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Committee named for Measure SA oversight amid controversy

Last-minute switch irks some as nine people selected to oversee Measure SA funds

Posted: March 20, 2009 12:30 a.m.
Updated: March 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
  Nine people were named to oversee $300 million in school-bond funds this week amid claims of backroom politics.

"We have to change the way that we do business," Hart district board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine said, of the selection process. "If this is an example of how we conduct business, then our credibility is down the drain."

Fellow board member Dennis King and Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said the issue is not about openness, but about selecting the right people for the committee that will oversee Measure SA funds.

"I don't know how much more transparent it could be than the discussion we had last night," King said Thursday, referring to Wednesday's Hart district board meeting.

School board members Wednesday night approved nine people to oversee Measure SA funds, $300 million in bond money approved by voters in November.

The bond measure passed after a group of outspoken critics withdrew its opposition. The group, Hart Parents for Reform, said the committee that oversaw Measure SA funding must have more authority than did a committee overseeing funds from a previous bond, Measure V.

Critics said the William S. Hart Union High School District had agreed to their requests for more committee authority. The district says they've met the group's expectations, including its demands for "transparency," including conducting business in public.

The issue over the Measure SA committee arose because an ad hoc committee that selected candidates had named one individual for approval, but in a last-minute switch that person was removed from the list and replaced by a different candidate, Suzan Solomon, before the list went to the school board for approval.

Appointed to the committee were Chris Ball, Tom Cole, Sergio D'Agustini, Michael Hildebrand, Bob Levine, Rod Martin, Barbara Myler, Andy Pattantyus and Solomon.

Board member Patricia Hanrion was absent during Wednesday's board meeting.

The oversight committee receives updates and gives input about Measure SA projects. Members also make sure the $300 million bond money is spent properly.

Local voters passed Measure SA in November 2008.

Board members Gloria Mercado-Fortine and Paul Strickland served on the ad hoc committee with Superintendent Jaime Castellanos, Chief Operations Officer Rob Gapper and Carl Goldman, owner of KHTS-AM 1220. They selected the nine oversight committee members from 13 applicants.

The switch of Solomon in place of a local dentist came after King raised concern when she was not recommended for the committee.

"She wants to be on the committee. She should be on it," King said.

He supported adding more members to the committee as long as everyone was qualified to serve.

Mercado-Fortine believes the discussion about putting Solomon to the committee should have been held during a public meeting.

The committee did not want to appoint Solomon to the committee because if she wins a seat on the Hart district board in November, she would have to step down from the oversight committee, Mercado-Fortine said.

Mercado-Fortine is focused on remaining open with the community.

"I want to be as transparent as possible. That has been my commitment to the community," Mercado-Fortine said. "I'm committing to make sure that this time around, we're transparent, up front with all our business."

Mercado-Fortine said her issue is not with the applicants, but how the selection process went.

"My anger was that this is not the way to conduct business," she said.

Up until Wednesday, the selection committee's meetings were held in private.

"(Wednesday) was our first opportunity to air it in the public," King said.

Castellanos said Solomon's desire to run for the Hart board created an "inherit unfairness" that prevented her from being considered for the oversight committee.

"It's not a transparency issue," he said.

Solomon could not comment on the selection process because she did not take part in it.

For her, it's about making sure kids receive a proper education.

"I care about kids, the school, the community and I have an interest in the kids getting the best education they can," she said.

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