California School Fiscal Services
|Posted on August 5, 2014 at 8:00 AM|
One of the most striking things about the governance of American schools is how extremely local it is. [This emphasis on local control might have something to do with having been ruled from afar by a bunch of Germans* at one point.] San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties – where I live and work – are a particularly clear example of this. Both are suburban, densely populated, and overrun with school districts – more than 50, not including County Offices of Education, Joint Powers Authorities and charter schools functioning as their own LEAs. These large numbers of districts come with a whole host of pros and cons, including many opportunities for public involvement. I am in the very beginning stages of one such opportunity – I have joined my district’s Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee.
Back in November, my two-school district passed a $60 million bond for school renovation. I find that a stunning number. I know that schools are big, that Silicon Valley is enjoying a construction boom, and that the Field Act and prevailing wage laws make schools construction far more expensive than commercial or residential building, but, even so, that is a lot of money. What makes it even more amazing to me is this is an amount wholly raised and spent by my local community – which comprises less than half of one of the smaller cities on the San Francisco peninsula. This combination of very large sums of money and very small organizations is one of the unavoidable outcomes of local control, and, with the Governor’s apparent reluctance to support a schools facilities bond, is going to affect more and more of us. Alternatively, our schools will fall down.
The bond oversight committee has yet to meet. We were appointed in June, just before the end of the fiscal year, and the first meeting is supposed to be this month. I have been sent the by-laws, including a list of duties. There are three – to inform the public of the district’s expenditures of bond proceeds, to review the expenditures to ensure they are only for approved uses, and to produce an annual report supporting these conclusions and detailing our activities. There is also a list of activities we are not supposed to engage in, basically any second guessing of the district leadership or Board’s decisions with respect to the construction projects. I have yet to meet the other members of the oversight committee but the parents in my community have been described as being “very involved” to me in the past. Threading the needle between “rubber stamp” and “interfering” with the kinds of “very involved” parents who are sufficiently motived to want to be on this committee seems like quite a challenge, which begs the question “why did I want to be involved?”. Aside from the entertainment value, the best answer I have is that its an opportunity to use my skills and knowledge to help educate my community’s children. Small size, local control and parent engagement – who else does that?
*the monarchs of the United Kingdom were the German House of Hanover from 1714 until 1901.
Categories: School Facilities