Editor,

In the July 14 Daily Journal, Mark Hinkle of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association argued against passage of the South San Francisco Unified School District’s proposed November bond measure. Hinkle used a combination of half-truths and at least one outright falsehood to influence a vote against improving some of the most-critical infrastructure in our communities.

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(8) comments

Mr Fixit

The amount of this proposed bond measure is significant at $430 million plus interest. The question is why should the public trust the SSFUSD to spend these funds appropriately, when they have failed to do so in the past? The public was promised high quality brick and mortar projects. Lower quality modulars were built instead, a step above portables. There was no competitive bidding, with only one company retained (Project Frog) who later turned out to be unqualified. A second contractor (USS Cal Builders) was hired, which had to be terminated by the SSFUSD, resulting in litigation that is still ongoing. There was so much improper spending that most of the staff hired to manage projects left or were terminated, including the Superintendent and project consultant Swinerton. Due to the failure of the SSFUSD to properly monitor spending, incomplete projects resulted in tens of millions in excess costs. Projects were initiated at 16 district sites, which were never formally voted on by the SSF Board of Trustees. How did that happen? It’s a wonder why the San Mateo County Grand Jury has not conducted an investigation into Measure J, regarding the improper expenditure of $162 million (plus interest) of public funds, which taxpayers will be paying for many years.

Terence Y

Calling Mr. Baker… Calling Mr. Baker… Some pertinent questions are going unanswered… Of course Mr. Pollack, instead of cheerleading, you’re also welcome to take a gander at answering some of these questions.

John Baker

"Mr. Fixit" is raising good questions. The reason he is able to list such examples is that an audit — commissioned by an oversight committee of which he was a member — uncovered them, showing both the safeguards in place and giving examples of practices to follow (and not follow). The decisions they listed were made three-10 years before any current board members or upper-level administration were in place. More time that I wanted in my first two years on the board was spent making sure projects got finished, rather than the direct student supports I wanted to work on. In the end, the campuses that did get projects were improved. It’s time to improve the rest, plus add new needs determined in the 11 years since. The contracts from this bond, if passed, will be awarded well after I’ve left the Board, by a team that saw what would result from lax oversight.

Mr Fixit

Dear Mr. Baker:

Yes, these are difficult questions, which you did not answer. Excuses are not answers. No one is pointing fingers at you, your predecessors or staff but the public has a right to know what happened. Before you ask voters for more taxpayer funds, you must explain in detail what happened, including the excess costs to finish Measure J projects. Also, what are the Measure J litigation costs, attorney fees and outcome of the litigation? How much $$$ has the District paid or recovered? How will the SSFUSD establish controls to avoid similar problems in the future?

The SSFUSD recently published a “Facilities Master Plan”, which does not adequately specify the need for a $436 million bond. The first 28 pages details Demographics and Enrollment, but nothing about facilities. The total needs amount on page 31 is plugged in at $858,853,994., but no detail was provided. On page 32 $436 million was plugged in as the "prioritized amount" and repeated on page 33 as the “scope and budget” but again no actual budget or detail. Are you really going to ask the public to vote for a $436 million bond measure and provide no detail specifying exactly where and how the funds will be spent? This is exactly how problems started when $162 million for Measure J was approved. No detail was provided, just a general description. After it was approved spending became a free for all that became out of control. It does appear that history repeating itself. Be advised that we won’t be fooled again.

Terence Y

Sorry, Mr. Baker, I’m still gonna have to go with Mr. Hinkle on this one. Mr. Hinkle’s half of the truth (according to you) of the half-truth is still more convincing to vote against the bond.

John Baker

Of course, Terence. And then, as is your pattern in these comment sections over the last few years, you'll criticize the status of the schools (physical or otherwise) as a reason to not support them. And the pattern will continue and you'll wonder why nothing ever gets fixed.

David Pollack

Word.

Terence Y

Actually, Mr. Baker, if you followed my comments closely, you’d see that I’m all for education, just not the public education provided by California. From numerous metrics, California public education isn’t cutting the mustard (reference also the metrics from Mr. Hinkle’s letter). So yes, I and plenty of others, am against more money for anything related to public education, whether it’s for staff or for infrastructure, until the public education system is run for the benefit of kids, not public administrators or educators. I’m for school choice and school vouchers so parents can obtain the best education for their kids, even if it’s home schooling. If you can fix the public education system for the benefit of kids then criticism won’t be necessary. BTW, perhaps you can educate us on how your school district has spent COVID relief funds (reference the article by John Fensterwald from EdSource in today’s online and print editions) to the benefit of students. And perhaps why some public schools are eliminating accelerated math classes? How is that benefiting our students, especially for those wanting to major in STEM fields?

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