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San Gabriel High newspaper questions accountability over school bond spending and AUSD's past oversight committee appointments

The search to fill seven seats on the citizens’ oversight committee with Alhambra Unified community members has begun since the passing of both school bond measures, which funds infrastructure improvements such as building new classrooms, on November 8.

The oversight committee will meet quarterly to see how the construction budget is running and how it is spent, school board member Robert Gin said.

Students at San Gabriel High expressed concern on whether the board would choose a balanced committee that will keep the bond projects on track, and suggested that the Alhambra Unified constituency should be able to vote in committee members, according to a student editorial by the Matador, which can be read in full-text below. 

Measure HS will fund $149 million worth of projects at AUSD high schools. Some of the previous bond money is still in use for projects that will completed by 2017, AUSD secretary Becky Morales wrote in an email. 

Previous bond measures that passed include Measure MM, which funded $55 million for elementary school construction projects in 2008, and Measure C, which funded $75 million for AUSD high schools in 2004.
"The District and the Board will follow the guidelines that is outlined for the selection of the Oversight Committee," Gin wrote in response to the editorial.
Appointed by the school board, the committee members would report to the public whether taxpayer money is spent properly on school construction and review annual audits. The school board must provide sufficient resources to make the committee’s conclusions public, and the committee’s minutes are a matter of public record, according to California Education Code 15278-15282.
Those interested in joining the oversight committee, such as parents of students in Alhambra Unified, should call the district superintendent’s office for consideration, Gin said.
At least seven committee members will be selected based on qualifications in these specific categories, in which one member must be: 1) active in a business organization within school district lines, 2) active in a senior citizens’ organization, 3) active in a bona fide taxpayer’s organization, 4) be a parent or guardian of an Alhambra Unified student, 5) be a parent or guardian active in a parent-teacher organization, and 6) an employee or official of the district.

Originally reported by the Matador, the Source received permission to publish the editorial, “$149 million infrastructure improvement bond lacks sufficient oversight,” below.

From the dilapidated hallways of the IA buildings to the urinal that floods in the E-building, San Gabriel High School (SGHS) undoubtedly needs infrastructure work, considering that the school is over 60 years old. Luckily, Measure HS, a bond that that recently passed, can generate up to $149 million for classroom repairs, asbestos and lead paint removal, and classroom and science lab upgrades for all high schools in the Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD). Despite the potential of Measure HS, a further examination of the bond’s language questions the affirmative vote due to the accountability issues it presents.

If the bond is implemented, there is no guarantee that the promised products will be delivered. According to the bond text itself, projects “may be delayed or may not be completed.” This clause is problematic because it allows for unrealistic goals and may further stagnate infrastructure. If the District is unable to fulfill all of its goals due to financial issues, this bond is effectively a waste of money, as it will incur a $280 million debt.    

Supporters may argue that the “independent Citizens Oversight Committee” will keep the AUSD on track, so uncompleted projects will not be an issue. This may be true. Oversight is beneficial to keep the District accountable. However, this committee must follow California Education Code section 15278, which stipulates that the school board will appoint the committee’s members.

Several board members have explicitly supported this bond, which is normally not a problem. However, the board is acting as judge, jury, and executioner. Even though the board put the bond on the ballot in the first place, the potential for cronyism, conflicts of interest, and selections of “Yes-men” for this oversight committee is possible. It is uncertain that the board will choose a balanced committee.

Moreover, the selection of a previous Citizens Oversight Committee raises some eyebrows. Just eight years ago, the bond committee was headed by a community member, who was charged 20 years ago with embezzlement of over $31,000 from the Alhambra Police Officers’ Association. Despite the misgivings of hiring a felon, there is probably “no prohibition preventing ex-felons serving in public appointment positions, or even holding public office” according to attorney Kelly Aviles, vice president of Open Government Compliance of Californians Aware.

When we asked about the employers of the other previous oversight committee members, the AUSD bond consultant said via email that this information was “irrelevant.” Yet, according to Aviles, “the law requires the [Board] to fill certain categories of members,” and thus “the law presumes that the company they worked for would be disclosed.” Ensured transparency by the District is questionable here.

Overall, this bond can be beneficial. However, the questionable accountability could bar Measure HS from achieving its full potential. In order to improve the oversight aspect, the Citizen Committee Board should be voted in by AUSD’s constituency. This is the best way to ensure an impartial and balanced assessment of District’s achievement. Until then, that urinal in the E-building will continue to terrorize SGHS.

(Correction: The headline has been edited to reflect the tone of the student editorial by Thomas Wang, emphasizing that he is uncertain whether the oversight committee would be accountable. Using the words, "demand accountability," was not accurate in the original headline. The editorial also represents only the Matador editorial board, and not the SGHS student population.)

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