Friday, March 14, 2008

territorial fights keep us in business...

GCOE fires shot over WUSD finances
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows – Here we go again.

A letter written by Glenn County Office of Education Business Manager Randy Jones has sparked a new flap between GCOE and the Willows Unified School District.

The letter, delivered to its recipients Thursday afternoon and discussed at the board meeting that night, turned the public forum into a public pile-on the county office, questioning their motives and what they were attempting.

“I’m concerned — disturbed — about the games GCOE is playing,” said Willows Unified superintendant Steve Olmos.

“I find it really frustrating,” said chairwoman Sherry Brott afterwards.

Business manager Steven Rudy was “appalled.”

The letter from Mr. Jones seems on its face ordinary, “written to follow-up on [a] meeting with Steven Rudy Monday,” and containing minutes: recommendations for revising an interim budget report.

But after a heated and detailed explanation by Mr. Rudy, Willows Unified staff and board members saw the memo in a much harsher light.

Mr. Rudy’s first complaint was that Mr. Jones had committed a bureaucratic no-no: going over his head.

Mr. Jones sent the letter to Dr. Olmos, Mr. Rudy’s boss, and the school board, Dr. Olmos’ bosses, without carbon-copying Mr. Rudy.

Mr. Jones, reached later, said he did not send a copy to Mr. Rudy because Mr. Rudy is a consultant and “we work with the board and employees of the board.”

But Dr. Olmos says Mr. Rudy is a regular employee — not a consultant.

The letter arrived Thursday afternoon at 3:30, meaning the first time board members saw it was when they walked in city hall Thursday night for the 7 p.m. meeting.

The short notice may have been partially responsible for the sharp tone.

“When I get something like this, I usually sleep on it,” said Mr. Rudy in a brief lull from GCOE criticism. “It makes me more even-keeled.”

School districts must submit two reports on their finance every year, giving a positive, qualified or negative report. GCOE has a month to review each report.

On Dec. 15, Willows Unified submitted its first interim report. On Feb. 15 — a month late — Mr. Jones sent back a brief review.

While listing seven problems for the district to consider and address, he agreed with the district that “a positive certification is appropriate.”

Mr. Jones called his Thursday assessment an “in-between letter” between his first review on Feb. 15 and an upcoming review.
“Because it’s advisory,” Mr. Jones said, “Glenn County Office of Education has the ability to make comments anytime during the year.”

Except that, according to Dr. Olmos, GCOE hasn’t actually received any new information since Feb. 15; why was the information in this current letter not delivered then?

“They go from positive to negative in three weeks,” he said.

And ‘advisory’ isn’t how board meeting participants think GCOE sees the relationship.

“They see it as adversarial,” said board member Laurel Hill-Ward.

Asked twice about the relationship between the two entities, GCOE’s Mr. Jones explained how it was supposed to work: “the county works cooperatively with the districts,” “bringing issues they need to consider to the board’s attention.”

The third time, he briefly commented about the current situation.

“There’s always room for improvement and we can be more assistive,” he said. “Provided they communicate with us.”

At the school board meeting, there was no such brevity on current disputes. The discussion morphed from complaints from the letter into an re-airing of past complaints about GCOE, lasting over half an hour.

Mr. Rudy’s concerns that the Feb. 15 letter was merely a “rubberstamp” rather than a review led Ms. Hill-Ward to ask: “What are we getting for our money?”

And Ms. Brott tied together as “not professional” behavior Mr. Jones sending this letter above Mr. Rudy’s head, with GCOE superintendant Arturo Barrera carbon-copying letters addressed to the school board to the city council as well.

“I don’t understand why we can’t have a good relationship,” she said.

It’s unclear how much the two entities are talking to each other.

Mr. Jones said he was unable to come to the meeting because of family obligations. Around 30 people were in the room Thursday night — including board member Susan Domenighini, a full-time GCOE employee.

But reached Friday at 3 p.m., Mr. Jones said he had “not heard any information about what happened.”

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