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School District Calls In Financial Experts

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

November 29 -- In the aftermath of the abrupt resignation of the District’s chief financial officer, school officials announced Tuesday that they’ve called in the state’s Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) to review the district’s finances.

The move comes as District officials are under pressure to come up with $7 million to cover a pay raise for teachers and keep the public school system in the black.

While the district must devise a plan to pay the teachers’ raises, the FCMAT review is not part of that plan, said new Superintendent Dianne Talarico.

“Although a crisis is not seen to exist, FCMAT was chosen due to their availability and commitment to producing a comprehensive review in a timely fashion,” according to a statement issued by the superintendent’s office Tuesday.

“The independent review of our finances will include the preparation of a multi-year financial projection of the district’s general fund.”

Crisis or not, the FCMAT review is one of the steps Talarico is taking to get a handle on the District’s increasingly controversial financial scene.

Like a developing Polaroid -- a metaphor used by departed Chief Financial Officer Winston Braham -- the picture of the top-level shakeup is becoming clearer as, one by one, the details and their chronology become known.

On October 30 -- two weeks after striking a pay raise with teachers the district couldn’t pay for -- Talarico began talking with FCMAT’s Executive Deputy Director Anthony Bridges to set up an independent review of the District’s finances.

While the initial agreement was faxed to her on November 8, Talarico said, she didn’t sign and return it until November 17.

The contract calls for a “multi-year financial projection,” in which the state agency will analyze the general fund in light of “enrollment projections,” “district assumptions” and “revenue and expenditure forecasts,” according to the superintendent.

FCMAT was established by state law in 1992 to “assist educational agencies that request help in school business management and related areas,” according to the agency’s Web site

The organization, which tackled a fiscal crisis in Oakland public schools, first came to Talarico’s attention when she worked in the nearby San Francisco school district office. FCMAT is now organizing an “extraordinary audit” of the Compton Community College District, according to the agency’s Web site.

While Talarico negotiated with FCMAT, the drama of the teachers’ raises and budget shortfall was unfolding.

In October, in highly unusual move, the district’s top financial officer, Winston S. Braham, failed to certify a 5 percent salary raise for teachers that would all but deplete the district’s nearly $7.3 million in reserves over the next three years.

On October 18, two weeks before Talarico spoke to Bridges, she submitted the budget to the County. Braham, however, put a check mark nest to the words: “I am unable to certify.”

“The absence of one or both of the signatures should serve as a ‘red flag’ to the district’s governing board,” according to the certification form.

But the agreement with the teachers’ union wasn’t made public until two days before the November 16 school board meeting, forcing the Financial Oversight Committee to review the contract without having seen it before its meeting on November 14. (see story)

Braham submitted his letter of resignation last Wednesday, November 22, and cleared out his office at district headquarters, according to the superintendent’s office. (see story)

While preliminary findings of the review might be made public before the end of the year, it won’t be completed until January, 2007, Talarico said.

In the meantime, the District is looking for an Interim Chief Financial Officer to meet its deadline of filing the first interim budget due December 15, Talarico said.

And the public will learn more at a joint meeting of the Financial Oversight Committee and the School Board at 4 p.m. on December 4 in the District Board Room at 1651 16th Street.





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