Guest Opinion | Board of Education President Larry Torres

Published : Wednesday, September 19, 2018 | 6:13 PM

The work of the Citizens Oversight Committee (COC) is a valued and essential part of oversight of Measure TT bonds approved by voters in our community. However, under the current leadership, the Committee has spent far too much time arguing with staff over minor issues, and its own current and former committee members instead of focusing on the essential function of oversight.

We have removed Quincy Hocutt as chair of the Citizens Oversight Committee. This was done for two reasons: to allow for the Committee’s essential oversight work to refocus on its role and help us move the district forward, and because Mr. Hocutt too often strayed from oversight into advocacy in violation of the COC’s own ethics policies.

The Committee’s role is to review expenditure reports produced by the District and audit firms to ensure that (a) bond proceeds were expended only for the purposes set forth in Measure TT, and; (b) no bond proceeds were used for teacher or administrative salaries or other operating expenses.

The Committee’s role is also to inform the public concerning the District’s expenditure of bond funds. In fulfilling this duty, all official, written communications to either the PUSD Board of Education or the public are to come from the Chair, acting on behalf of the Committee. The Chair only releases information that reflects the majority view of the Committee.

The Committee’s own ethics policy call for Committee members to place the interests of the District above any personal or business interests.

We have made every effort to be responsive to Mr. Hocutt’s work and questions. As part of the COC’s ongoing function, he has asked that the district provide information on issues such as the legitimacy of legal fees being paid from bond proceeds and information about that work.

We have responded to him and will continue to provide the COC with everything necessary to inform their process for accountability on all bond oversight issues. With regard to the administration and use of bond dollars, we believe it is essential to taxpayers that the District retain legal expertise in the complex areas of facility finance and bond transactions.

For the sake of being good stewards of these public funds, the District does not attempt to navigate the huge fiscal complexities of these issues without the advice and guidance of counsel. Like the very best practices of school districts and local governments across California, the bond program possesses budgeted resources for these crucial purposes. Attempting to administer bond programs without solid advice exposes us to inappropriate risks with taxpayer dollars.

It is important to note that PUSD’s Measure TT program has earned the highest level possible rating in annual state-required audits of bond spending for the fiscal year ending June 2016. PUSD bond proceeds are spent in accordance with specific project lists; internal controls are sound.

I recognize that the work of the COC is important and difficult because it ensures that the district remains a good steward of public monies. We value and welcome structures that keep us accountable and that follow the law.

But we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture, and why we are here: to deliver facilities where children can learn and thrive.

We have to return to the core of our work, and work together to ensure that children learn in high quality, functioning facilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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