Who's following the money?

Not the City College bond oversight panel, which rarely meets and has seen no serious audits of half a billion in spending

Part two in a Guardian series
Click here for part one


David Duer is proud of the volunteer work he's done with the West Contra Costa Unified School District. He graduated from the area's school system, as did his kids.

So despite what was sure to be a burdensome responsibility with no pay, Duer, a development director for the UC Berkeley Library, accepted the chance to serve on a committee formed under a state mandate to monitor how the district spent $850 million in bond money authorized by voters in three elections since 2000.

"There are schools all over the district that have been renovated," Duer beams today.

The committee initially proposed meeting every quarter but soon realized that wouldn't be nearly enough to do the job right and chose to meet monthly instead. Since 2003 it has received full-blown management audits of the school system's performance every year, with biannual updates from independent professionals not beholden to district bureaucrats.

The story of San Francisco's Community College District could not be more different.

The oversight committee that's charged with monitoring $560 million in bond spending has never seen an expansive performance audit, just basic financial reports that show community college officials here seem to be obeying their most fundamental fiduciary duties. The panel meets three times a year for more than an hour and a half each time, and for three years it didn't even report to the public on City College's handling of the money, which it's required to do annually by the state's Education Code.

The community college committee is hardly made of Rotary volunteers and bored retirees: the list includes San Francisco treasurer José Cisneros and former San Francisco Chronicle publisher Steve Falk, now head of the local Chamber of Commerce.

But even members say the panel has fallen down on the job — and that City College officials are freely shifting around the taxpayers' cash with little or no accountability.

The mostly decipherable performance reports that West Contra Costa citizens receive, though lengthy, track all of that district's bond expenditures and give the area's oversight committee of taxpayers a vivid portrait of how well the school system and its administrators are managing hundreds of millions of dollars in building improvements. Any wonkish jargon in the reports that might mystify the committee is translated in "frank" terms by the outside inspectors, Duer says, without interference from school officials.

If a contractor were to double-bill the district or demand too much in change orders after promising completion within a set price range, Duer and his colleagues would know about it, and they could make suggestions on how to fix it. If the district was doing a stellar job, that would be clear too.

"I don't see these performance audits as punitive," Duer said. "I see them as a confirmation that the process and systems in place are working."


The Guardian reported last week ("The City College Shell Game," 7/4/07) that City College's bond projects are running an astounding $225 million over budget. As a result, school officials have returned to the Board of Trustees five times in recent years to request that a total of $130 million be reallocated from one project to another to cover the overruns, leaving some projects promised to voters with little or no funding at all. We reported on a number of examples last week, but there are plenty more:

<\!s> The construction of a new Mission campus was supposed to begin in 2002 but didn't get under way until well into 2005.

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