Thursday Jul 03 2008
Your schools take fiscal accountability seriously
By: Scott Leaman
In today’s era of accountability, we are holding our students and schools to much higher standards of performance. The public is demanding much more from their public schools. They should also demand much more from those who observe and comment on school district decisions and actions. If we are to have a thoughtful and reasonable discussion in our community, the local newspaper and interest groups must also meet higher expectations for accuracy and balance of opinion. The editorial that appeared in this newspaper last week criticizing the district for leaving “questions unanswered” about its facilities and financial practices did not meet that standard. If we were grading that editorial as a classroom assignment we would have given it an “incomplete” mark. The editorial was quick to blame, but lacked depth and thoroughness by checking the facts. The editorial appeared to imply that in some way the district administration and Board of Education were avoiding questions or not addressing concerns about prior school construction policies and practices. That is simply not the case. Over the past two years, under the leadership of a new school board and administration, we have systematically and diligently analyzed and improved our budgeting and facilities management process. We have asked many questions and changed many aspects of our own operations. This has been a time-consuming activity. We are committed to doing things right, and more importantly to doing the right things. It was very disappointing that the editorial staff did not bother to pose their “unanswered questions” to us directly. We would have been able to give them the answers within the limits of privacy laws and legal constraints. In particular, we were surprised and disappointed that this news was a “bombshell,” expressing shock that the district continues to intervene in a lawsuit holding individuals accountable. Instead, the editorial implied that the district was somehow diverting blame and “covering its tracks.” That is completely false. It seemed inappropriate in what was portrayed as the newspaper’s editorial opinion, to give voice to only one perspective on the issue. To do so behind the weight of the newspaper’s editorial page was unfair and not balanced. Allegations of some critics have been reviewed by the Placer County Grand Jury. 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.” The Grand Jury has commended the district for being much more transparent in its operations in recent years. We plan to continue that practice. The district is obliged to respond to the Grand Jury report. We are examining it carefully and will post our responses and analyses on the district Web site for everyone to review. Can we improve? Yes. Have we already taken steps to ensure greater oversight of construction projects? Absolutely. Keeping in mind the past, for the sake of our schools and our students, it is time to move forward. The quality of your public schools helps define the quality of life and economic vitality of the communities we serve. We take that responsibility very seriously. 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.