Thanks to everyone who has submitted questions. I’m busy pounding the pavement and getting the answers.
In the meantime, I wanted to share an update on the San Diego Unified School District’s budget woes.
It’s no secret that relations between Superintendent Carl Cohn and some school board members have deteriorated in recent months. In today’s story, board member John de Beck even suggested that Cohn may have to resign as a result of the controversy surrounding district Chief Administrative Officer José Betancourt:
How the superintendent responds to the matter could affect Cohn’s fate at the district, de Beck said.
If the superintendent does not ask for Betancourt to step down, de Beck said, “then perhaps it’s time for both of them to go.”
“Maybe the issue is really whether we do need someone that will support someone with an ethics problem,” he said.
Previously, de Beck has also lashed out at Betancourt and Cohn for the presentation of the district’s budget, which was printed at the last minute and was largely incomprehensible.
Then, there was this fascinating e-mail exchange last week between Cohn and the board members. I suggest you read the whole thing.
To summarize it, de Beck wrote to fellow board members and top district administrators that he had learned a disturbing fact: District finance staff had planned a much more open process for developing the budget, one that would have gotten board members and the community involved earlier, but their plans were vetoed by either Cohn or Betancourt or both. Instead, the budget was released less than a week before the board had to vote on it.
De Beck concluded with this:
If anyone wants to verify what happened to the budget process…try getting a sworn statement that what I allege is false. Remember good sailors don’t rat on their Admiral! But integrity is stronger than the line of command.
Wow. What’s even more amazing was the superintendent’s response:
Your tortured, revisionist history is both silly and immature…I have no problem with a new process. It just needs to be arrived at in an orderly way with the agreement of the full Board. It doesn’t start in February with a single memo from an individual Board member or a demand in May for a new two-pronged presentation and approval process in June. It starts this July with a full Board discussion on expectations for this next year.
As long as I’m superintendent here, you don’t get to direct the work of the staff…That’s it! Carl
Aside from the astounding rhetoric from both, de Beck did raise an interesting question, which Cohn never answered: Had some district staff planned a more transparent budget?
I posed this question the district’s Chief Financial Officer William Kowba, who reports to Betancourt.
I asked Kowba, who was included in the e-mail exchange above: Was de Beck right in alleging that Kowba’s plans for preparing and releasing the budget were overruled?
He said he thought de Beck was referring to a board workshop held last October when the budget was discussed, but no decisions were made.
I said it seemed to me like de Beck was talking about private conversations he had with some finance staff members, who told him about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
Kowba said he didn’t remember having such a conversation with the board member.
I asked if it was possible that de Beck talked with other, lower-ranking members of the finance department.
Kowba said he didn’t know of any conversations.
So finally, I posed this question: Would it be accurate to say that the process used by the district to develop its budget was the same one the district finance staff have had in mind since last October?
Kowba paused for a few seconds. Then, he said he didn’t know how to answer the question. Instead, he offered this:
We always have ideas for how to share information, and we will continue on developing them in the coming year.