Table of Contents


Administration

Reason for Review

The Grand Jury has jurisdiction to investigate and report on the operations, accounts and records of any special legislative districts or other districts in the County pursuant to Section 925 of the Penal Code.  The review was also conducted as follow-up to the maintenance issues listed in the 1998-1999 and 1999-2000 Grand Jury Reports.

Background

Amador County is one of the few counties in California with a county unified district.  In a county unified district, one school Superintendent and Board of Trustees serve both the school district and the county office of education. 

The Board of Trustees is comprised of seven elected officials, four of whom were newly elected in November of 2000.  The County Superintendent of Schools is an elected office that pays $12 per year.  As there is no incentive to run for the position at this pay, the appointed Superintendent for the Amador County Unified School District (ACUSD) runs unopposed for the position, or the Board of Trustees appoints the District Superintendent to it. 

Prior to July of 1997, the County Office of Education (COE) was very small with little direct involvement with the District student needs.  The COE’s primary function was fiscal oversight for the ACUSD.  A Tri-County Consortium consisting of Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties handled administration of Special Education. 

In July of 1997 Amador County withdrew from the Consortium and the COE assumed responsibility for administration of Special Education.  Currently, the COE is responsible for Special Education, the Community (Court) school and retains the normal oversight duties of a county office of education.  Purchasing, accounting and personnel staff work for both ACUSD and COE.  The ramification of this structure is that the ACUSD/COE administration, from the Board of Trustees down through lower-level staff, has to oversee itself in fiscal and policy issues. 

Money received by both the COE and ACUSD is general or categorical, depending on the source of revenue.  General money is unrestricted in how it can be spent.  Categorical money is restricted as to use, such as safety, reading programs, or tobacco reduction.  Periodically the State will make a special allocation of funds for a limited number of years (one-time monies). 

The Grand Jury is required to identify funding sources for its recommendations, when available.  That is not possible to do where the School District and Office of Education are concerned.  There simply are not any identifiable funds at this time, and projections do not show any alleviation of this condition in the near future.  The recommendations contained herein are made in the spirit of addressing administrative attention to areas that need to receive the highest priorities. 

ACUSD is well known within the tightly knit community of school administrators as a “troubled district.”  The Amador County Unified School District and Amador County Office of Education have operated in a state of financial crisis since 1995.  The State Office of Education, whose representatives, along with other consulting firms, have lent their assistance on numerous occasions over the last six years, has documented this.  These findings of financial peril have achieved prominence during the 2000-2001 fiscal year.  The State Office of Education and the public have expressed grave concerns about the financial state of the district, inadequate salaries, and ongoing labor negotiations.

Methodology

The Grand Jury attended numerous School Board meetings, interviewed staff, reviewed documents, and toured facilities in the process of its investigation.  The following listing represents the research done for both the District/County offices as well as for specific sites. 

Persons interviewed:

Documents examined:

Sites visited:

Facts

1.       Minutes of School Board of Trustees proceedings and the reports from independent advisory bodies indicate that the Amador County Unified School District and County Office of Education have operated in a state of financial crisis since at least 1995.  Consultants since that year have been consistent in their findings of fiscal turmoil.

2.       Administrative staff turnover has been constant for more than five years, with each Superintendent and Business Official bringing with them their own procedures.  Consultants have cited a resultant decline in morale.  The most recently hired Business Official resigned in December of 2000, after less than six months in the position.  The current Superintendent is resigning as of June 30, 2001, after approximately a year and a half in the position.  The most recent in the long list of administrators who have left are the Accounting Manager, a curriculum director, and several site administrators.

3.       The Business Services Division Procedures Manual, which outlines purchasing procedures developed by consultants in 1995 for the ACUSD/ACOE, was not followed or easily located by staff when requested.

4.       Staff has been regularly reimbursed for purchases that circumvent purchasing procedures. 

5.       Goods and services have been purchased and received in one fiscal year with the understanding the vendor was to bill in the next fiscal year.

6.       Staff using personal vehicles for ACUSD/ACOE business is reimbursed for mileage.

7.       Open purchase orders are maintained with businesses where materials are frequently purchased.  These documents encumber a specific dollar amount when approved, and staff is allowed to go to that specific business to procure needed supplies until the amount of the purchase order is reached.

8.       There is no clear delineation between the operations and jurisdiction of the District and the Office of Education.  Some personnel, such as the Chief Business Official, are fully funded by the Office of Education while doing the majority of their work for the District.  Staff was inconsistent in its understanding of the chain of command when interviewed.

9.       The pay for the Business Official and the Superintendent is among the lowest in the State of California.

10.   On June 14, 2000, ACUSD obtained an encroachment permit from the City of Sutter Creek, #017, at no charge to the District during a repair of the sewer line at the Amador High School (AHS).  This permit specified the material with which the project would be completed.  The street has been finished with cold patch instead of asphalt, which does not satisfy the conditions of the encroachment permit.

11.   Information is not distributed in a timely manner, if at all.  There is delay in announcing staff assignments.  The Board does not always receive necessary correspondence or documentation.  Site staff does not consistently receive timely budget updates or other relevant information.

