Having the Santa Clara County Office of education step in and forcibly take over the finances of the Gilroy Unified School District is more than a community embarrassment, it points out a critical issue in Superintendent Debbie Flores’ administration.
The latest financial fiasco is the most significant, given that the school district was projected to run out of cash at the end of February. The county reports detailing the precarious position are, if not damning, darn close to it.
Most disturbing is that this represents a trend:
– GUSD needed immediate cash five years ago and borrowed $2.4 million through Capital Appreciation Bonds to get it which will cost $28.2 million to pay back.
– The incredibly high cost of Christopher High School construction – in the $113 million range – all this without the sports fields being done properly.
– The “clerical error” in 2009 that sent $6 million in uncollected property taxes into a legal quagmire, forcing the district to ask the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to issue a corrected tax bill. A $5.3 million GUSD bond payment hung in the balance.
Superintendent Flores needs to clean house in the district’s business office and give a full report to the public and GUSD trustees dissecting the issues and laying out the solutions.
For starters, the business office needs a director that is top notch. If that requires paying more, do it. The perceived need to keep all department heads at the same pay grade level is secondary to the district’s fiscal health. And, given the circumstances, taking a contrary position is almost laughable considering what the miscues have cost.
GUSD trustees should also consider a local review panel. Yes, school financing is complex, but there are qualified, common sense accountants in our town who could sound warning bells and offer suggestions.
The bottom line is that GUSD’s bottom line needs to be fixed. Academically, GUSD is trending upward, but the community cannot afford a financially failing district.