comments

School district responds to grand jury report

By: Cody Kitaura, News Messenger Correspondent
-A +A

Two of the eight subjects in the Placer County Grand Jury’s 2007/2008 Final Report Responses released Friday pertain to Lincoln.

The two Lincoln subjects are on the financing, facilities and management by the Western Placer Unified School District and on the annual inspection of the Lincoln Police Department.

This week, the News Messenger looks at the school district’s responses. Next week, the News Messenger will look at the police department’s responses.

To view the complete report and responses, visit online at www.PlacerGrandJury.org.

A Grand Jury report examining the financial woes of Lincoln’s schools brought few complaints from school officials, whose responses, released Friday, largely agreed with the June report.

In a list of 11 responses, Western Placer Unified School District officials agreed or partially agreed with all of the Grand Jury’s findings they were asked to respond to.

“This has been a ‘teachable moment’ for the leaders in Western Placer Unified School District,” Superintendent Scott Leaman and Board of Education President Paul Carras wrote on Aug. 25.

The Grand Jury report criticized the community and the district for setting unrealistic goals and using risky, uncertain funding to get there.
The district’s responses were submitted to the 2007-2008 Grand Jury in August and were made public Friday only after the 2008-2009 Grand Jury had time to review them and organize a packet with responses from law enforcement officials and other departments investigated by the Grand Jury.

Grand Jury Foreman Rick Morgan said in a letter to Superior Court Judge Charles Wachob that some of the responses to the report were “lacking in substance.” He declined to specify which, as the current Grand Jury may be investigating them.

“I think if you read them, you can figure out (which responses didn’t satisfy the Grand Jury),” he said in a phone interview.

In the report, the Grand Jury made 15 specific recommendations to the school district, including suggestions to more clearly define and carefully monitor construction funding, bar partnerships between architects and primary contractors, create a department dedicated to overseeing new construction and ensure that the district is receiving the best value for its money in joint ventures with the city and outside contracts.

Three of the recommendations received only partial agreement from the district. One, a suggestion to create a separate district department for construction, would be a waste of money in times when nothing is being built, Leaman said Monday.

He called the recommendation “definitely something we’re going to look at,” and said it might make sense if the district undertook more large-scale construction projects.

The district also only partially agreed with a suggestion to ensure the nonprofits that work with the district – the Lincoln High School Farm Foundation and the Western Placer Education Foundation – maintain levels of transparency and adhere to laws pertaining to public foundations.

Because the foundations are separate entities from the school district and because many district leaders sit on the boards of the foundations, Leaman said, it would be “an inappropriate intrusion” for the school district to enforce any direct action on the foundations. Leaman said the district will continue to act as a “liaison” to the foundations, offering legal assistance and answers to specific questions.

A suggestion to expand use of the Lincoln High School Farm was also met with conditional support.

Leaman said the farm lacks infrastructure for expansion. A dirt road currently leads to the farm but Leaman said the district has plans to upgrade it before the eventual construction of the district’s third high school: a full campus on the 280-acre farm.

But that high school and the one that would presumably precede it, Twelve Bridges High School, may be a long way off.

In 2006, the planned Twelve Bridges High School – originally scheduled to open in Fall 2009 – was placed on hiatus due to increasing debt.

Cathy Allen, assistant superintendent of Facilities and Maintenance Services, said she isn’t sure when construction on the school will resume because the district would need more funding from state or local bonds. This funding could come in 2009 or 2010, depending on when the school board decides to put bonds before voters.

Allen hopes five new classrooms at Lincoln High School will be added in time for the fall 2009 semester and said completing Twelve Bridges High School could take two and a half to four years, depending on how many grades were accepted at a time.

Currently, Lincoln High School enrollment increases by about 100 students each year, Leaman said, which means it will be filled to capacity by 2013.

Stacey Brown, principal of Twelve Bridges Middle School, said because there is still room for growth at Lincoln High School, concerns about delays in the construction of Twelve Bridges High School have faded.

“In my first year, three years ago, there was more disappointment (among parents),” Brown said. “I hear much less now than I did then.”

He added that parents still ask periodically about plans for Twelve Bridges High School.

Tina Sims, 50, is one of those parents. Her daughter, 12-year-old Loreena, is a Twelve Bridges seventh-grader. Although they haven’t decided which high school she’ll attend, Sims said Twelve Bridges High School was at the top of their list.

“We’re really rooting for Twelve Bridges to be built,” Tina Sims said.

Loreena tugged on her mother’s elbow, interjecting.
“I want to go to Whitney!” she said. “All my friends are going there!”

Currently, there are 80 students at Whitney High School who transferred out of the Western Placer Unified School District to attend the Rocklin school, Leaman said.

Steve Berger, who has a son at Lincoln High School, also had his sights set on Twelve Bridges High School.

“I had hoped Twelve Bridges High School would be built,” he said. His son is a swimmer and wanted to use the planned aquatic center at Twelve Bridges.

In recent years, the district’s plan for expansion has been hindered by the region’s slowing growth. Because the district’s main sources of funding stem from bonds, developer fees and new homebuyers, revenue streams dry up when expansion slows.

As part of its June recommendations, the Grand Jury report urged the district to “guarantee all building projects are tied to defined and specific funding sources.”

In its response, the district pledged to avoid riskier funding, like the popular Certificate of Participation bonds, which don’t require voter approval and are secured by the operating budget and reserves.

The district has also been plagued by concerns about its relationship with its former architect and contractor, NTD-Stichler and Edge Development. In September 2007, district staff members complained about allegedly substandard build quality and inflated bills. A lawsuit related to the school district’s firing of one of the workers, Mike Thornbrough, is currently ongoing in Auburn, according to Thornbrough’s attorney, David Henderson.

In late 2007, the district chose five new architects for future work. In November, LPA completed a plan for expansion at Lincoln High School and Rainforth Grau will work on planning the district’s next elementary school.