Measure E is a farce.

– – – – – – – Update: 05.31.12 – – – – – – –

Just attended the discussion on Measure E hosted by the Brea Senior Center.

Representing “No on E”, Connie Lanzisera and Glenn Vodhanel laid out a rational, common sense justification for their position and posed well researched questions to the opposition.

Representing “Yes on E” was Dr. “Skip” Roland, BOUSD Superintendent, who admitted right up front that it wouldn’t be legal for him to endorse or support the measure but he could answer questions. No one for the “Yes on E” political action committee took the time to attend to present their side of the issue.

Then, in a less than forthcoming way, using a lot of bureaucratic and finance industry terminology well over the heads of many in attendance, Dr. Roland proceeded to explain the important things that might be done if Measure E passed.

There was an obviously adversarial mood in the room. Hovering around the periphery were a council member, a current member and ex-member of the school board, plus the usual array of political activists and gadflys, myself included.

Finally, in the Q&A period, all questions were directed towards Dr. Roland, none for the “No on E” folks. It was quickly obvious that Connie and Glenn had apparently succeeded in sharing a credible message, easily understood by all in the room.

In my estimation, which mirrors comments from those I spoke with following the meeting, Dr. Roland’s responses fell far short of answering the questions asked but more served as opportunities for continued pro “E” political speak.

Seeing Dr. Roland in trouble, or at least assuming he was unable to adequately support their position, the final unscheduled speaker turned out to be none other than Teresa Hampson, BOUSD School Board member since 1994, who made what I would characterize as an impassioned plea for millions of dollars without adequately explaining how one single dime would be spent or why.

In the end, I detected a clear and distinct aroma of deception in the room and it seemed that no one at my table, nor those around me, had any interest in supporting Measure E in any way.

With such a low threshold now for approval, a mere 55%, it’s anyone’s guess what we’ll see when the election results hit the streets.

In closing… Vote NO on Measure E.

– – – – – – – Original Post: 05.25.12 – – – – – – – 

A “Brea Matters” reader, requesting anonymity, sent me the following message and it got me thinking. First, the message.

“I am opposed to Measure E. Not because my property taxes are going to increase but because I’m fairly convinced that the School District is unable to manage the technology they currently have. Having many years experience in the IT industry, I offer this statement, confident in it’s accuracy.

BOUSD hosts three different web sites for parents to track their children’s progress. None of them has complete information. The original teacher portal is stale and outdated, many links don’t work and virtually none of the teachers are keeping their student assignments up to date there.

The high school website, with teacher links too, is utilized by few, if any teachers, on a regular basis.

Finally, there’s “Aries”, the official assignment/grading secure website. It provides no consistent or reliable means for parents to track their children’s progress or for students to access assignments throughout the school year because most teachers batch upload assignments and grades at the end of each period. Useless.

Last year, the district’s mail server suffered a catastrophic failure. All email and contacts for teachers were permanently lost. The service was down for days. Teachers were asking parents to re-send them email addresses. Apparently the district made no provision for adequate back-up and/or recovery, common practice throughout the IT industry.

Parents never received a clear explanation about what happened or what the district planned to do to ensure this didn’t happen again. They just swept it under the rug.

Now BOUSD is asking us to add to our already burdensome property taxes, some of which is still paying off the funding they received in 1999, so they can preform routine facilities maintenance which should have been accomplished long ago. Design, construct, install, reconfigure, replace, enhance, expand… this is the language describing how they intend to spend another $54,000,000 dollars. And not a word about classroom technology or IT infrastructure.

It’s politically incorrect to oppose school bonds. To do so invites ridicule and allegations of not caring about our children’s futures.

My friends and I still have kids in Brea schools but we’re voting no on Measure E. The BOUSD has failed to prove they’ve wisely spent what we gave them in 1999. We’re not about to give them twice as much in 2012.”

Higher Property Taxes Aren’t The Issue.

Silly me, I thought the resistance to Measure E would come from the ultraconservative, no more taxes crowd. Much to my chagrin, it seems that a growing number of folks are simply sick and tired of watching BOUSD spend millions of dollars with only the most limited accountability.

In 1999, with the supposed help of a “Public Oversight Committee,” the BOUSD placed a $27 million dollar obligation bond measure on the June ballot. We won’t have it paid off until 2029. In March of 1999, a series of letters from the district, through each school, went out to parents clarifying what the funds would be doing for their school.

Aside from an embarrassing amount of redundancy, there was nothing to brag about in any letter. It was all pretty much routine maintenance stuff, simple repairs and everyone was getting new communication systems, including bells, public address and telephones.

