Jose Fernandez, Supt. of the Centinela Valley School District, has just been charged with a dozen counts of corruption. From the news story:

“Prosecutors say he manipulated the school board and its policies to dramatically increase his pay, and unlawfully created supplemental retirement programs to benefit himself.”

Among other illegal activities, Fernandez is accused of burying a 910,000 home loan in the Consent Calendar.

The Consent Calendar is a batch of items on which school boards – ours included – votes as one. I have written many times that I doubt that most of the trustees know what they are approving or why and simply go along with staff recommendations. As we see from the Centinela example, this is no way to be operating.

Here’s the private sector example: Let’s say you are the president or owner of the World Wide Widget Corp. Each month, when it’s time to pay your bills, the CFO gives you a long list of payables – things like the water bill, electricity, lease payment, etc. It’s a big list that you don’t have time to pore over. But you trust the CFO and so you approve whatever is handed to you and the CFO goes off and signs the checks.

That method of operation is an invitation to fraud and/or increased overhead and you’d be out of business in no time flat.

But for the school board, it’s standard operating procedure. The trustees don’t scrutinize the accounts payable because:

  1. a) They trust the staff
  2. b) They have neither the time nor the desire to investigate this minutia
  3. c) It’s not their money so if something goes wrong, there is no personal financial loss and no risk of being fired

In other words, there is no accountability for anything, anywhere

Where is the accountability for paying for Deputy of Finance or whatever he was called Paul Reed not to retire? When Reed left, the district moved Jeff Trader into his place and by the comments coming from the dais, it seems as though he is doing an excellent job.

The district didn’t need to pay Reed to retire. So why did they? See the three items above. And who will be held accountable for spending tens of thousand of tax dollars on this? No one.

The worst enemy of any organization is complacency. If you are complacent, you don’t care. Complacency creates sloth, errors, and opens the door to competition. But there is no threat of competition to the district so they don’t really care about that part. And their budget is guaranteed each year so they never have to worry about spending.

Unfortunately, complacency is exactly what taxpayers have from the current trustees. You can see it in the major foot-dragging to fix the stink at Estancia, in the failure to include Costa Mesa’s Westside in the three public hearings that have been scheduled to receive community input regarding draft boundary maps for new trustee zones, and in the failure to address the problems with Swun Math when they first appeared years ago.

Complacency sets in for several reasons, some of them personal, some professional. People may become complacent because they have been doing the same job for too long and are bored. They may become complacent because there is no supervisor inspiring them to higher levels of performance. They may become complacent because there is no consequence to their indifference, i.e., no accountability.

There are other reasons, but it doesn’t really matter – complacency is bad.

I have consulted for a number of complacent organizations across the country. In each case, it has been my observation that the least expensive and most effective way to end complacency is to get rid of the people who are complacent.

As the headline stated, just sayin’.

Steve Smith

N-MUSD Taxpayer