Photo by Tom Cheah

$149 million infrastructure improvement bond lacks sufficient oversight

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From the dilapidated hallways of the IA buildings to the urinal that floods in the E-building, San Gabriel High School (SGHS) undoubtedly needs infrastructure work, considering that the school is over 60 years old. Luckily, Measure HS, a bond that that recently passed, can generate up to $149 million for classroom repairs, asbestos and lead paint removal, and classroom and science lab upgrades for all high schools in the Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD). Despite the potential of Measure HS, a further examination of the bond’s language questions the affirmative vote due to the accountability issues it presents.

If the bond is implemented, there is no guarantee that the promised products will be delivered. According to the bond text itself, projects “may be delayed or may not be completed.” This clause is problematic because it allows for unrealistic goals and may further stagnate infrastructure. If the District is unable to fulfill all of its goals due to financial issues, this bond is effectively a waste of money, as it will incur a $280 million debt.

Supporters may argue that the “independent Citizens Oversight Committee” will keep the AUSD on track, so uncompleted projects will not be an issue. This may be true. Oversight is beneficial to keep the District accountable. However, this committee must follow California Education Code section 15278, which stipulates that the school board will appoint the committee’s members.

Several board members have explicitly supported this bond, which is normally not a problem. However, the board is acting as judge, jury, and executioner. Even though the board put the bond on the ballot in the first place, the potential for cronyism, conflicts of interest, and selections of “Yes-men” for this oversight committee is possibile. It is uncertain that the board will choose a balanced committee.

Moreover, the selection of a previous Citizens Oversight Committee raises some eyebrows. Just eight years ago, the bond committee was headed by a community member, who was charged 20 years ago with embezzlement of over $31,000 from the Alhambra Police Officers’ Association. Despite the misgivings of hiring a felon, there is probably “no prohibition preventing ex-felons serving in public appointment positions, or even holding public office” according to attorney Kelly Aviles, vice president of Open Government Compliance of Californians Aware.

When we asked about the employers of the other previous oversight committee members, the AUSD bond consultant said via email that this information was “irrelevant.” Yet, according to Aviles, “the law requires the [Board] to fill certain categories of members,” and thus “the law presumes that the company they worked for would be disclosed.” Ensured transparency by the District is questionable here.

Overall, this bond can be beneficial. However, the questionable accountability could bar Measure HS from achieving its full potential. In order to improve the oversight aspect, the Citizen Committee Board should be voted in by AUSD’s constituency. This is the best way to ensure an impartial and balanced assessment of District’s achievement. Until then, that urinal in the E-building will continue to terrorize SGHS.

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