Some at the March 28 Santa Clara Unified school board meeting may have been puzzled by a public comment by Bracher parent April Spurgiez. “In the interests of transparency,” she said, “if and when school board members decide to develop correspondence intended for the school board, but which goes out under the name of another individual, that the writer identify him or herself as the writer of such document.”
What she was talking about is email sent last month to district and county board of education officials by two parents questioning the district’s handling of money and credit cards. The WEEKLY received several copies of these emails from separate sources.
One dated Feb. 20 – subsequently retracted – questioned a Cabrillo school checking account, which was used to deposit money from a fundraiser and disburse it to the PTSA. The parent who sent the email did so after discussing his concerns with SCUSD Trustee Chris Stampolis.
The account was a regular district account, and, as was subsequently clarified, the money had to go through the district because the PTSA’s insurance didn’t cover the event. Underlying the issue was a feeling by some PTSA officials that all of the fundraiser’s revenue should go to the organization, rather than being split 50-50 with the school, according to background discussions with several corroborating sources.
A second email, dated March 1, demanded an exhaustive accounting of SCUSD credit cards – who has them, what they’re used for, statements, and copies of all district credit card procedures. Some have suggested that Stampolis advised on this. However, it was sent to all the board members and Stampolis said he printed it out for the March 8 meeting simply because all the board members hadn’t received the email.
In light of this correspondance, at the March 14 board meeting one member of the public questioned Trustee Ina Bendis’ motive when she objected to trashing 14 pallet loads of old paper records – roughly 40 4-drawer file cabinets – saying, “I believe there is someone on the board who seems to be on some kind of witch hunt. [Someone] that wants to go through 14 pallets of credit card information.”
The records disposal was part of the consent calendar – an umbrella that allows public boards to group routine items in a single resolution. Members can ask to remove items from a consent calendar, and Bendis requested that the records disposal be discussed separately.
The records in question are a miscellany – child nutrition program, insurance invoices, payroll timesheets, credit card statements, inventory reconciliations – and, by law, don’t need to be kept past the time they’re relevant to an annual audit (in this case, July 2012).
“There were things that I would call financial records,” Bendis said at the meeting. “There are things that the board has not resolved that may require access to records, so I think in…reasonable caution it’s best not to destroy those records until we have concluded our deliberations on those issues.” At one point in the conversation, Trustee Jim Canova asked pointedly if Bendis intended to personally “climb through” the records.
The district staff said the records aren’t financial, but Bendis said that it was reasonable to think otherwise. “For me credit card records are financial records because they show what was purchased and what was paid, and who signed the checks,” she said. “Payroll shows how much money someone was paid, so that if there were any concerns that they were paid more than the salary scale that’s published…that would be shown.”
On the face of it, none of this may seem unreasonable – especially considering that an audit by the County Board of Education last summer found “irregularities” in bookkeeping services the district provides for two outside agencies (www.santaclaraweekly.com/2012/Issue-41). But Bendis’ remarks were received with public suspicion because she has a history of accusing district staff and board colleagues of improper behavior.
In a March 2012 email to the County Office of Education, she accused former City Manager Jennifer Sparacino and Superintendent Bobbie Plough of collusion to undermine the district’s interests in the dissolution of the Santa Clara redevelopment agency. Bendis also called then-Board President Elise DeYoung a “co-conspirator” in the “fraud” with Plough. The County Office of Education apparently didn’t see any merit in these accusations, and approved Plough’s appointment without further comment.
At subsequent meetings during the summer, Bendis and yet-to-be-elected Stampolis questioned the appointment of Santa Clara Civil Service Commissioner and then-candidate for City Council Mohammad Nadeem and former SCUSD board member and president Pat Flot to bond oversight committees. The implication of the questions was that these opportunities were not being advertised or promoted to the broader public so they could go to district insiders.
During that time Bendis also filed a police complaint against Flot, alleging that Flot had threatened to shoot her and demanding the police search Flot’s home for weapons. The police found the complaint groundless. (www.santaclaraweekly.com/2012/Issue-40)
And the 14 pallets of dead records? They were continued to a future meeting.
Board meeting agenda reports and recordings are at www.santaclarausd.org/overview.cfm?subpage=145153.