Opinion - Elk Grove Unified Leads by Bad Example

By Richard Michael (California School Bonds Clearinghouse) | October 7, 2016 |  Of the 184 school bonds on November's ballot,...

By Richard Michael (California School Bonds Clearinghouse) | October 7, 2016 | 

Of the 184 school bonds on November's ballot, Elk Grove Unified is the only district where a C.A.S.H. (Coalition for Adequate School Housing) board member, Rob Pierce, is managing district facilities. With that in mind, it sets an example for the school bonds industry. 

Will that example be good or bad?

It didn't start well when the district used public resources to send mailers to promote the bond two months ago (front cover pictured above).

The campaign committee filed its first campaign finance reports at the end of September. It doesn't look good now.

Its required semi-annual report was filed a month late, even though there was no activity to report. It got worse quickly, when the committee started receiving contributions, but failed to file late contribution reports.

Why is all this important? Because it shows not only a complete disregard for the rules of fair play, but also total lack of transparency. While it was supposed to report large contributions as they are received, opponents only found out about $23,500 in contributions two weeks late. In the short bond campaign period, this is a big deal. Knowledge is power, as they say.

Most disturbing, however, is the intentionally deceptive name of the committee - Citizens for Twenty-First Century Elk Grove Schools-Yes on M. Sounds like a grassroots campaign, doesn't it? It's anything but, as much more than 80-percent of its contributions come from businesses that will benefit from a successful bond measure.

Under campaign finance rules, the committee is both controlled by the district and sponsored by the school bonds facilities industry. The rules require that it disclose that information in its name, yet it doesn't. Complaints to the FPPC, if they are made, won't be resolved until after the election has passed and the damage has been done. The district knows that, so it flouts the law and deceives the voters.

Even Proposition 51, the companion state-wide school bonds proposition that is floundering in the polls, has to identify its sponsors. That's why its name is a mile long. This kind of deception wouldn't be tolerated for a state proposition committee.

So who's behind Measure M? The biggest single contributor, Lennar, the huge homebuilder, put up $15,000. It stands to gain millions of dollars in reduced developers fees in the fading hope that both Proposition 51 and Measure M pass. Even if Proposition 51 fails and M passes, however, it can rest assured that the district won't be pressing for level 3 developers fees when it's sitting on $476 million in bond money.

This bad example is repeated at hundreds of school bond committees around the state. The so-called regulators refuse to deal with it in a comprehensive way. After the election, when hundreds of millions of dollars in bond issuing authority have been extracted from unsuspecting voters, any fines, if a complaint is even filed, will be a drop in the bucket and gladly paid.

Rob Pierce (C.A.S.H.) and the Measure M committee both get an F for fair play, integrity, and transparency. They get an A for living down to the low reputation of the school bonds industry. After all, it's not for the kids, it's for the C.A.S.H.

Richard Michael provided extensive testimony to the Little Hoover Commission at its September 22, 2016 public hearing on Proposition 39 bond oversight.

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