was a necessity and took steps to rectify this work. Since summer 2000, the Board has been working with CSBA (California School Boards Association) in this process and expects to have a fully updated set of policies completed in 2002.
Early in the 2001-2002 academic year the Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees should provide training sessions for members of the board and administration in the interpretation and application of all its policies and procedures, old, new, and revised.
Prior to the Grand Jury investigation of the district, the Board of Trustees had policy training with policy consultant, Lee Mahon. Also prior to the Grand Jury investigation, in preparation for policy changes, the Board allocated $24,000 for a curriculum audit in 1998, which included a policy review. Aspects of the Strategic Plan, begun in 1999, addressed policy issues and are being implemented at this time.
The full Board has met in Work Study Sessions over the past seven months and will continue to work in Work Study Sessions on a regular basis to review policies. Prior to each Work Study Session, a committee composed of a Board member and Cabinet have thoroughly and intensively reviewed all policies in preparation for the full Board Work Study Sessions. The Work Study Sessions that have been and will be conducted are as follows:
|February 12, 2001|
|April 16, 2001|
|May 23, 2001|
|September 10, 2001|
|October 17, 2001|
|December 12, 2001|
The Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees should hire a conflict resolution management facilitator to attend board meetings and provide ongoing seminars, instruction, and guidance on conflict resolution. All board members should attend.
The Board of Trustees has already implemented this recommendation prior to reviewing the Grand Jury Report. Prior to the Grand Jury investigation of the district, the Board recognized the need for assistance in conflict resolution. The Board established and participated in conflict resolution training. Specifically, Lee Mahon was hired to work with the Board and came to Board meetings early in 1999, provided individual coaching and feedback for each Board member and for the Board as a whole. The Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees has worked with Jean Holbrook from the San Mateo County Office of Education since the early 1990's on an ongoing quarterly basis to enhance communication and to address goal issues. Only one Board member of the current Board, Judy Metcalf, did not consistently attend these sessions.
The Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees should promptly schedule training for itself in board oversight, including the board's role in setting policy and appropriate delegation of authority. Additional training on the intentions and specifics of the Brown Act should be provided. The board should then implement practices consistent with the Brown Act.
The Board of Trustees has already implemented this recommendation. The Board has had ongoing training. The Board intends to include periodic updates on the Brown Act and Roles and Responsibilities as part of their ongoing professional development. They intend to invite the Personnel Commission and the Laguna Salada Asset Management Foundation to future Brown Act trainings.
Every Board member has an individual copy of the Brown Act. As new Board members, each Board member has been trained by CSBA in the procedures and expectations of the Brown Act. The practices of the Board are consistent in observing the requirements of the Brown Act. County Counsel has ongoing communication with the Board and administration around Brown Act issues.
The Board has continued to do training on policy work with oversight and delegation authority. There is no instance of inappropriate delegation of authority. The Board is willing to expand their knowledge in this area, but is clear there have been no breaches of delegation of authority.
All agendas and actions are consistent with the Brown Act, based on County Counsel advice.
The Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees should direct the superintendent to correct the deficiencies found in the June 2000 audit and report on corrective measures in a public board meeting not later than September 30, 2001.
The Board will not implement this recommendation because there were no deficiencies in the 2000 audit.
The Laguna Salada Union School District Board of Trustees should develop, as policy, accountability and ethical standards pertaining to public funds and property. The board should carefully reconsider its fiduciary obligations to the taxpayers, parents, and children of the district as they pertain to the management of properties owned by the district and to funds collected and used by student body accounts in the district.
The Board of Trustees will not implement this recommendation because the Board has been cognizant of all actions and deliberations regarding fiduciary responsibilities. The Board has been extremely inclusive in involving the community in the work of the district. In 1997, a citizens' committee of approximately 35 people developed a facilities report. The Board requested and received outside consultants for best information available, including Enshallah, and Sedway Group. The Board follows the Education Code in the work of policy. The Board has done an exhaustive Facilities Implementation Plan, which is updated regularly. The Board has developed a Bond Review Committee to provide oversight for expenditures from the bonds. This review committee meets quarterly and is open to the public. The committee reports are presented at regular Board meetings with a copy provided to the local paper for publication.
The Board has established financial goals in their Asset Management Plan, adopted by the Board March 22, 2000. (Goal 1 - provide sufficient revenue to fund improvements set forth in the Facilities Implementation Plan from disposal of district's surplus property, and Goal 2 - provide a long term income stream). At the February 21, 2001 Board meeting, the Board authorized the formation of a nonprofit corporation to manage the real property assets of the District and donate the proceeds back to the District.
The 2001-2002 Grand Jury should monitor Laguna Salada Union School District's actions over the coming year in areas that gave concern to the current and past grand juries and evaluate the legality, openness, and accountability of the not-for-profit foundation to which the Board of Trustees plans to entrust public funds and other assets. The articles of incorporation, by-laws, policies, procedures, and purposes of the not-for-profit foundation should be examined closely.
This recommendation does not call for a response. The Laguna Salada Union School District is hopeful that the 2001-02 Grand Jury will not find it necessary to monitor the school district's actions relating to the Laguna Salada Asset Management Foundation. The Articles of Incorporation and the By Laws for the Laguna Salada Asset Management Foundation are attached (Attachments 1 and Attachment 2). They ensure legality, openness, and accountability and are consistent with the Brown Act legislation. The district hired independent counsel specializing in real property transactions for school district, who advised and assisted in establishing this foundation.