“Construction projects spiraling tens of millions of dollars over budget, outside consultants being paid for work already done by staff and $600 in car-wash charges for a car that never got washed – those are just a few of the scathing findings in an Alameda County civil grand jury report on the troubled Oakland Unified School District,” columnist Phil Matier wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle.
“The Board of Education has known about these things for years and done nothing,” said Raymond Souza, a grand jury member who helped write the report.
The car wash waste came to light when an employee filed a complaint about $600 that a division in the facilities department paid for car washes. “This raised a red flag because the small department had only one vehicle,” the grand jury report said.
“And to top it off, the car was never washed,” Matier wrote.
The grand jury reported that when asked about the spending, “the department’s leader responded that these spending decisions ‘could be improved,’” but no disciplinary action was taken.
Other problems uncovered by the grand jury:
“The Oakland school board was forced to hit the brakes on nine building projects after being told in August that cost overruns had climbed to $160 million, including $51 million for a new academic building, a wellness center, new gymnasium, football and soccer stadium at Fremont High School, and $12 million for a new campus for Glenview Elementary School.”
A plan to overhaul the district’s central kitchen was supposed to cost $23.2 million, but increased to $41.8 million before the district fired the contractor. The district paid the contractor an additional $5 million in “go-away money,” Matier wrote.
Last year, the district paid $334,500 for a consultant to monitor compliance with its own local-hiring policy. The consultant used information provided by district staffers to prepare reports for the school board.
In one internship program, of the 11 high school students selected for paid intern positions, three were the children or relatives of the interview panelists, including the child of the district employee managing the program. The interns spent the summer working with an outside contractor who worked with the district. The contractor charged the district for the costs of the program, including the students’ wages, then added a markup for administrative services.
A grand jury member noted that the school district board is an elected body, “so Oakland voters ultimately share responsibility as well.” (Source: San Francisco Chronicle, June 30.)