By Marsha Sutton
Although board members for the San Dieguito Union High School District expressed pleasure at the high quality of applicants for a seat on the district’s bond Oversight Committee, there was a dearth of candidates for three of the five required positions.
Of 11 applicants, only one each qualified for the business, taxpayers and senior organization representative. The rest applied to be the parent, parent organization or at-large representative.
The board was required to select a minimum of seven people to serve, and nine were chosen at an open meeting on Feb. 12. Members are:
•Business rep: Michael Kenny
•Taxpayers rep: Lorraine Kent
•Seniors rep: Mary Farrell
•Parent organization rep: Clarke Caines
•Parent rep: Larry Lugo
•At large: Kim Bess, Scott Seidenverg, Rhea Stewart, Jeffery Thomas
The Oversight Committee is charged with monitoring SDUHSD’s Proposition AA $449 million bond measure, which passed in November by a slim margin.
Michael Kenny, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association choice, became the sole Business representative after another candidate was disqualified as a business rep. That left Lorraine Kent as the only Taxpayers organization rep. And Mary Farrell was the only person to apply as a representative of a senior citizens group.
Two weeks ago, Eric Dill, SDUHSD’s associate superintendent of business services, said the senior citizens’ organization could not be AARP.
“They have to belong to some organization that represents senior interests,” but not AARP, he said then. The example he gave was someone in a retirement community’s Homeowners Association located within the district.
Yet Farrell’s qualification for the senior citizens position was her membership in AARP.
At the board meeting Feb. 12, Dill said the language in the law is “open-ended” and had determined that membership in AARP is valid.
“The sections of the code are pretty vague,” he said, adding that he would prefer a local senior organization but it’s not necessary.
Janet Mueller, an attorney with Dannis Woliver Kelley of San Diego, said the law simply calls for one member to be “active in a senior citizens’ organization.”
“That’s really the only insight the law provides,” she said.
Unless the district has internal policies that make it more specific, school districts have discretion on how to interpret the language, she said, adding, “Most people would interpret it broadly.”
Because it was publicized that AARP membership was not adequate, what’s unknown is how many people might have applied to represent senior interests had it been clear that AARP was acceptable.
Farrell’s qualifications, however, are not in question. She has extensive knowledge and experience in local education, including serving on PTAs, site councils, strategic planning groups, committees and foundations.
She is influential in local politics and the education community, particularly Del Mar and San Dieguito, and, according to her application, has “served as campaign manager for many board candidates at both the elementary and high school level.”
Farrell said she was applying out of “an overly-developed sense of duty” and brings to the committee “years of understanding schools.”
Farrell is well-known by SDUHSD board members, having publicly endorsed incumbent trustees Joyce Dalessandro and Beth Hergesheimer in last November’s school board elections. Both incumbents won.
After determining that Scott Seidenverg did not qualify as a business representative, he became an at-large member. This left only one individual with a business association: Michael Kenny.
Kenny, an active member of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, is also a member of the Rotary Club of San Diego and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. His experience in commercial real estate, investment, construction and development, combined with his degree in business and his involvement in civic organizations, appealed to the board.
He said he wants to serve on the oversight committee to make sure that the district “spends money on what it’s supposed to be spent on.”
Kenny’s shift from the taxpayers rep to the business rep left only one individual from a taxpayers’ organization: Lorraine Kent.
Kent said the San Diego County Taxpayers Association suggested she apply for a seat. Emphasizing her openness to do what was required, she responded, “You tell me” when asked by the school board to define the role of the committee.
Retired, with a child at Torrey Pines High School, Kent is a member of the League of Women Voters, has been involved for the past 15 years in the PTO and foundation at the Rancho Santa Fe School, and volunteered with the Girl Scouts for eight years.
She wrote on her application that she wanted to serve on the committee “in a way that continues to build trust and accountability.”
Clarke Caines, the parent organization representative, is active in the La Costa Canyon High School Foundation and worked on the Prop. AA campaign. He said in his application that he wanted to serve on the committee “as the project launches to ensure its success.”
Caines, who was greeted by board members warmly and called “a familiar face,” has served on numerous boards, foundations and civic organizations.
