By Emily Sorensen
School board members were both apologetic and defiant at Monday night’s special meeting.
The meeting, which presented the independently investigated report commissioned by the board in August of 2012, featured ESI International, Inc., investigator Robert Price, who worked on the report, answering the board’s questions about the report and its findings.
Former board member Jeff Mangum and his committee presented copies of his own investigative report to the board, saying the consensus was that the board was not fully informed during the bond negotiations and sale, and should have independent advisers in the future. (See related story).
Board members also gave personal statements regarding the bond issue, taking responsibility for their actions but remaining firm that they issued the bonds for the right reasons, to modernize older schools in the district in order to give all district students an equal education.
“I take full responsibility for the decisions I made while sitting on this school board, including the Proposition C, Series B bonds. I’m not going to skirt that,” said board vice president Todd Gutschow. Gutschow also defended those same decisions, saying that he believed that the district and the board acted appropriately by ensuring the modernization of the 24 schools that were remodeled using bond funds. “People want to live in Poway because of the schools,” said Gutschow.
Gutschow also said, however, that the terms of the Series B bonds, often referred to as capital appreciation bonds, or CABs, disappointed him, and that while the investigative report validated that the board did not act illegally, he said that with the benefit of hindsight, “we should have asked more questions, and probed deeper.”
Board clerk Penny Rantfle, echoing Gutschow’s claims of responsibility for her decisions, said that she stood by her decisions to improve PUSD schools. “That’s not to say we couldn’t have done better,” said Rantfle. “Things will be done differently in the future.”
Board member Andy Patapow said he was “delighted we had this conversation with the people here,” and was looking forward to getting back to the business of addressing what was needed for the kids in the district. “We made the best possible choice we could at the time with the information we had,” said Patapow. “Let’s move forward.”
Marc Davis, who recently took over as board president, commented on the board’s lack of communication on the bond issue, saying it had been a legal decision spurred on by threats issued to board members and the district. He announced that the board would no longer need to keep quiet, thanks to the release of the report clearing them of any illegal action. “After today, the board is free to speak, without legal worry, to everyone,” said Davis. Davis also said that in hindsight, he wished they had chosen “a different path in communicating with the public. We chose incorrectly to be relatively quiet, and the vacuum of information caused people to believe we were doing something illicit.”
In looking to the future, Davis said he was “looking forward to turning the page on this matter,” and said that in hindsight, he would have still made the same choice, as he doesn’t think the voters would have approved a tax increase, and the board was right to modernize the schools.
Davis also said the board will develop protocols and procedures of the highest degree, and will give more information during future issues.
Superintendent John Collins took responsibility for the report, saying it was a result of threats against the district, that challenged the legality of the practices of the bond issuance. “The report was not about right or wrong,” said Collins, who said he was the one to commission the report because “no one else stepped up to pay for [it].”
Collins said he appreciated Mangum’s report and efforts, and that he thought the board made the right decision in the end. “Hindsight is 20/20,” said Collins, who stressed the importance of everyone in the district receiving equal educations in equal facilities as the reason behind the modernization.