Recruitment lags for school bond oversight panel

One of the six Measure M banners that appeared in town last week.

The Hollister School District’s citizens oversight committee for a recently approved bond has just one member, OK’d by the board Tuesday, but the district will start receiving the money next month and staff officials want to break ground on related projects this summer.
Trustees this week discussed whether to make Judy Johnson the first—and lone—member of the committee and questioned whether the district could spend bond funds with such a small group in place.
“I would encourage you to ratify the one citizen that you have on your citizen oversight committee but I wouldn’t call a citizen oversight a committee of one,” said resident Ray Rodriguez during public comment.
Voters in November approved the Hollister School District’s Measure M, a $28.5 million general obligation facilities bond to fix leaky roofs, upgrade classrooms and improve campus security. A citizens oversight committee, required by the state, was promised in the bond language.
The bond came about five months after the San Benito High School District asked the community to approve Measure G—a $42.5 million general obligation bond to upgrade classrooms and facilities—supported by voters in June.
During public comment, Rodriguez, the board of trustees’ president for San Benito High School, questioned whether the elementary school district could spend bond funds with an oversight committee of one.
While the elementary school district is still scrounging for members, Rodriguez’s district approved six people to its oversight committee in mid-January.
He added that the public often confuses the elementary school district with the high school one. This means the actions taken by either district could affect how the community responds to the groups’ future requests for bond money.
For school districts that use a section of the California Constitution to allow a 55 percent majority to pass a bond, state education code mandates that the district appoint an independent citizen’s oversight committee, according to the agenda packet report.
The committee should consist of at least seven members including a person active in the business community, someone from a senior citizens’ organization, a parent or guardian of a child enrolled in the school district, an active participant in a parent-teacher organization and one a member of a taxpayers’ organization.
The board approved Johnson, who represents a senior citizens’ organization, as the committee’s first member and has a second candidate pending. The committee can’t include district employees, according to the packet.
Superintendent Gary McIntire clarified that the purpose of the committee is to ensure bond dollars are spent on items identified on the bond’s project list, not to scrutinize if the district got the best deal on a particular building or contract.
“I’d be very happy to get a legal opinion,” he said.
McIntire had secured a legal opinion earlier and heard “we need to make every effort to establish a citizens oversight committee, which we’ve done” before staff began spending bond money, he said.
Hollister School District Board President Ben Flores asked to see the legal advice the district had received.
In an effort to secure members, the district advertised in the local newspaper, placed a notice on its website, sent out two general letters to members of the seven required groups and asked principals to speak with their parent clubs, McIntire said.
Staff officials also reached out to the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau where McIntire is a district representative, the San Benito County Business Council and the Hollister Downtown Association, the superintendent said in an interview with the Free Lance on Friday morning.
“This I don’t think is an unusual issue for school districts,” McIntire told trustees during the meeting.
Trustee Pat Moore suggested the district try a more personal approach since general letters can easily be ignored.
“You need to court some members of the organizations,” said Trustee Pat Moore. “You know, pick one or two that seem like they might be interested.”
Trustee Peter Hernandez also suggested each board member could reach out to three members of the community and ask them to join the committee.
Trustees emphasized the importance of having a citizens oversight committee to give the public transparency. But the superintendent added that if the district makes “every effort” to get committee members and can’t, it still needs to proceed with the promised bond work.
“If we don’t have a citizens oversight committee and can’t do any projects I don’t think the citizens would be very supportive of that,” he said.


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