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EUSD gets poor marks for school bond transparency

A report from the San Diego Taxpayers Association stated the Encinitas Union School District needs to work on bond transparency.
A report from the San Diego Taxpayers Association stated the Encinitas Union School District needs to work on bond transparency.
( / Jared Whitlock)

The Encinitas Union School District ranked second to last out of 21 county districts in transparency for voter-approved bonds, a new report from the San Diego Taxpayers Association found.

The report included 23 criteria to gauge whether districts are informing the public about how bond money is being spent. EUSD met only 10 of those benchmarks for Proposition P, a $44.2 million bond that taxpayers approved in 2010.

Notably, the district failed to post independent audits to its website. And it didn’t provide detailed descriptions online of bond projects and how they’re progressing, the report states.

“Taxpayers should be able to check how their money is being spent,” said Mark Leslie, president and CEO of the taxpayers association.

EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird said the report incorrectly stated that the annual Prop P financial reports weren’t on the district’s website. However, Baird acknowledged that some of the relevant Prop P information was missing or difficult to find.

In response to the report, he said EUSD is working to consolidate all relevant Prop P documents to a prominent place on its website, eusd.net.

“I think we have almost all these items, and the other ones we didn’t, we’re pulling together as we speak,” Baird said in an interview July 17.

On July 21, the website contained Prop P financial audits and other criteria, but didn’t have a list detailing bond work.

By the end of summer, the district will have drawn about $22 million from the bond, according to Baird.

Also, EUSD hasn’t ordered a performance audit — one metric — to gauge the effectiveness of certain Prop P projects. But the district is considering doing so in the future, Baird said.

Baird added that an independent Prop P citizens oversight committee and annual financial audits from the company Christy White haven’t raised any issues with bond spending.

He also questioned why the taxpayers association hadn’t reached out to the district to confirm its website findings.

“If they were working on a report, you think they might have called and asked about the information,” Baird said.

But Leslie said that wasn’t the report’s goal.

“It’s not to satisfy our group, where we could show up in a car, pull out a briefcase and dig through the books,” Leslie said. “The point is — could the average voter in the community who’s going to put their nickel into this uncover everything they need to understand the bond?”

Leslie said he’s glad to hear EUSD is taking steps to improve transparency.

“We’re not trying to play gotcha,” Leslie said. “We just want increased transparency.”

On average, the taxpayers association found county districts met 90 percent of the criteria, improving from 80 percent in its last report in 2011. EUSD wasn’t part of that document because Prop P money had yet to be allocated.

San Diego Unified School District and Sweetwater Union High School District received perfect scores.

Only Julian Union High School District, which met seven of the benchmarks, performed worse than EUSD.

Leslie noted that California’s Proposition 39 passed in 2000, reducing the percent of votes needed for bond passage from 66 percent to 55 percent. As a result, the number of school bonds has increased, so it’s even more important that voters are kept in the loop, he added.

The taxpayers association also noted four best practices for bond issues: an overview of bonds and oversight committees should be posted on districts’ home pages; include all oversight committee documents online; use auditors with a knowledge of best practices; and model oversight committees on well-regarded committees in other districts.


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