No Confidence in RUSD Leadership [Blog]

RUSD is a ship run aground, and the captain and crew appear oblivious!

At the November 2012 Ramona School Board meeting, several interesting things happened. 

I suggested that Mr. Graff’s employment contract needed to be terminated because he is the  aptain, and that the RUSD ship had run aground and was taking water. Captains are always removed when things go badly, as are CEOs of failing corporations. However, after watching the board meeting, I fear that Mr. Graff may be with RUSD for some time.

As we all know the school district is basically bankrupt, largely because of a loan the previous board approved to build the New Hanson Elementary School on Boundary Avenue and to rebuild the old Hanson Elementary on Hanson Lane, among other things. This loan is referred to as (COP). 

Before this loan was taken, it was projected that the school population would be declining, and it has. With the decline in school population and further loss of state money, the school district has become mired in debt, and as justification for Prop. R, fallen into disrepair. At the urging of many in the community, the school board has yet to take bold action, such as closing a school or moving to year round education, or having a alternative plan that I know of. In fact, you would think that all was well at RUSD as the board members engaged in a mind numbing discussion regarding the nuances of three paragraphs that define the boards goal of preparing the students for college.  Later, several of the board members went out of their way to make it clear that the RUSD debt crisis wasn’t their fault.

After my suggestion that they terminate Mr. Graff’s employment contract and throw in the towel and ask the state to take over, because they apparently have no plan other than the failed Prop. R, Mr. Graff was vociferously defended by one of the board members, claiming that Mr. Graff is a good guy.  I have no reason to think that Mr. Graff isn’t a good guy, but I am convinced that the leadership at RUSD isn’t working, as we need.

The last part of the November meeting cemented my belief that a leadership change is necessary, when Superintendent Graff presented a power point on Prop. R, “why it failed and what’s next?”  This presentation started out with a list of reasons that Prop. R may have failed, although Mr. Graff said he wasn’t really sure if any of the reasons listed were the cause of failure. 

Among the reasons listed were a poor economy, negative Poway bond headlines, the State fire tax, a recent media assault on public education, confusion over props. 30 and 38, inclusion of the (COP) $33Million debt as part of the bond, a lack of participation by the community, and the possibility that people in Ramona don’t support K-12 education. 

After witnessing this part of the presentation I believe that the school board and the leadership may be suffering from group think, and are ignoring the real possibility that the people in Ramona have no confidence in the RUSD leadership to solve the problems at hand, and are afraid to pour good money after bad.

The last part of Mr. Graff’s presentation cemented my view, as he listed several ways to move forward, given Prop. R’s failure. First on the list was to move ahead and issue another school bond. Despite the failure of five school bonds in a row in Ramona, he thinks we should do it again. Isn’t this the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again but getting the same result? 

Second was that the District pay the (COP) out of the general fund. If I understood the (COP) obligation, the school district is required to pay $600K per year for 2013 and 2014, $1.7M for years 2014-2016, and $3.4M every year afterward until 2032. Later, Mr. Graff explained that if this money did come out of the general fund, the money would have to come from “other budget areas”. My guess is that he was talking about salaries, which is in my view a good place to start as the Union-Tribune recently put Mr. Graff’s annual compensation at approximately $235,000. 

Third was to use volunteers to repair and maintain the infrastructure, and fifth have the board establish three new line items in the budget that include repair of old facilities, adding tech. hardware and infrastructure, and repayment of the (COP) through 2032, as defined previously. Oh, and maybe the State or Federal government will send some cash to get us over the hump this year. 

It’s almost as if the leadership is mired in the old school, where the money must come like manna from heaven, and if it doesn’t we will borrow or tax more to solve the problems. I don’t think that they can get their heads around the fact that no more money is coming, and that tells me that the leadership, and perhaps the school board as well may be delusional. I offer a no confidence vote in the RUSD leadership.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

