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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 10th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 31

The Santa Maria-Bonita school board drama continues

BY AMY ASMAN

The Oct. 3 school board meeting for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) was more subdued than some meetings past, but officials and community members alike still had plenty to say.

During the public comment period, three individuals got up to speak, including former SMBSD student Joseph Goldin and his father Glenn Goldin, chairman of the committee to recall board member Will Smith.

Joseph spoke out against Smith: “I’m a proud former student from the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. I attended school here from Kindergarten through eighth grade,” he said. “I was lucky to have some great teachers and am very grateful of the education I received. So I don’t appreciate what board member Will Smith is trying to do to this district. And I must say I that I am appalled by his actions.”

Joseph referred to an announcement made by district staff at the last board meeting that Smith has cost the district $864,000 in attorney fees since he was elected to the board. That money, he said, could have hired more teachers and classified workers, or funded more facilities and school supplies.

As Joseph spoke, audience members held up brightly colored neon signs with “$864,000” printed on them.

In his comments to the board, Glenn focused his attention on Michael Kon, a former school district employee running for the school board.

Citing documents he received via a public records request—which he also disseminated to the public and media—Glenn revealed that Kon failed to report on an application to work for the district that he was convicted of a misdemeanor for bookmaking. Kon worked as an assistant principal at Arellanes Junior High School for six months in 2008.

In an interview with the Sun, Kon said he didn’t list the misdemeanor because he believed it had been “dismissed” and he didn’t have to disclose it on applications.

“When the district approached me about it, I admitted it. And I’ve disclosed it in every application since,” he said. “That was a time in my life when my father was dying of cancer. And was it a poor choice? It sure was.”

Kon said some friends of his had asked him to answer phones at an office building in the Central Valley. The Sun was unable to obtain additional information about the charge as of press time.

District officials documented in memos other issues they had with Kon, which Glenn discussed at the meeting.

According to the memos, Kon took multiple personal phone calls during school hours. His supervisors said he failed to investigate discipline issues on campus. Parents reportedly requested not to meet with Kon because, the memo states, “they felt that their child was being treated unfairly, as he would threaten to suspend and/or expel the student for small incidences.” Additionally, the district was going to suspend Kon for misusing a computer during work hours, but Kon quit before the notice was sent out.

According to the memo, “If M. Kon was still an employee of the district, he would be serving a suspension for this misconduct.”

When asked about the incidents documented in the memos, Kon said he investigated discipline issues thoroughly. He also said he felt Arellanes Junior High School principal Patty Grady discriminated against him based on his gender, for which he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint was investigated and dismissed.

Despite his difficulties with the district, Kon said he “has no axe to grind with the district.”

“What happened to me is behind me. I’ve moved on,” he said. “My children and the children of my community are my first priority.”

Action items in the school board meeting included a resolution to amend the district’s local agreement for child development services because of budget cuts.

The district’s director of curriculum Stephanie Miller informed the board that, due to budget cuts, the district had to start charging a fee for preschool attendance. The fee, she said, is implemented on a sliding scale based on income and family size, with the maximum payment being approximately $3.25 per day.

Smith asked if there is any aid available to families who were unable to pay the fee. Miller said there isn’t financial aid available, but that the fee can be waived if families can prove they pay for child-care services from an additional provider.

“So the $864,000 [Smith is said to have cost the district] we could have done a lot more with,” Oliver responded.

After applause from the audience subsided, Smith responded: “With the $40 million we blew on the buildings, we could have got a lot more, so I’m not worried about that.”

In a follow-up e-mail to the Sun, Smith said the $40 million he referred to was the amount of money, plus interest, the district took out in loans (or certificates of participation) to pay for school construction.

When the Sun called the district to confirm this figure, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Matt Beecher said the district owes approximately $23 million in outstanding loans, plus another $10 million in interest, from projects dating as far back as 1991. Beecher said the district has been audited repeatedly by the Office of Public School Construction and hasn’t received any correspondence expressing concerns over finances. A list of construction projects shows 16 have been audited and closed; there are seven projects that still need to be audited.

“We will successfully close out all of our projects,” Beecher said. “It doesn’t take an expert to look around and see all of the schools we’ve built with that money.”

Beecher said he told the auditors during their last visit several years ago, “You’ve provided us money to create an educational environment and you’re standing in an educational environment.”