12.   To meet statutory deadlines, ACUSD/COE administration has sent documentation to the State Office of Education prior to receiving Board approval.

13.   There is a lack of continuity in the information presented in the Board packets.  These packets are distributed prior to the meetings of the Board and contain the minutes of the previous meeting, the agenda for the current meeting, and documents pertaining to the business to be conducted.  Items under consideration at one meeting are tabled, with the understanding they would be addressed during the next meeting, and sometimes never reappear, without explanation.  Figures presented as cost reductions in one packet reappear in the next packet substantially changed with no explanation.

14.   Staff reductions voted on by the Board of Trustees are not always enacted.  When questioned about one position that was still staffed after being eliminated, the Grand Jury was told that restricted-use funds had been used to continue paying for the position.

15.   Minutes are not kept for closed sessions of the Board.  While there is no legal requirement for doing so, this practice may make it difficult to recall when items were voted on and what the vote counts were.

16.   The Board of Trustees serves a dual role of District and County Office of Education administration.  This occasionally causes confusion during meetings when an issue before one entity gets taken up during the meeting of the other entity.

17.   Amador County is in a period of declining Average Daily Attendance (ADA), which reduces the amount of revenue.  The District’s Five Year Actual/ Five Year Projected K-12 Enrollment chart shows a decline of 121 students for the period starting in the 1996-1997 fiscal year through the 2000-2001 fiscal year.  This report projects an additional decline of 407 students from the 2000-2001 fiscal year through the 2005-2006 fiscal year.  Forestry revenue, another historically large funding source that was rapidly declining in the County, has been stabilized at its current level by legislation.

18.   A recommendation was made by the 1999-2000 Grand Jury that “The ACUSD should work diligently towards updating and adhering to their adopted Board Policies and Procedures Manual.”  The response from the District was “ACUSD worked with California School Boards Association (CSBA) to update their current Board policies.  The project was begun, but not completed.  Current Board direction is to have a minimum of one policy on the agenda for review.”

19.   In response to the 1999-2000 Grand Jury recommendation that the District evaluate the performance and funding of custodial and maintenance work, the District replied that factors causing the “inconsistent maintenance and custodial care at sites throughout the district” were training, supplies, and staffing.  The solution was a contract with an outside maintenance firm, which was to provide training and supplies.  This contract was an unbudgeted purchase that cost the District approximately $100,000.  The contract was not put out to bid.  Early in 2001, the outside maintenance contract was terminated.

20.   Performance evaluations are not consistently given to ACUSD/COE staff.

21.   Whenever specific funds are insufficient to pay for mandated programs, such as Special Education, the excess cost is paid out of general funds.  This is called “encroaching” on general funds.  When one-time monies are used to fund permanent, ongoing expenses, such as raises or additional positions, these expenses must encroach upon alternative sources or the ongoing expenses must be eliminated when the funding period expires.  For instance, the 10% funding increase provided by the State at the beginning of the 2000-2001 fiscal year is not guaranteed to be ongoing.

22.   Special Education, a County Office of Education function, encroaches on District funds.

23.   ACUSD/COE has a warehouse to receive equipment and supplies.  An inventory of regularly-used supplies is maintained at this site.  The plan is to substantially reduce the warehouse’s receiving and distribution function and have supplies delivered directly to the school sites.

24.   The 1999-2000 Grand Jury recommended the District dispose of obsolete computers.  The District response was that the “Director of Technology will implement a plan to require schools to dispose of unused and outdated equipment during the 2000-01 school year.”  During tours, there was still outdated equipment at sites.

25.   Maintenance personnel have to report to Ione in the morning to receive their assignments.  This can result in a person located in Sutter Creek already equipped to do the job driving to Ione in the morning to be assigned to work in Pine Grove.  Maintenance staff has tools, pagers, and cell phones.

26.   No fixed-asset tracking system is in place.  When school site staff makes purchases of supplies and equipment that are delivered directly to the site, there is no verification of its receipt by Business Office Staff and no ongoing inventory procedure is in place.  Tracking current assets and disposition of surplus and outdated equipment is difficult.

27.   The 1999-2000 Grand Jury recommended the school day be increased from four to six hours at the County Community School.  The District agreed this would be beneficial, but that until the School is relocated and staff “stabilized,” this recommendation is not feasible.  The County Community School was relocated in December of 2000.  The school day remains at four hours.  Current staffing includes a part-time administrator, secretary, a part-time teacher (60%) and a part-time long-term substitute.

28.   Many duplicate programs, such as basic and honors education, vocational, and sports, are being offered at the high school campuses.

29.   The Amador High School site has little room for expansion.

30.   Amador High School’s fire suppression system is inadequate for existing facilities.

31.   Argonaut High School has space available for additional buildings and programs to be developed, but lacks some of the facilities that exist at Amador.

32.   Amador County students do not have equal access to fine arts, vocational, or academic courses.

Findings

1.       There has been a continuous turnover of administrative staff, negatively affecting procedure, efficiency, and morale.

2.       Recruitment for qualified, experienced administrators is hampered by the current pay scale and the District’s troubled reputation.