sandra j November 24, 2012 at 11:47 PM
I can solve the schools' budget problems in a day: Here's how much money we have, and here's how we're dividing it up. Instead, they equate what they want with what they need, subtract what they have, and cry foul over the difference. Unless they change that approach, how can they expect us to trust them? The leadership is due for a change, and the minor effect of the recent board shuffling won't suffice. This over-priced administration, and probably the top-tier teaching staff, need to accept a significant pay cut until the situation improves. I notice Dr Graeff doesn't list the UT's disclosure of his salary as one of the reasons Ramona rejected this bond. I would welcome a school system that I could proudly and confidently support. Labeling the majority of Ramona's voters as un-supportive, or worse uninformed, is offensive to those who carefully weighed this measure but declined to embrace it. If this board and administration can't even get things moving in the right direction, please step aside and let someone else do it. Good guys first.
Jane Tanaka MD November 25, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Dear Sandra J and Mr Patterson--Please tell us what you would do specifically to correct the the over $5 million dollar deficit for 2012-2013. Here is the link to the 2012-2013 RUSD budget. ...please go for it! http://www.ramonausd.net/1636103802538377/lib/1636103802538377/120531-04_1213_Proposed_Budget_Summary.pdf Thank you.
sandra j November 25, 2012 at 03:40 AM
I would turn to page 2, expenditures. Notice how employee salaries and benefits consume nearly $41 million of the $42 million income the district receives? I would eliminate employee benefits labeled "other" at $4.8 million. I don't know what it is, but it's not a salary cut, and it's not their health benefits either. If they can't break it out in more detail than "other" I have to conclude it's less important than salary and health insurance, which no one seems willing to compromise on. If there's something in there that is more important that salary and heath insurance, then maybe that will encourage compromise on those. Next, I would offer the entire administrative team the opportunity to retain their jobs at 75% of their present salary. If they find another district willing to offer them more after their dismal record here (and I don't doubt that might happen) then wish them well. I guarantee we can find competent replacements for less in this job market. Next, I would negotiate with the state to reduce or defer repayment on the COPs. I would offer to transfer ownership of the old MVA campus on Montecito Road, and possibly Ramona Elementary, to the state in kind. If they have no interest in the properties, neither should the district. We're not running a hedge fund. How hard was that? Not very!
Jane Tanaka MD November 25, 2012 at 04:40 AM
Thank you Sandra J. Anyone from the school board or administration able/willing to break down the 4.8 million of "other" benefits on page 2? Is this Workers Comp insurance?
sandra j November 25, 2012 at 08:58 AM
Workers comp should not cost that much, especially for teachers, which is a low-risk occupation. It seems clear where most of the cuts need to come from. Whatever "other" is, when you're only receiving $42 million, you can't pay out $41 million to the employees and still run the schools. Painful though it may be, the teachers need to take a cut. Shelling out $235,000 to Dr Graeff makes that even more painful. His job was to steer around the iceberg, but we've run right into it. Dave's assessment is spot on, and I agree Graeff should go.
Dave Patterson November 25, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Mr. Graff stated that if they close Ramona Elementary, it would save the district only $400,000. Is that possible that the salaries and compensation packages for all the employees and maintenance at RE adds up to only $400,000? I would be shocked if that were true, given that the Principal of Montecito high, with only 175 students, earns approximately $120,000 dollars. The suggestion that we close some schools and reorganize is a good discussion, but it's not one that's on the table at board meetings. Why? Because traditionally the board takes recommendations from the administration, and the administration isn't apparently interested. Another question for the board is how much of the COP debt has been paid to date, and is that why the school district is bankrupt? Or, has payment been deferred, and the present fiscal crisis due to failure of the leadership to deal with the day-today operations? The answer to this question will clarify the situation I believe.
Jane Tanaka MD November 25, 2012 at 04:56 PM
I recall , years ago, when a friend of ours was running for the school board, and he asked for clarification of a mere one million dollars expenditure labeled " other" during a board meeting. He was scolded by the chair and told his " question is not germaine." Is this also your experience when attending the school board meetings, Mr Patterson?
Jane Tanaka MD November 25, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Teachers out there. or teachers union.. what to your knowledge are the "other benefits" ...please see page 2 of budget athttp://www.ramonausd.net/1636103802538377/lib/1636103802538377/120531-04_1213_Proposed_Budget_Summary.pdf? Is this the retirement fund? Worker's Comp?
Jane Tanaka MD November 25, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Jane Tanaka MD November 25, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Also anyone from the school board, past or present, could someone please explain what is a "certificate of participation", estimated cost of $1.4 million, on page 5 of the budget? And also what is covered under "other services " expenses of $3.4 million on page 2 ? Link: http://www.ramonausd.net/1636103802538377/lib/1636103802538377/120531-04_1213_Proposed_Budget_Summary.pdf
