February 9, 2018
by Mike Ceremello
What happens when you vote to give the Dixon Unified School District millions of dollars to renovate their schools? Once they get our money it appears they don’t want anyone to know how they are spending it until after the funds are spent.
Measure Q was passed in November 2016 by 60% of the voters and gave the district $30.4 million to renovate the old high school and Anderson Elementary. This bond now is in addition to another $29 million which was used to build the new high school. There is also talk from the school board about going out for another bond to reconstruct Tremont Elementary which is composed of portables unlike Gretchin Higgins which is a group of permanent structures.
The Measure Q bond needed only 55% of the total votes rather than the normal 66%. One condition of this lower passage rate is a “citizen bond oversight committee” comprised of representatives of specific groups within the community such as seniors, business, a member of a taxpayer group, a parent with a child in the district schools, and a parent who is a member of a parent teacher association. This committee was supposed to be empaneled within 60 days of certification of the vote. It wasn’t and when it was later constituted, it was missing a senior representative.
The apparent oversight by Superintendent Brian Dolan was then compounded by putting “yes” people on the committee. Robert Strong was elected chairman but he has significant employment ties to John Calise, the district’s intermediary to the CBOC, through Travis Air Force Base. Strong has failed to call a meeting of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC) since September 13, 2017 although one is scheduled now for late February. Since the group was formed, only three meetings have been held with one canceled in August.
After the first meeting of the CBOC, it became quite apparent to Calise this committee was going to be a little too independent for the district to manipulate it. The first evidence of this occurred when the committee insisted on adopting their own bylaws rather than the one Dolan was pushing.
This came to a head at one school board meeting which lasted 3 hours on this one subject. Dolan not only appeared frustrated but verbally expressed it. The only thing Dolan did not do was to explain why he was so insistent on not letting the committee present their own bylaws for approval.
What is truly troubling is the fact it took the threat of litigation to force the District to keep its promise to do “competitive bidding”. The District attempted to violate their promise to the voters and to the SCTA made in the ballot argument. It would be unclear as to where this situation stands except for an action at the last school board meeting on Thursday, February 1.
Last Tuesday Ourania Riddle, secretary of SCTA, asked for an update on the “Request for Proposal for Environmental Consultant” that was approved by the School Board at their September 7, 2017 meeting. The environmental issue was one the SCTA’s earlier concerns. In May 2017 the District tried to exempt themselves from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the old high school, a school that was built in 1939.
The SCTA and their attorney were concerned that the proposed project had many environmental issues such as asbestos and lead remediation so they demanded the District hire an Environmental consultant to review the project. The District agreed to hire a consultant and the board approved the Request For Proposals (RFP) at their September 7, 2017 meeting. Because of this concern, the SCTA requested the District inform them of who would be on the (selection) panel, when the (pre-selection) interviews would be held and if the Bond Oversight “contract review” sub-committee could participate.
Superintended Dolan replied on Wednesday telling the SCTA “the District has not addressed the CEQA matter for some time in any venue” but numerous proposals were submitted and he would provide them with a copy of the proposals. Riddle picked the proposals on Thursday morning and reminded Dolan of his promise to keep SCTA informed of who would be on the (selection) panel and when the (pre-selection) interviews would be held.
“Imagine my surprise when I heard John Calise telling the Board at their Feb. 1, 2018, meeting that the District established a “selection panel”, they “interviewed the firms that submitted proposals” and a “selection was made” the same day that the Superintendent wrote in his e-mail “We have not addressed the CEQA matter for some time in any venue!!” “I was just flabbergasted,” Riddle said. “I am sure the SCTA members, especially the ones who voted to “stay neutral and not to oppose Measure Q” will feel like I do, betrayed,” Riddle added. She also added that neither the SCTA or she will be ever supporting another bond in Dixon.
The lack of transparency and obvious manipulation by Dolan doesn’t stop there. In response to Gary Riddle’s leadership in convincing the CBOC of their right to act independently in establishing their own bylaws and his push to have the committee look at specific financial documents, Superintendent Dolan attempted to set a meeting with Riddle, the District’s Attorney, Robert Strong, chair, and Tad Smith, vice chair, of the bond oversight committee “to tell them what they could and couldn’t look at”.
Dolan’s official statement was “We are interested in helping to clear up any questions about the CBOC and its role in the District. For us, getting some of the key people in the room together to talk through any issues makes sense. It’s not an attempt to control or subvert the CBOC, but rather, clarify where things stand and figure out ways for both the COC and District to communicate out effectively to the community as needed.” This meeting was cancelled.
It appears from all of this that a “modus operandi” has been established. Since Dolan and his supporters on the school board (Caitlin O’Halloran and Melissa Maseda) were unable to control the CBOC, they are simply ignoring their role in administering and oversight of the spending of bond money.
This all started when the district sold $19.2 million worth of bond money and began spending it before the CBOC was even established.
The February 1 meeting had a “performance” audit report by Marta and Associates. The audit subcommittee of the CBOC hasn’t met. Besides the fact Marta did not comment on the legality of specific actions omitted but required by law, the auditors presentation was in violation of the law which states “independent financial and performance audits for the preceding fiscal year shall be submitted to the citizens’ oversight committee at the same time they are submitted to the school district. (Ed Code 15286).
There is also a “fortress mentality” which has been established by the district. No longer can a parent or citizen just walk into the district’s offices to get information. Email communication is problematic at best with no response being common.
Oddly enough, it is not just the average citizen having this problem. At the December 12 council meeting, Chief of Police Robert Thompson talked about the district being non-responsive to allow a school resources officer (police presence) to be provided to the district given the rash of fights and brawls which have occurred in the last year.
All of this leads to questions. What is Dixon Unified hiding in regards to Measure Q? What is it they don’t want the supposedly “independent” Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee to find out? Why are they spending Measure Q funds without any oversight?
The Board needs to remember that any citizen paying on this bond can bring action in court to halt spending these funds. It is truly a shame this is the route being forced on those who only want accountability, honesty, and transparency.
February 9, 2018