Larry Lugo, the parent representative, was also a strong supporter of Prop. AA, working the phones to urge voter support during the weeks leading up to the November election.
On his application, Lugo said he wanted to serve on the committee, because “I feel an obligation to those that voted in favor of AA, and those that didn’t, to ensure that the funds approved are managed with a high fiduciary standard consistent with the intent of the bond measure.”
At-large member Kim Bess is a parent of a former SDUHSD student and has extensive experience in education as a teacher and former science director for the San Diego Unified School District. Bess has been the principal investigator for National Science Foundation grants with budgets over $10 million.
Her current focus is her work in energy efficiency at the County Office of Education. She said in her application that she wanted to serve to help increase opportunities and support 21st-century learning for students.
At-large member Scott Seidenverg wrote on his application that the timing of the bond’s projects should cover “not only the students currently in the district but also those on their [way] up the chain …” Having young children helps him provide “at minimum a 12-year outlook,” he said.
Saying he and other parents opposed the Del Mar Union School District bond for “piggybacking” on San Dieguito’s bond, he subsequently became more familiar with San Dieguito’s Prop. AA and wants to focus on “planning for changes in technology and the way students will learn over the life of each campus.”
At-large member Rhea Stewart worked on the campaign committee for passage of Prop. AA and wrote on her application that she “would like to continue my involvement in the long-range facilities process.”
Stewart is a former board member of the Cardiff School District from 2006 to 2010 and has served on a number of San Dieguito school foundations, committees and site councils.
At-large member Jeffery Thomas was previously the athletic liaison for the Canyon Crest Academy foundation “because I felt that the needs of CCA’s scholar-athletes were not being adequately addressed,” he wrote on his application.
A supporter of Prop. AA, Thomas said he wanted to serve on the committee “to ensure that the execution phase of Proposition AA is performed consistent with the trust and transparency expectations of district voters.”
The candidates were questioned individually in five-minute interviews with the school board. President Barbara Groth asked each the same three questions:
- What is your interest in this position?
- What do you see as the role of the committee?
- What will you bring to the committee as a member?
Five members reside in the northern part of the district (Bess, Caines, Kenny, Lugo, Stewart) and four live in the southern portion (Farrell, Kent, Seidenverg, Thomas).
Dill said others applied but withdrew after learning they needed to file a Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which will be made public. Form 700 requires that individuals report investments and business positions in business entities, real property and income from sources located or doing business in the agency’s jurisdiction.
Bess’s son is an assistant principal at Diegueno Middle School in Encinitas, and Seidenverg’s wife is a teacher at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas. Board member Hergesheimer said she worried about the perception of a conflict of interest.
But Dill said the legal prohibition only restricts the applicant from being an employee of the district. “It doesn’t say anything about relatives,” he said.
The larger, unspoken conflict-of-interest question was how objective the committee can be with some members who actively worked for passage of the bond measure. But this point was unaddressed.
Another thorny issue was the requirement that committee members serve two full years. But Lugo, the parent representative, has a child in 11th grade, so in one year and four months Lugo will no longer qualify as the parent of a district student.
Because the board appointed nine members, two more than the minimum of seven, Dill said Lugo could serve in that capacity until his child graduated. Then he could move to the at-large position and another could take his place as the parent rep.
Although Dill and SDUHSD superintendent Ken Noah were present, they were largely silent during the selection process, being careful to stay neutral as board members chose committee members.
Dill thanked trustees for meeting for two hours to interview candidates, saying that in other districts staff often presents a slate for the board to simply approve.
The district is required to provide the Oversight Committee with administrative support, and meetings will be posted and subject to the open-meeting Ralph M. Brown Act, Dill said.
Committee members will meet quarterly, must live within district boundaries and are appointed for two-year terms without compensation.
Members will select a chair and vice-chair, will vote on agendas and minutes, and will issue regular reports to the school board and the public. All documents will be part of the public record and made available on the district’s website.
Bond revenues must be expended only for the acquisition or lease of real property and for construction, renovation or replacement of school facilities. The funds cannot be used for employee salaries or other school operating expenses.
— Marsha Sutton can be reached at SuttComm@san.rr.com.