3.       The District and County Office of Education are financially and physically intermingled.  The lack of clear delineation in both funding and positions makes it impossible to accurately track or separate the budget between each entity for either staff or facilities.

4.       There is dissatisfaction among site staff and Board members with the amount and timeliness of information being disseminated through the District Office.

5.       The lack of continuity and documentation in the Board packets causes confusion for its intended audiences.

6.       The Board packets and minutes show a lack of continuity in the meetings and procedures of the Board of Trustees.

7.       Operating procedures for the Business Office have been developed and available since 1995.  These procedures are not followed consistently and the Manual is not being updated to reflect the needs of the ACUSD/COE.

8.       The Board of Trustees is not updating or adhering to the Board Policies and Procedures Manual.  While the current Board direction is to have a minimum of one policy on the agenda for review, the Board does not follow this at each meeting.

9.       The contract with the outside maintenance firm in place during most of the 2000-2001 fiscal year was established without competitive bidding, was an unbudgeted expense, and resulted in little benefit when minimal training was received.

10.   Purchases made on personal credit cards cloud the issue of ownership of the property purchased.  Personal credit cards have also been used to circumvent purchasing procedures.  There is the potential for personal reward for using improper business practices, as when such personal credit cards have airline miles or cash-back rewards attached.

11.   Maintenance and transportation staff has stated its belief that it takes days to weeks to get an emergency purchase order, which increases the temptation to circumvent proper purchasing procedure.

12.   Mileage reimbursements paid to staff members who regularly travel throughout the County on ACUSD/COE business using personal vehicles have been as high as several hundred dollars per month.

13.   The lack of a fixed-asset tracking system makes accountability for equipment and surveying of old equipment difficult.

14.   Using one-time monies for ongoing expenses can lead to a state of insolvency.

15.   Sites do not receive relevant budget information in a timely manner.

16.   Improved communications procedures for maintenance personnel could greatly improve staff efficiency and reduce transportation and maintenance costs.

17.   The County Community School has been relocated, but the school day remains at four hours.

18.   The County Community School has a long-term substitute teacher and no replacement has been announced for the retiring principal.

19.   Some programs cannot be offered on one high school campus or the other due to lack of facilities or funding.

20.   Duplicate programs and staffing at the high schools incur additional cost for the District that it may not be able to afford.  The cost of these duplicate programs reduces the funds available for additional vocational, fine arts, and academic programs.

Recommendations

1.       Evaluate ACUSD/COE staff at least annually.  Performance evaluations are an integral part of staff development and allow for advancement of qualified personnel within an organization.

2.       Establish a written organizational plan that clearly defines the split of function, personnel, and funding between the ACOE and ACUSD.  This plan should clarify the oversight responsibilities of the Office of Education for the School District.

3.       Do not allow use of personal credit cards for any items that can be obtained through the normal purchasing procedure.

4.       Follow established timelines for statutory State filings to allow for Board approval prior to submission. 

5.       Ensure that the Board coordinates with the Superintendent to clearly establish the items to be included in each upcoming Board packet.

6.       Ensure that the Board comes to an agreement at each meeting about what items it wishes to have included in future Board packets.

7.       Institute an email list of the School Board agenda and attachments, similar to that of the Amador County Board, to save time and money.

8.       Evaluate the feasibility of splitting the combined Superintendent position into an ACUSD Superintendent and a COE Superintendent, and the Board into separate ACUSD/COE boards.  Consider establishing a ACUSD board of five members and a COE board of three.  This will more clearly establish the different responsibilities of the ACUSD and the COE and assist in much-needed fiscal oversight.

9.       Review current Business Office operating procedures to determine if they are consistent with the current Procedures Manual.  Adopt appropriate changes and follow all procedures.

10.   Do not circumvent open purchase orders and strictly limit them monetarily.

11.   Create an emergency purchase order process to reduce the necessity of reimbursements for credit card or cash purchases by staff members.  Uniformly train business office, maintenance, transportation, and site staff in proper procedures for obtaining all types of purchase orders.

12.   Evaluate current mileage reimbursement costs.  Consider the cost effectiveness of providing vehicles to personnel receiving regular reimbursements.

13.   Implement a fixed-asset tracking system to insure accountability for all equipment.  A centralized receiving area should be responsible for maintaining the tracking system. 

14.   Do not use one-time monies to incur continuing expenses.

15.   Be sure managers and site administrators know how much money is in their respective budgets at the beginning of the fiscal year and that they receive monthly updates. 

16.   Develop a more efficient method of assigning maintenance work tasks.  This might include calling staff with work assignments for the next workday. 

17.   Expand the school day at the County Community School to six hours. 

18.   Address the long-term substitute and other staff issues affecting County Community School staff stability.  Consider using a teaching principal and a full-time teacher to adequately staff the facility without incurring significant additional expense. 

19.   Evaluate having one high school with two campuses to provide maximum academic and vocational opportunities for County students with less redundancy of programs, therefore less cost. 

Response Required

As required in Section 933.05 of the Penal Code,  the Superintendent of ACUSD/COE or a person acting in that capacity must respond to each finding and recommendation in the manner indicated on page one of this report