In addition to staff training, a review, timeline and report, a third-party investigator will be hired because of the timing of a money transfer for a $1.3 million home loan given to the San Carlos Elementary School District superintendent.
The board voted 4-0 last night to give direction to its counsel to hire an independent attorney to retain a process-oriented audit of the bridge loan transaction. The transfer of funds for Superintendent Craig Baker’s loan 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, a mistake, Baker said.A more in-depth audit may from a third party could restore the district’s trust with the community, said Trustee Kathleen Farley.
“The public is asking for this,” Farley said. “I have mixed feelings. I don’t want to prolong things though, I just want to get it done just to put the issue to bed and leave no questions.” Other trustees were in agreement with Farley, including Trustee Carol Elliott.
“A lot of people out there don’t have as much information as I do, so I would support this,” Elliott said. “I’m a little bit in the ripping the Band-Aid off camp. I don’t want to leave any doubt.”
The superintendent said he doesn’t see value in adding a third-party investigator since the counsel’s future training program is thorough, but wasn’t opposed to the hire.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to make sure people understand that nothing illegal went on; I just don’t believe you’re going to get anything more from that third party,” Baker said. “I think to be honest, we have let certain people in the community define your (the board) actions since then.”
The issue has gone on for way too long, said board President Adam Rak, adding the third-party investigator could put the issue to rest.One board member responded to his fellow trustees' desire for both a thorough and independent investigation, but also wanted a quick one. He noted that there was a tradeoff in these two goals as an outside investigator, not knowing any of the details, compared to the County Counsel's office, which has already reviewed the process.
“We’re bringing in someone else who knows nothing about us,” Trustee Seth Rosenblatt said. “But I’m going to vote for whatever it is all of you want to do, I’m happy to support that.”
The district had asked the county counsel to present a recommended framework for this review, timeline and report, and took up the question of whether to involve an additional third-party investigator.
In addition, Deputy County Counsel Kathryn Meola, who represents San Carlos, recommended five areas of training: fiscal practices, bond spending procedures, ordering warrants to be paid, best practices for governance and improved communication with the public. The best practices for governance include reviewing closed session acceptable agenda listings, closed session procedure, conflicts of interest and ethics.Training will be for new board members, post-Nov. 5 election. Fiscal training and bond spending and practices would be due in December and January would be for governance training.
A timeline of the events leading up to the loan authorization involves a contract and performance evaluation of the superintendent, timing of the offer and loan funding and a 100 percent hindsight analysis.
Early this month, former board president Beth Hunkapiller went so far as to step down from the board because of the situation. At the same Sept. 26 meeting at which she resigned, the trustees voted 3-2 to approve staff training as a result of the loan. Hunkapiller was dissatisfied with the decision to not go beyond training and wanted a full review and timeline of the loan process.In the past, Baker said for the past couple of years he has been looking at moving from Redwood City to live in the city of which he is superintendent and so his son could walk to school with his friends. The one-year loan, that comes with a 2.65 percent interest rate, has $2,870.83 a month payments. There is also a penalty of 4 percent of the monthly amount due if any payment is made after the 15th of the month in which it is due.
In other board business, trustees discussed the current naming of school facilities policy.Naming facilities after people is a really bad idea, said Rosenblatt. He said it would be insulting to the thousands of amazing contributors to the school district they would be excluding.
“It’s done so infrequently that picking one person is an exclusionary process,” Rosenblatt said. “It’s a monumental waste of time and frankly insulting.”
Elliott was against naming schools connected with commercial products, but still wants to see more input from the community. If the school district were in tough budget times, Rak said it might be good to consider the idea of naming schools after commercial products.
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