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Board of Education Okays Oversight Committee

By Teresa Rochester

Two meetings and six votes later, the Board of Education okayed the creation of a Financial Oversight Committee Wednesday, ensuring the school district will receive a $2.1 million bailout grant from the city of Santa Monica.

In a unanimous decision the board passed a recommendation creating an "independent Financial Oversight Committee, which operates under the Brown Act and reports to the Board of Education."

The wording specifying the public nature of the committee was added after the board failed to agree on that language last week, resulting in a parliamentary tug-o-war, five failed votes and the issue being tabled.

This week, some parents called for the addition of the word "independent," and board members agreed.

"The reason the word was so important is twofold," said parent John Petz. "First it's a legal requirement. The motion passed by the City Council specifically requires that the district create an 'independent' financial oversight committee. If the district were to fail to do so, it could hinder the release of the funds.

"The other reason the word independent is necessary is that it acts as a directive to district staff," he added. "The staff will now need to come back to the board with a design for the committee that ensures it is truly independent and that the financial oversight committee will have unlimited access to all the information they deem pertinent."

Board member Margaret Quinones said she the original language implied that the committee would be "independent" but that board members agreed to include it in an effort to stop what she called the demonizing of the district by a group of parents.

"It comes down to there are certain members of this community that have launched a campaign to demonize this school district," Quinones said. "The board was not going to let itself be open again to being demonized. It [independent] was already there. We all knew that's what it meant."

The oversight committee will be made up of seven to nine individuals who have financial and legal backgrounds. District staff will work with members of the superintendent's handpicked financial task force to work out criteria for picking members and to establish their initial charge.

Last month, Santa Monica's City Council directed the school district to establish the committee before receiving a one-time $2.1 million grant to help the fiscally beleaguered school system, which had faced a series of multi-million dollar shortfalls during the last 18 months.

At their board meeting earlier this month board members hit a brick wall when it attempted to get the oversight committee off the ground. The four board members present could not garner the unanimous votes necessary when board member Dorothy Chapman tried to add to a statement that the committee will operate openly and under the rules of the Brown Act and report directly to the Board of Education.

Calling the wording redundant, fellow board members shot down Chapman's proposed addition.

In another action, the Board of Education heard public testimony on initial bargaining proposals for child development services teachers' positions from the district and the teachers union. Negotiations will begin on Friday. The negotiations will be the first not to include Board of Education members.

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