Nevada County Board of Education tables audit motion, supe responds to grand jury
The Nevada County Board of Education met Wednesday evening where Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen presented her official response to a June grand jury report that implicated her in health and safety hazards at Grass Valley School District facilities.
The board also discussed possible measures to ramp up audit efforts on the Superintendent of Schools Business Office, and locally funded charter schools.
On June 30, the Nevada County grand jury released a report that found dangerous health and safety conditions at Grass Valley Charter School and Bell Hill Academy. The issues outlined dry rot, mold, exposed electrical wires and improper storage of flammable chemicals.
The report stated that Hermansen is required to inspect all school facilities and review each local district’s accountability report card. Hermansen filed an official letter of response to the grand jury on Aug. 26 stating that there was no credible evidence to substantiate the grand jury’s findings.
State education code 1240c states a Superintendent of Schools should visit and examine each school in his or her county at reasonable intervals to observe operations and problems. In her response, Hermansen said she has abided by that requirement, though, according to the state she is not required to inspect a school’s facilities unless they fall into deciles 1-3.
“We only have one school in our county that meets that criteria, and we do an inspection every year of (Ready Springs Elementary School),” Hermansen said Wednesday.
“We’re required to look at their school accountability report card, we’re required to inspect their facilities, and we’re required to make sure that they have sufficient textbooks and instructional materials.”
Hermansen added that is it the responsibility of the school district and their board to be aware of safety issues.
“I don’t want to downplay any concerns there might be about Grass Valley School District facilities,” Hermansen said. “I do talk frequently with (Superintendent Erik Fredrickson,) I know the steps he is taking to address any concerns, so I am always concerned about student safety, but it’s not a role appropriate for our office.”
During Wednesday’s board meeting trustee Marianne Slade-Troutman proposed a motion to use the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, also known as FCMAT, to audit the Superintendent of Schools Business Office and all local charter schools.
Slade-Troutman said she brought the motion up for vote due to the fraud and embezzlement that Twin Ridges Home Study Charter School recently experienced.
“I believe we need a neutral outside agency to examine the fiscal budget of the Superintendent of Schools Business Office,” Slade-Troutman said. “To have this fraudulent activity take place shows that there are some serious internal control measures that need to be addressed.”
Slade-Troutman added, “If this multi-year fraud can take place there, it has the potential to take place within all of our charter schools.”
Local charter school staff members present at Wednesday’s meeting, though, did not feel using FCMAT was a solution that was reasonable.
“Lumping us into a situation with FCMAT is a complete insult to how we do business,” John Muir Charter School CEO R.J. Guess said Wednesday. “When you have irresponsible finance where you’re running millions of dollars in the red, that’s what FCMAT is for.”
Penn Valley resident Jan Collins said she thought the motion should go even deeper into all district finance.
“Every school district in this county should get audited,” Collins said. “I think some in-depth audit of every single school and board in this county is what is needed to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
After hearing comment from the public, Slade-Troutman decided to withdraw her motion to let people discuss how the board should go about auditing the business office and charter schools in the county more effectively.
“I didn’t mean to single out any one school,” Slade-Troutman said. “But there needs to be a line-by-line audit of our finances that ensures this does not happen again, and our current auditor is not doing that.”
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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