By Rita Loof
Prior to my election to the San Bernardino County Board of Education, I made a pledge to my constituents that I would advocate for greater transparency and accountability. I was attempting to do just that on Monday, January 6, 2020 when the annual audit of the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools was presented to the board for review, which is required under the Education Code. I was dismayed and shocked to hear the board president state that she was going to limit the amount of time that I would have to ask questions of the auditor to 15 minutes. The county board does not have a policy to limit board member questions and in the many years I have been attending county board meetings, I have never seen such a practice. I managed to ask two questions of the auditor, who is supposed to be an independent entity. She quickly told me that my questions related to documents management had put together and that her firm only wrote two pages of the report.
At least one of my questions was answered, namely, the report does not encompass all of the functions of the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools. It only deals with the internal business services department. I was told that my questions should have been submitted to staff prior to the meeting, but we only get the report two business days ahead of the meeting, so there is very little time to ask staff any questions. I took time away from my family to review the report over the weekend to be ready for the Monday meeting and do the best job I could for the people of San Bernardino County. I had pages with sticky notes on it and a list of questions which remain unanswered. As elected officials, aren’t we supposed to deliberate and discuss issues in public, not behind the scenes? I am starting to get the feeling that certain elements do not welcome questions and prefer to keep elected officials uninformed and as rubber stamps, which I am unwilling to do.
I do not believe the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools audit report was reviewed by the board as intended under the Education Code. I, for one, did not even get the opportunity to ask most of the questions I had. The audit issue has been a longstanding one for the constituents I represent in the West End, as for many years they have complained that the West End Special Education Local Plan Area (WESELPA), with a budget of over $200,000,000 has never conducted any audits. In response to calls from community members for the agency to conduct an audit as mandated under a federal grant program specifically required under the contract, the WESELPA chose to decline re-applying for the grant rather than performing the audit. It was a $2.1 million grant, which provided services to students with disabilities. For all the talk of how children with disabilities are such high cost, the West End Special Education Local Plan Area can afford to turn away $2.1 Million? And what kind of skeletons are in its closet that WESELPA would rather turn away a couple of million dollars than perform a legally required audit? It should be noted that the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools is the employer of record of the WESELPA staff.
The bottom line is that an audit of over $458 million of our county tax dollars was “reviewed” with little or no questions asked. I certainly did not get the opportunity to ask the many questions I had. These are the questions I planned to ask had I been given the opportunity:
–Page (x)—Expenses, “General Administration” has increased by $6.65 million, why?
–Page (xi)—Figure 7; 33% of funds listed as “Other Outgo”; what’s included in that category?
–Page 3—“Community Services” have increased by $4.5 million; what do those consist of?
–Page 17—CAHELP, what does it do? Who are the members and how does it “provide for the administration of a special education service region” to implement mandated special education programs?
–Page 38– Which funds are used for legal services such as lawsuits against children with disabilities paid out of?
–Page 42—Why is there $21 million listed as “tuition,” given the fact that public schools do not charge tuition?
–Page 56—Workability I, $2.1 Million; is WESELPA included?
–Page 58- $66, 076,586 in federal awards; what is the breakdown by SELPA and how are the other SELPA funds audited?
–Page 58– $17,439,410 in Medical “Administrative” activities; how is the money being spent?
–Page 74—The auditor identified “Significant deficiency (ies)” for internal controls over financial reporting; please explain why.
I urge you as concerned citizens to demand accountability and transparency of your government. Let your representatives on the board know how you feel.
Rita Loof is the elected board member on the San Bernardino County Board of Education, representing Area B, which encompasses the school district areas of Upland, Central, Alta Loma, Etiwanda, Mt. Baldy Joint, Ontario and Montclair.
By Rita Loof