Russo picked auditor without board oversight

The Orange Juice team turned out for tonight’s Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) Board of Trustees meeting. Thomas Gordon, Sean Mill and I all were in attendance and Ryan Gene Williams joined us afterwards. We did not leave disappointed.

The meeting started late, at about 6:25 p.m. Rob Richardson, the Board President, strolled in and he was later joined by Dr. Audrey Yamagata-Noji and Jose Hernandez. John Palacio came in just after the Pledge of Allegiance. Rosie Avila never showed up.

SAUSD Superintendent Jane Russo got the ball started with her opening comments, when she stated that, with regard to the class size reduction (CSR) program, “at no time have false rosters been submitted.”

Russo then bleated about how this is the first time that the district has had a traditional calendar in 25 years. She then noted that there are two options when it comes to CSR. In the first option you actually do CSR – but that option is predicated on the amount of classrooms available. The second option involves using credentialed teachers to assist primary teachers with reading and math. Apparently this is being done in 27 out of 36 schools in the district.

Russo admitted that all of the questionable practices have been stopped – which begs the question, why was the district involved in questionable practices in the first place? She then said that the district hopes to continue with CSR in grades 1 – 3.

Russo then said that an audit would be conducted and that it would include grade 9 CSR classes too.

After Russo went over a bunch of calendar items, we were subjected to a truly farcical presentation. A bunch of stiff looking executive types got up and talked about a proposed Orange County Charter School, to be based in Santa Ana. The concept they were touting includes only two days of instruction in an actual school, and then three days at home, essentially being home-schooled.

All of the statistics these guys cited pertained to rich communities in northern California, such as Palo Alto. Most of their ideas sounded like hokum to me, but the bottom line is that they are asking the district to approve transfer of public resources to their charter school so that they can teach the elite. Do you really think that the working class families in the district will be able to participate in this program? I think not.

I got up and spoke out against the program, which is backed by Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor and State Senator Lou Correa, amongst others.

One of the speakers, the son of one of the principals, said he graduated from Biola University. Doesn’t Rosie Avila serve on their Board of Education too? I wonder if the fix is in? I guess we will find out when the board votes on this.

One brave teacher spoke out against the charter school too. He said he grew up in public schools and that he has been a success – he has a Master’s degree in education and he teachers both at Santa Ana High School and at Santa Ana College.

A mother also got up and spoke about the CSR issue. She asked if it was fair for the district to hire its own auditor? Good question!

Thomas Gordon also spoke about the CSR issue. He read from an email he got from a teacher who basically said that Russo and the district are lying – there are empty classrooms that are not being used. In other words the district resorted to Option 2 instead of Option 1, for no damn reason.

Then we got to hear from the infamous Mr. Don Trigg, the Associate Superintendent of Business Services, whatever that means. He said that the state did pick the auditor as they are CPA’s – I kid you not that is what the guy said. He said it makes sense to use them as they are already the district’s external auditors. He said that they will decide what schools to go to and what classes to audit. And he said that the 9th grade could be added to the audit.

Russo then piped in that the district needed to move quickly and she moved on her own to select an auditor. Trustee John Palacio then said that usually the board has to declare an emergency in order for a contract to be issued without an RFP process. He also pointed out that according to district paperwork Russo selected the auditor before she even spoke to the board.

Russo then said that the board was informed and that the auditor falls under “professional services” and as such she could select the auditor without an RFP.

Palacio then asked if the auditor had fraud examination experience. Good question! That is the problem with what Russo did. She prevented the board from doing their job – they should have been able to scrutinize and select the auditor, period.

Palacio also pointed out that if “team education” did not work with CSR, how do we know that it isn’t working with special education and the English Learner program? He also brought up the No Child Left Behind program, which the district may have violated while screwing up in so many ways.

Palacio also nailed it when he asked what has been communicated to the schools from the district re CSR – and what were the options they were given? Again, great questions. Never mind the audit, what we really need is a thorough investigation – who did what, and when, and what did they put in writing. I fully expect that Russo and her hacks have been very busy shredding the real evidence in the meantime.

As Palacio put it, something changed overnight. What was it? Thomas Gordon has received over 100 emails from teachers noting all kinds of fraud. Are they lying? Why would they? We know that the board was told about the CSR problem in February – why didn’t they act sooner? Why indeed.

Rob Richardson finally woke up and asked a few questions too. He asked Trigg when the audit would be scheduled. Trigg said they would have something by the next board meeting on the 24th or the one after that.

Richardson then asked about the auditor’s credentials. But he did not press the issue about Russo unilaterally selecting the auditor without board approval.

Palacio asked if the audit was random. Trigg said they all are, but Palacio asked pointedly why we wouldn’t just investigate the actual cases we know of. Russo said it was important to go beyond the list. Sure…

Palacio then asked why the auditors are focusing on kindergarten classes instead of grades 1-3. Richardson then asked Trigg to see what the auditor’s methodology is.

At this point Hernandez finally chimed in. He said he did not want to belabor the point, but he was concerned about th
e way the auditor was picked and he was anxious to see how the auditor was picked. He cited a lack of communication and direction from the district and said that we should treat this as a wake up call – and things need to change. Bravo! Well said.

Then Noji finally opened her mouth. She said we need to figure out how best to implement CSR with an imbalance of students. She said option 2 may have failed due to the use of substitutes. Nice oversimplification – and smokescreen. She asked that the county department of education be asked to monitor the audit. Trigg said that they gave it their blessing, but Noji said she wanted to make sure the auditors go to the county if they have questions, not to the district.

Noji did admit that something went wrong and we need to figure out what it is. But she slipped in a qualifier – SAUSD is not the only district that has struggled with the implementation of CSR. Perhaps – but we might be the only district to engage in full-scale fraud, and get caught.

Richardson then said that it seems to him that on a couple of levels we have some serious problems. We have an obligation to parents, teachers and students and that classes ought to be as CSR statutes mandate. We need to know what went wrong, what was supposed to be done, and we have an obligation to follow the rules and correct the lapses.

Richardson closed his statements by saying he is not expecting a clean bill of health from the auditors. Sounds like he knows more than he is letting on to.

My sources by the way tell me that the school principals are finding out that they are going to be audited, in advance, and that they are not making themselves available for the audits. God only knows what kind of shenanigans are going on. I have absolutely no faith in this audit, or in Russo, or anyone else in her administration. This mess is screaming for state or federal investigations and multiple arrests, in my humble opinion.


Times reporter Seema Mehta has written an article about the meeting as well. As usual, she did a fine job. Here is one quote she shared, that I overlooked, “If there was an issue at the beginning of February 2007 and we were running into some choppy waters

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.