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New school board works to rebuild public trust

By: Liz Kellar
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It appears that I ruffled some feathers over at Western Placer Unified School District with my editorial last week, which suggested that the district’s lawsuit against its primary architect and contractor raised more questions than it answered. One of those questions was why the district ignored or did not concern itself with the issues that were being brought to its attention over a period of several years. Superintendent Scott Leaman felt my editorial lacked depth and thoroughness and wrongly implied the district was avoiding questions or not addressing concerns. Leaman says in his editorial – published on this page today – that the new school board and administration has systematically and diligently analyzed and improved its budgeting and facilities management process. I am not denying the current board and administration have made great strides in correcting some of the disastrous financial decisions made in the past decade. They have and I commend them for it. But. I find it puzzling that after looking at the grand jury report, this is what Leaman chose to highlight in his editorial: “After months of investigation, the grand jury issued its report last Friday. Here is the most telling comment from that thorough study of our practices: ‘There are specific past issues that deserve more detailed investigation, but the grand jury recommends that recriminations within the district stop. The community should use its energy to create a solid plan for the future.’” That is the most telling comment in a 31-page document? Really? This seems a little more telling to me: “The WPUSD board and administration under Roger Yohe’s leadership did not follow generally accepted sound business practices … Yohe influenced the board to follow a fiscally irresponsible plan toward his overly ambitious vision. The board fell into a pattern of complacency and lack of oversight which was not in concert with its fiduciary duties.” I guess I subscribe to the theory that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it – and if we do not understand how such a bad situation came about, we cannot avoid such a repetition at some time in the future. Maybe the district administrators simply feel that they have learned their lesson – and we should trust them. But some district critics feel that Western Placer United School District has not yet earned the right to demand public trust after years of mismanagement and turning a blind eye. As the report pointed out, Leaman is not to blame. In fact, the grand jury said the new administration, led by Leaman, had reassessed the financial situation and brought in outside experts as needed. The grand jury pointed to Yohe’s poor leadership practices, which Leaman is in the difficult position of following. Leaman said in his editorial that the district will be posting its responses and analyses of the Grand Jury report on its Web site. That’s a great first step. He also said “we appreciate the participation and concerns raised by anyone who wants to come forward in a positive spirit of collaboration to identify constructive solutions to the unavoidable problems we face in running such a complex and demanding public school system.” That’s a great second step – and one that will be vital in helping the community let go of the past and trust the district’s administrators and trustees again. This newspaper has a goal of being supportive of public education. But when the grand jury finds that the former district superintendent “influenced the board to follow a fiscally irresponsible plan,” it is our responsibility to ask questions. After all, the money that was wasted was our community’s money. And we will keep asking questions until this mess – including the pending lawsuit against the district’s architect and builder – can be straightened out.