What… no whistles?

When I made a public records request at the district, asking for documentation of what was proposed and what was done, I received a 27 page compilation of numerous documents with the collective goal to convey nothing but rainbows and unicorns.

I tried to find members of the Oversight Board and found only one. He indicated there had been little or nothing done for over a decade and that at least half of the members no longer even lived in Brea. So, makes me wonder who’s watching the store?

Now They Want Twice As Much.

Now, just 13 years later… enough time to get many of the first graders graduated from high school and their parents distracted by jobless teens, college tuitions through the roof and their need to provide for their own future reaching critical mass… here comes the BOUSD wanting $54 million dollars.

In a 1999 press release, the district said, “If major capital improvements are not made now, the schools will only continue to deteriorate, which will be more costly to fix in the long run.” Welcome to 2012, or as I like to call it, the long run.

And back to the original complaints about the condition of BOUSD’s IT infrastructure, the litany of projects on the “Yes on E” website sponsored by the PAC “Committee for Brea Olinda Schools — Yes on Measure E” (FPPC ID# 1346996) make no mention of updating the antiquated and underutilized IT system or upgrading classroom technology.

Have these folks inundated your mailbox with giant postcards filled with familiar faces and hollow promises?

Have you seen the slick ad campaign?

Did you get a prerecorded message from your local school principal asking for your support (like that’s even in their job description)? Are you seeing the same red flags popping up that I’m seeing?

Just Say No.

Okay, I may be branded a heretic, but I don’t care.

I love our kids and grandkids, I believe wholeheartedly that a solid education is the underpinning of successful productive lives but I also believe that throwing another $54 million dollars at routine maintenance projects that should have been done a generation ago is not the way to raise educational standards and performance in Brea. Please, do the right thing for the kids… Vote No on E.

The jury is still out – Part Three

A couple of months ago I sent a copy of council member Moore’s newsletter (Brea Net #597) to the Special Prosecutions Unit with the Orange County District Attorney. Uncertain of the legal issues and ethical ramifications alleged in Roy’s account of how Council inadvertently gave themselves a raise with a retroactive bonus, I turned to professionals for an answer. Here’s what I got:

Justice“We have reviewed the Brea City Council issues called to our attention by your recent emails. We have determined that there is insufficient evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Brea City Council or city staff in connection with the Council’s vote to increase their own flex benefits last July, and their subsequent vote to rescind the increase last December. While the initial staff report regarding the resolution increasing the benefits may have been incomplete, in that it failed to remind the Board that several years earlier they had voted to link their own benefits to the group of employees meant to be covered by the July resolution, there is no evidence that the omission was intentional, or meant to mislead members of the council or the public. And there is no evidence of any improper communications, either before or after the July meeting, in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act’s “open meeting” laws. Accordingly, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office is closing its inquiry into this matter and will not be taking any further action.” – Raymond S. Armstrong, Senior Deputy District Attorney, Special Prosecutions Unit

Jeez, where do I start?

It was June, Mr. Armstrong, not July… who, exactly, were you talking to? How were you able to reach such an absolute conclusion without interviewing a single player in this comedy of errors? You say that there was “insufficient evidence” – which would suggest that there was some evidence. Sorry, but your conclusions could have been reached merely by reviewing my email, the document I sent and my blog… and dismissing the matter because you had bigger fish to fry.

A quick conversation with the city attorney, whose job it is to cultivate a hedge of defense, of plausible deniability, around his clients, could easily have guided you to the same conclusion. More than mere professional courtesy, this may explain your cc-ing him on your correspondence to me.

Bigger fish to fry.

Smoking GunI get it. Real criminals, killers and the like. Okay… in the full scheme of things I would have to agree that tackling violent crime should certainly take precedence over allegations of petty mismanagement of public funds and possibly malfeasance on the part of elected officials and public employees.

It does beg the question, if the raises had contained as many zeros as the Bell fiasco, would we have seen a more vigorous investigation?

Before writing this, I sought the council of several trusted friends, pillars in the Brea community with enviable track records for volunteerism and philanthropy. It was pretty evenly split between, “Now’s not the time to toss in the towel.” and “Maybe it’s better not to flog a dead horse.”

Interestingly though, the anger and disappointment over what has occurred in study sessions and the council chamber between June and December, is unanimous. Not just the flex benefits matter, but the arrogant disrespect for historical precedents, the mistreatment of senior council members and irrational dismissal of talented volunteers, the lackluster effort to retain the contract with Yorba Linda for police services.

So, with all that said, I guess I’ll just let sleeping dogs lie, and lie, and lie again. At least for now.