Oversight or out of sight?
July 11, 2014
The Nevada County Superintendent of Schools (NCSOS) office should receive remedial education on the topics of budget transparency, customer service and the Brown Act.
I had heard reports concerning failed attempts to perform oversight on the COE budget and asked to be provided with some documentation. The documents raised more red flags than May Day in Moscow — like the refusal to provide details on a county issued credit card. With the help of a lawyer, a formal records request was filed. Google how many abuses of government credit cards happen.
With the budget workshop and vote coming up, I engaged the process and attended the workshop. I witnessed the staff doing everything they could to duck fair questions. When trustees pressed concerning a large sum budgeted on a specific item, they were dismissed with the comment, "That's only 2 percent of the budget." That attitude toward someone elected to perform oversight is appalling.
I confirmed NCSOS is sitting on a massive pile of cash when we have fewer services for our shrinking pool of students. When asked, they called it fiscal prudence. but the money is not in the reserve account cost code. It's buried in multiple unallocated locations in the budget, in other words, what one trustee called a "slush fund."
The agenda package only contained compiled budget reports, no line item budget. Last month there were to be two budget meetings, one for open discussion followed by the vote on the 18th. On June 9, I tried to obtain a copy of the line item budget at the business office, and the financial officer gave me every reason she could explaining why I didn't really want the "too complicated" budget. I insisted, saying I would be happy to have it in any format, and offered her a blank CD, DVD and flash drive as options. She refused, saying I could file a government records request. That request allows 10 days to comply; the vote was in nine days. In the meeting on June 12, members of the public complained about the inability to access budget documents online like the county and the need for transparency.
The financial officer lashed out at the questioners without answering the questions. I asked for a commitment to greater access by posting all documents by the end of the year. The trustees were supportive, yet no agreement came from the superintendent.
I observed that based on job descriptions, the newly hired administrative staff could have been filled by contractors instead of expensive, permanent full-timers. That would save money and allow greater staffing flexibility as the student population continued to shrink. Yet again, yesterday, another new position was discussed.
I was assured I'd get future agendas by email similar to the rest of county government. At 4:54 p.m. on June 13, I was informed by email that they couldn't email one. I said OK, since they assured me it would be posted online, only to be told it wasn't online. So no one could get it in the mandated 72 hours in advance.
I picked up a hard copy on June 16, 48 hours ahead of the meeting, and was disappointed to find no line item budget, only compiled budget reports in a format different from the workshop. I discovered that one trustee's package was not received until the June 17, only 24 hours ahead of the vote. The agenda package finally posted online on the June 17 after 2 p.m.
The meeting on June 18 started with a gaggle of bureaucrats congratulating bureaucrats on hiring more bureaucrats, clearly an orchestrated show. How can the trustees or public provide oversight without the full budget?
Three board members voted to put Prop. 30 money in the administrative account instead of services for our children. Two board members objected to the lack of details and were rudely treated. One noted that the payroll figures did not seem to match the 4-percent raise. The reply was that there were reductions in some payroll and that's why it did not add up, yet there were no footnotes explaining this or any footnotes on the consolidated report at all. How can trustees vote for a budget without informed consent? In the end, three did vote blindly and two rejected the vague document.
Don Bessee lives in Alta Sierra.