Beth Hunkapiller, president of the San Carlos Elementary School District Board of Trustees, announced her resignation because of actions surrounding the transfer of funds for Superintendent Craig Baker’s $1.3 million home loan and what she called the district’s focus on moving pressing work forward rather than protecting the public’s trust in its work.
Hunkapiller made the announcement at the board’s Sept. 26 meeting. Since she is not running for re-election, she is five meetings shy of completing 20 years of board service.
Overall, she said, in an emailed statement, that there should be a more open process in discussing the loan situation and other issues.
“In my view, the superintendent has shortchanged opportunities for fuller public discussion and feedback on significant issues for the district and public, and the board majority has seen too late the losses after permitting such supposed ‘efficiency,’” she wrote. “In my view, such shortcuts in the name of efficiency don’t always save time. Time savings versus better process have been subjects of debate in the district and on the board. ... I have made an issue of open process several times prior to the loan transaction issue. Shortcuts cost.”
The loan, so that the superintendent could move from Redwood City to San Carlos, occurred one day prior to the board taking formal action to approve it. The escrow on the San Carlos home Baker purchased was scheduled to close Sept. 13, but went through on Sept. 11.
At the meeting during which Hunkapiller resigned, the board voted to complete training and create a timeline leading up to the loan. This was not enough for Hunkapiller, as she saw other misconduct associated with the loan and wanted an audit conducted.
In particular, she took issue with fellow Trustee Seth Rosenblatt for his “domineering conduct” regarding the loan and how it took place.
“[It] interfered with the board’s ability to do perform its duty,” she said in the statement. “Superintendent Baker maintained he should remain removed from the loan issue because he was a beneficiary of the loan.”
She also contended that Baker was not only a beneficiary of the loan, but asked the district business official to move the housing funds ahead of formal board approval.
Baker said he had no comment on Hunkapiller’s statement but expressed sadness by her departure.
“I was very saddened and disappointed to receive her resignation so close to finishing out her 20th year,” Baker said in an email. “She has been an absolutely stellar board member and has given to this community beyond measure.”
Rosenblatt said he doesn’t have the time to correct all of her factual misstatements about the board, the district and its superintendent, but the issues she cited at the last meeting were thoroughly debated by the trustees before votes were taken.
“It is unfortunate that Beth Hunkapiller chose to end her long and distinguished career on the San Carlos school board in such a bizarre manner,” Rosenblatt said in an email. “Reasonable people understand that individual judgments may differ, and the body’s majority may vote in a way different from our personal opinion. That is the nature of having five members on the board, and the strength of democracy is having these healthy disagreements.”
He went on to say the district has done an incredible job over the last four years, both accomplishing more and engaging more deeply with the community than has ever been done in the past.
“We have been an outstanding example in the county and around the state, and it’s disappointing that Beth has chosen to drop out rather than work with us to face the major issues and opportunities we will continue to have,” he said in the email.
Hunkapiller disagreed with Rosenblatt’s view that there was proper discussion of the loan and that a majority of the board was firm in its opinion that no investigation of the loan transaction should occur at the outset of public discussion.
“I have previously raised Rosenblatt’s domineering conduct and the superintendent’s manipulation of open public process as governance issues with the superintendent and board,” she wrote. “I believe, in general, the board’s proper role with the loan transaction issue was to assure all information that should be known was known and shared with the public. Some board members assumed defensive roles without full information.”
When officials in public agencies make mistakes, a common problem is to shrink from disclosing what happened and to make the problem worse, she wrote.
“I believed the district was better than this,” she wrote.
Hunkapiller has lived in San Carlos with her husband since 1983. She has two children who graduated from San Carlos schools. Her experience includes journalism work for the Kansas City Star and Los Angeles Times, middle school reading and English teaching, along with work as a school administrator, director of the Charter Schools Division and work with the California Department of Education.
Trustee Adam Rak, who sided with Hunkapiller in wanting a review done on the loan process, expressed his disappointment for her departure.
“I’m disappointed she wasn’t able to finish term, but she’s made her decision,” Rak said. “She’s certainly made her impact. I wish her the best.”
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