In 1992, the N-MUSD discovered that Stephen Wagner, its chief financial officer for 21 years, had stolen approximately $3.5 million in school funds, including money for children’s lunches. Wagner put the money in a secret account, then used it to buy a Rolls-Royce, a mink tuxedo and a lot of other stuff that was way out of his $78,000 pay grade.
After the theft was discovered and Wagner went to prison, the N-MUSD established the “Citizens’ Budget Oversight Committee.” I was a founding member.
The committee is still in effect under the name “Citizens’ Oversight Committee,” but it has been relegated to a meaningless status. Today, it is more for show than substance. And there isn’t that much show.
Need proof? Here are a couple of things to start:
1) Over the past 12 years, the committee has met a measly 26 times. That’s an average of about twice a year, or once every 5.5 months.
Here is the number of meetings they have held each year since 2007:
2007 – 2
2008 – 2
2009 – 3
2010 – 3
2011 – 3
2012 – 2
2013 – 3
2014 – 2
2015 – 2
2016 – 1
2017 – 1
2018 – 2
That’s a ridiculously low number of meetings to try to get the arms of a group of outsiders around the most complex component of district business, but that’s not the worst part.
This repackaged committee was officially formed by the unanimous approval of a resolution on October 11, 2005. Section 12.i of that resolution states:
“In accordance with section 4 above, the Oversight Committee shall meet at least quarterly to provide an Annual Report to the Board of Education.”
As you can see, that has not happened.
2) The 2005 resolution was reconfirmed with several key changes by unanimous vote on November 15, 2016. The signor at that time was Trustee Dana Black, then the school board’s President.
The 2005 original committee was mandated to include 25 members, including “One representative from the Board of Realtors” and “One member from the Latino Business Council.”
In a Pilot column at the time, I wrote about the ridiculousness of such a large committee and questioned the inclusion of members from certain specific groups. The Board of Realtors???
Turns out, I was right, though no one on Bear St. will ever admit it. The updated resolution in 2016 has substantially different membership requirements. The language has been changed, and the required representatives – only five this time around – do not include anyone from the Board of Realtors or the Latino Business Council.
They should have kept the Latino Business Council rep.
This committee has a lot on its plate. According to the 2016 version of the resolution, the committee is supposed to:
Wow. See? I told you they had a lot on their plate. Amazing, isn’t it, how they have managed to do all this while meeting an average of only twice a year.
Oh, and did I miss it, or has the committee failed to perform per section (ii) which is to “advise the public as to whether the school district is in compliance with [etc.]”
I don’t recall ever seeing any such advisement.
What to do, what to do…
The district must have an oversight committee. It’s a promise they have to keep. But it is clear that the intent of the committee and the execution of its duties are oceans apart.
Any fiscally-responsible, accountability-minded, transparency-minded school board would elevate the responsibility and visibility of a financial oversight committee to let taxpayers know that their money is being spent the way it was intended.
They would strictly enforce the quarterly meeting rule and demand updates in regular school board meetings.
But we do not have people of that thinking on the current board. Instead, the committee is almost a secret: I have attended most meetings for many years and I cannot recall a single discussion on the work of this committee.
So, what to do? It’s simple: Elect trustees who embrace increased accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.
See? I told you it was easy!
Here’s the link to the district’s web page on the Citizens’ Oversight Committee: