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In all the excitement over the question of whether teachers would get layoff warnings on Tuesday night, I didn’t get a chance to tell you about another interesting tidbit: The school board tapped Phil Stover, the consultant who has helped San Diego Unified figure out how to shave millions from department budgets, as an “independent budget and operations analyst.”

What does that mean? School board member John Lee Evans, who proposed the idea, said that Stover would not get any increase in pay but his focus would be broadened from the central offices to the entire district. He will get a desk, a phone, and maybe a part-time assistant, said Evans, who said the assistant would be the only cost of the change.

Stover has been floating around San Diego Unified as a consultant, coming up with ideas like expanding the lunch period so that more students eat a reimbursable lunch. His organization, the Portolan Group, signed a $150,000 contract with the school district to help finesse its central office budgets this school year.

Evans said that while he disliked bringing in consultants, Stover was someone who helped provide them objective information. There are “special circumstances where we do need to bring in an outside set of eyes,” Evans said.

The motion passed 3 to 1, with John de Beck in opposition and Katherine Nakamura absent. De Beck later wrote a blistering e-mail to the board complaining that tapping Stover for the job bypassed the usual process for selecting employees and “looks like” a Brown Act violation because the specific proposal was not on the school board meeting agenda. Evans brought it up during an planned discussion of the budgeting process.

“We have no agreed on duties or responsibilities for the job nor have we looked for others with appropriate skills for the job,” de Beck wrote. He added, “No one can trust this board if we just do things on the fly, and do not propose, debate the need for the service, interview qualified folks, and vote in public on our selection. Put bluntly, this action smells.”

Evans said that undergoing that process would make sense for creating a new job, but that Stover was merely broadening his focus and was already employed anyway. The only change is that “the board can work more closely with him,” Evans said.

EMILY ALPERT

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