sandra j November 25, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Certificate of participation (COP) is the debt service on the $33 million loan which financed the 2 new schools in 2004. The early "teaser" payments have increased, and expected revenue from developer fees which were were supposed to pay for this has declined. I don't know what the balance for the COPs is, but it's about $30 million. The $3.17 million on page 2 for other services is, I believe, for printing, copier maintenance, IT, legal, and other contracted services the district utilizes. It's worth a look, but the sum of all expenses for "running the schools" does not stand out as an unreasonable fraction of the district's budget the way payroll does.
Dave Patterson November 25, 2012 at 09:25 PM
I have no experience with answers from the board, as they don't generally get into a dialogue with the public at the board meetings. I have sent them letters and mostly I don't hear back. It's a one-way communication. Regarding the (COP), Mr. Graff commented that making the payments by adding them to the general fund would be one method of dealing with it, however the money would need to come from somewhere else. I assumed that he was referring to salaries. Why an obligation is not on the books is another good question for the board, no?
Dave Patterson November 25, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Jane You could send the board members a letter, and they might contact you, but maybe not.
Jane Tanaka MD November 26, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Yes, I could.... and they most likely will say that the local psychiatrist is Plumbloco, and brush me off... and you have been brushed off with your inquiries, Mr Patterson.... They read the Sentinel and/or the Patch. Lets see if they will answer in a public media forum, in writing. My having an MD doesnt pull any weight in this kind of situation, because its not a medical or health issue, ie its outside my area of expertise. Even when contacted by a an expert in an area of concern they do not respond. I say this because when Greg, my husband , Ramona's Plumber wanted to speak with our Superintendent about ways to conserve irrigation water on RUSD and thereby saving $$$$$$, there was no return call. Greg wasnt trying to solicite the school district for business.. he genuinely wanted help with his knowledge.
Dave Patterson November 26, 2012 at 02:46 AM
We could hold a meeting to address the issues, with or without the school district administers. They would be invited of course. How about December 5th at the library, 6PM?
Jane Tanaka MD November 26, 2012 at 02:59 AM
Would this be a " mutiny" meeting ? I just cant stomach that. Or truly a meeting that is issue specific Ie, no personal attacks; and remain respectful! I would have to rearrange my schedule, as I am seeing folks in my office till 8pm. Anyone else interested in having such a meeting?
Dave Patterson November 26, 2012 at 03:04 AM
No mutiny! We are there to get answers to the questions.
Jane Tanaka MD November 26, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Mr Patterson, Please let me know if this meeting is a "go" after contacting the School Board and RUSD Administration . Have these questions truly not been asked and answered at a School Board meeting thusfar????? Are there minutes on line available?
Jane Tanaka MD November 26, 2012 at 03:39 AM
I guess I answered this question for myself .. there is a summary of the last meeting of the school board, but no archive that I could find on the website.
sandra j November 26, 2012 at 03:44 AM
Here is the archive: http://www.ramonausd.net/16361042133410353/cwp/browse.asp?A=3&BMDRN=2000&BCOB=0&C=55883 You won't find a list of questions asked or answered, though.
Dave Patterson November 26, 2012 at 07:56 PM
The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday December 5th at the library, 6PM. I will contact the school district and send letters to the board members. No guarantees that they will show however. It would be nice if we can have representatives for the 2 unions there to answer questions as well. Sandra, can you contact the union leaders?
Jane Tanaka MD November 26, 2012 at 08:14 PM
I will be there. Thank you for setting this up.
Dave Patterson November 27, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Get the word out. This is an important issue to the community!
Jane Tanaka MD November 27, 2012 at 02:59 AM
There is a slight chance that I will not be able to attend due to jury duty slated for that week....will let you know, Mr Patterson.
Dave Patterson November 28, 2012 at 02:44 AM
On Wednesday December 5th, the Ramona Forum will host a public meeting regarding the current situation at Ramona Unified School District. The intention is for concerned citizens to find information about the future of our public schools. What's happened, and what the plans are for the future. Key members of the Ramona Unified School District, school board and representatives of the unions have been asked to attend. Wednesday December 5th Ramona Library 6PM For more information please contact Dave Patterson, 760-207-9139
Dave Patterson December 01, 2012 at 01:26 PM
In Ramona the school district is facing fiscal woes that have triggered warning letters from the State. Proposition R failed in the last election, leaving only the Prop. 30 money as a potential respite. This leaves many of the parents and citizens of Ramona wondering what has gone wrong at RUSD, and if there is a way that the situation can be changed? Is there a future for Ramona schools? To address these questions and more Superintendent of Schools, Robert Graeff and some of the school board members will attend a public forum on Wednesday December 5, 6PM, at the Ramona Branch Library. There will be a short presentation by the administration, followed by questions from the audience. This event is sponsored by the Ramona Forum. For more information please contact Dave Patterson, 760-207-9139


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