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I didn’t cover the school board race in Poway, but the district’s controversial billion-dollar bond was a big issue there.
During the election campaign, friends and readers randomly sent me photos of campaign mailers and yard signs in the district lampooning the bond and the board members who approved it.
The bond controversy may well have played a part in Tuesday night’s ouster of Poway Unified School Board President Linda Vanderveen, who came in last out of the three candidates for the board.
Fellow incumbent Andy Patapow will remain on the board, since the top two vote-getters win seats. But the board will also have a new face: Kimberley Beatty, who won almost 39 percent of the vote, close to 6 percent more than either of the other two candidates.
I talked with Beatty Wednesday night. She said she’s looking forward to getting down to business on the board and shaking things up a little bit. The longtime PTA activist said she heard a lot of complaints about the current board during the election campaign.
“What I heard a lot from the community was that the board is extremely insular,” Beatty said. “That was a pervasive community view.”
My own experiences with the board have been similarly frustrating.
Hopefully, this might change as Beatty takes office.
She is being sworn in at the board meeting on Monday, Dec. 10. And she said she plans to work on increasing the transparency and communication from the board.
There are two particular narratives I’m still following at Poway Unified that I could use the board’s cooperation with:
Back in September, Superintendent John Collins announced that the district was hiring an independent forensic accountant to review the district’s bond deals. Despite making a speech about transparency and openness, Collins and the board have refused to provide even the most basic information about this review. We’ve asked:
• Who is doing the investigation
• The qualifications of the person(s) doing the review, how much they’re being paid, what their scope of work is and how and why they were chosen
• Whether any other companies or individuals were considered to do the work
So far, we’ve heard nothing.
The district may be releasing a copy of the accountant’s review on Tuesday, Nov. 13. I’ve spoken with several sources in the school bond world who question whether a review conducted in such a secretive manner can truly be independent.
We’re still also trying to figure out how Poway spent its millions of dollars in extra cash. This money was squeezed out of Poway’s bond deals in defiance of a letter from the state attorney general’s office stating that what Poway planned to do was illegal.
Poway’s legal argument for getting about $30 million in extra cash out of its deals (money that will eventually cost taxpayers more than $200 million to pay back) rests on the fact that it used the extra money to pay for costs involved with issuing the bond and to pay interest on past loans.
But the school board hasn’t provided documents to prove this claim. It did provide some accounting records, and we’re examining those now. Meanwhile, the IRS is also taking a close look at the same issues.
With a new member of the Poway school board, and with the ouster of the board president who has been singularly uncommunicative, here’s hoping the district’s actions see some daylight.
Correction: The original version of this post mistakenly identified Nov. 13 as a Monday. It’s actually a Tuesday. The school board usually holds meetings on a Monday but Monday, Nov. 12 is a district holiday to observe Veterans Day.
Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5670.
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