District: ‘Mistakes have been made’

San Mateo’s high school district is ready to move on from a scathing year of criticism this week, by responding to the last of three civil grand jury reports that blasted school leaders and projects.

Tonight, the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trusteesis set to approve its eight-page response to the June 7 report bluntly titled “Fiscal Irresponsibility of the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees,” one of three critical reports released this year. District leaders say completing this report will give the board and district a chance to move past the problems that have plagued them.

“We recognize that mistakes have been made and have vigorously acted to correct them,” said Board President Robert Griffin, in his letter accompanying the response to Judge John Grandsaert. “We intend to take all action necessary to restore the public’s confidence in our ability to be fiscally responsible.”

Among other charges, the report questioned back overtime payments approved by former Superintendent Samuel Johnson, Jr. to a consultant for more than $88,000; a charge that Griffin acknowledges the board allowed without proper documentation and said the district has created a detailed overtime request process to prevent it in the future.

There are also numerous concessions to charges that payments and agreements were made without board approval, including a $25,000 payment to Strategic School Solutions that Griffin says “the board was never aware of.”

Once the response is issued, Superintendent David Miller said the district will set in on the nearly $300 million Measure M construction upgrades project. The first work is already under way, with plans to replace air conditioning and skylights at three high schools. Major renovations and construction are slated to begin in summer of 2009.

“The first thing we’re going to do is learn from the past and not repeat it, and then orderly move ahead and move forward with the construction under Measure M,” Miller said. “We’re ready to return to worrying about education, instead of worrying about lawyers and grand jury reports.”

Miller said another of the district’s efforts — the hiring of a new construction manager to deal with any future projects — will be completed within weeks. The district has interviews with three candidates for the new position scheduled before the end of next week.

Grand jury recommendations

» The San Mateo Union High School District should obtain legal counsel on matters including consulting agreements and labor law compliance among other issues.

» The district should establish clear and comprehensive policies regarding overtime payment and consultant agreements.

» The district and legal counsel should review payments including the $25,000 fee to Strategic School Solutions and uses of Housing Loan Program money.

» Full text of the report is available at www.sanmateocourt.org/grandjury/2006/reports/

jgoldman@examiner.com

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