By Lori Riegel, MJEd
If you attend TUSD Governing Board meetings, or watch the video live stream, you will notice an anomaly called the “consent agenda.” A consent agenda at any other form of board meeting, such as at a board of directors meeting for a nonprofit, would include items of information presented for a board to vote on for approval that don’t require individual examination of each item, which are voted on as one unit, instead of individually. These items might include accepting the minutes of the previous meeting, along with the report of the communications chair, to name a few examples.
The consent agenda at a TUSD Governing Board meeting, however, is atypical, with dire consequences, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars that could have been used for teacher salaries or instructional spending. For example, the June 14, 2016 meeting’s consent agenda had 45 items on it, which were voted on as one collective unit, instead of a vote on each individual item. Of those 45 items, 38 involved expenditure of funds.
Examining the 38 items that involved expenditure of funds, which were lumped together for a simple “yes / no” vote, there was one item in particular that was curious. Item “k,” Approval to Use Cooperative Contracts for Procurements $250,000 and Above, which is just one item of 45 being voted on as a single unit, contained 40 large contracts! Added together, this single item totaled $52,816,608.80! There was a wide variety of vendors on the list of contracts, including Home Depot, Hewlett Packard and…. Lo and Behold… Educational Services, Inc. (ESI) for a $21,337,924.12 contract.
A link to the entire consent agenda for that meeting is below:
Interestingly, at two governing board candidate forums last week, when I read the amounts of those contracts out loud, from the agenda items that I printed out from TUSD’s website, board candidate Cam Juarez continually asked for the sources of my numbers, implying that I had manipulated data to come up with those numbers. I find this highly curious as the data came from agenda items that he had already voted on, which are available for the public to look at on TUSD’s website. Also curious is a board member not remembering having voted on these items with such large dollar amounts attached to them.
Most curious, however, is the lack of detail about any of these items in the minutes for this meeting. Most governing board meeting minutes contain detail on which actions were approved. The minutes for this meeting, however, do not contain such detail. It’s almost as if the approval of the contracts in the consent agenda, including the $21 million dollar contract for ESI was intentionally hidden from the minutes. Curious indeed. Link to minutes is below:
On most boards, the duties of keeping the agendas and minutes accurate and updated falls to the board secretary, or in the case of TUSD, the board “clerk.” This position is held by Kristel Ann Foster, who accepted a large donation from a high-level executive at ESI, shortly after approving the contract, which is missing from the meeting minutes.