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Guest Opinion | David Coher: No Oversight Means No on O

Published on Wednesday, October 21, 2020 | 6:12 am
David Coher

Measure O gives PUSD $500 million for facilities and programs. Giving our schools support is essential, but effective oversight is critical for public support and PUSD’s history of failed oversight shows that Pasadena Unified must be reformed, first. Today’s standard of limited oversight by insiders is not enough; our schools and our children deserve better.

If Measure O looks familiar to you, that’s because you may remember Measure TT, a 2008 initiative that requested $350 million for PUSD facilities. The oversight for those hundreds of millions of dollars has been a failure, and Measure O is on-track for the same exact thing.

Then, like now, we were promised a Citizen’s Oversight Committee, consisting “of [nine] to 15 members, who are appointed by the Board of Education and are drawn from among the [Pasadena community].” Today, the Measure TT “Oversight Committee” only has five members – one-third of what was promised when they originally came to the voters – and one of those Committee members works for another Committee member’s consulting business. What a smart way to get yourself two votes – put your own employee on the Committee with you!

Incredulously, the Measure O authors then go on to claim that to, “be sure every dollar is watched over and well-spent, Measure O includes a rigorous Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee.” But, there is no risk of the District’s Board ever ‘losing’ a vote of the Committee, as they simply fire those who dare to even question them.

In 2018, when Measure TT Committee members asked too many questions about how the $350 million taxpayer dollars were being doled out, they were immediately fired. At the time, the School Board Chair jaw-droppingly declared that Committee members must, in his words, “place the interests of the district above any” other. Aren’t the District’s interests the best interests of the students and teachers? Apparently, they are not.

At the time, one Committee member didn’t get the memo that this was a rubber stamp – not an Oversight Committee – and dared to publicly disagree with a PUSD Board member on an unrelated political issue – exercising his Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech. He, too, was immediately removed from the Committee.

With such close relationships, insider-dealing, and the threat of being fired for any transgression against the school bureaucrats, how can anyone take the claims of oversight seriously? They can’t. And, teachers, our kids, and our community are left without the schools we need and deserve. As much as we can agree with the need to support our school district’s facility needs, that’s not what Measure O is – it’s a blank check for a School District in need of reform.

David Coher is the former Chair of the Pasadena Planning Commission and a resident of Pasadena. The opinions expressed do not represent the official position of the City of Pasadena or its Planning Commission.

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