Editor’s note: This column addresses issues in the Grossmont Union High School District regarding Proposition U and the debate over whether that school bond promises a high school for Alpine and Blossom Valley. An injunction is in place that requires the district to reserve $42 million for the high school.

By Priscilla Schreiber

Nick Marinovich and I have long contended that members of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) are shortsighted in their understanding of who they represent in their role as an oversight committee. Their actions repeatedly bear witness to the fact that they believe they are there to do the school board’s bidding under the direction and guidance of staff with the chair carrying the district’s water.

Most all CBOC members are given, in my opinion, a “bogus” orientation and told that they are to use the 2009 Master Facilities Plan “Update” as the legal source document for validating voter-approved bond projects.

This clearly shows just how misguided the whole process is and how staff manipulates the messaging to unsuspecting, honest and hard-working volunteers. When first seated on the committee, their question should have been, “Why are we using a document as our source of reference for validating voter-approved projects that was created after the passage of the bond?”

CBOC Chair Nancy Herbst’s declaration in validation case

Sadly, the CBOC is there for the primary purpose of being used to give cover to the school board so they can say they have the CBOC’s full support to do what they do. That is not how this is supposed to work. The taxpayers deserve better!

Of course, as long as they see new modernized buildings going up, they are happy, trusting and disengaged. But once a bond program turns into a Poway or Sweetwater issue, they get outraged and engaged. But by then it’s too late, thus the promise of oversight failed.

Why did they frustrate Nick [causing him to] finally resign? Simple. He knows the role of the CBOC, wasn’t a player, and asked that very question: How have we spent the money in comparison to the ballot language?

His efforts to get support for a [San Diego County Taxpayers Association’s] “Best Practices” extended-performance audit was deliberately frustrated by the staff and the chair. Finally, through Nick’s persistence, they are in the midst of that extended performance audit. But what source document is the auditor using to compare the spending to voter approval?

CBOC agenda for June 17, 2015

I have personally advised the auditors (during the annual audit and finance committee meeting) that I will be watching to see what their source is for validating voter-approved projects. I also let them know that the previous audits have all been based on the 2009 Master Facility Plan (MFP) and NOT the 2008 MFP tied to Prop. U bond language.

Their most important responsibility under Proposition 39 (constitutional initiative passed in 2000 authorizing school bonds with a 55 percent vote with citizens oversight) is to oversee that projects listed in the ballot language are the projects that are built.

I truly believe staff at the direction of board members has purposefully misguided the CBOC. Upon a request by CBOC to verify how the CBOC validated projects, the district’s legal counsel (Orrick) sent an attorney to the CBOC to give clarification on this matter.

Just prior to legal counsel getting to the meeting, the chair took a vote on the issue as to whether or not the CBOC has properly vetted all projects in compliance with the law and that all projects built were in the bond language. The vote was unanimous, as if whatever legal counsel would say, their minds were made up and so then they completely ignored what counsel had said. This is all on an audio recording. Legal counsel told them that bond monies cannot be spent on updates to the MFP. This fell on deaf ears. 

Orrick is our bond counsel and now represents us also in the lawsuits. What’s going to be interesting is how two attorneys down the hall from each other will have stated two entirely different understandings. One, as stated to the CBOC that you can’t spend bond dollars on projects not approved by the voters and the other representing the district in these lawsuits saying there has been nothing wrong in what projects have been identified as all being within the realm of the voter-approved bond language.

They are so deep into this now that the board and staff must carry out the charade that they are within the legal perimeters as described under Propositon 39 and that to use an updated plan that deviated from the ballot language — by increasing projects, scopes, and budgets against an already maxed out projects list — is somehow justified, but is the very reason they now can’t fix classrooms but will blame on Alpine.

Proposition H/U Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee draft minutes of meeting on March 25, 2015

Since the lawsuit, for CYA purposes, staff is changing terminology and in the last board-approved superintendent’s list of recommendations they changed scopes back to what the ballot language called for originally. So how can the CBOC sit there and say they have conformed with the bond language and then vote to approve and accept these recent recommendations from the superintendent that reverts project scopes back to the bond language?

It is so blatant that they are trying to put the genie back in the bottle, while at the same time, trying to blame Alpine for the things that won’t get done now or will be delayed. 

This all stems from not having an initial board-established Bond Project Priority list as required in the preamble of the Prop. U bond measure. Scott Patterson (CFO) is on record, when I asked him in a public board meeting, why we never had one done. His response: It wasn’t necessary until the bond revenue picture started to change, and now we needed one.

Seriously? This makes my case that staff directed all the building without a board-established priority list as required in our bond under the law. In other words, staff will decide, and shoot from the hip.

Who needs a board-established bond project priority list other than that’s what we told the voters we would do? This is how you get nonvoter-approved projects, parents going to the power seat to get their pet project ahead of others. Being in construction all my working years, we could never get away with this.

This, of course, is my perspective and one not held by any of my colleagues. As far as I’ve been concerned, all of this is absolutely negligible. Unfortunately, because this board has disenfranchised a whole community, we find ourselves heading into more litigation costs with a trial — a trial that I hope sheds light on the above.

Priscilla Schreiber is on the Grossmont Union High School District governing board.