Of the seven Gilroy school board trustees, Patricia Midtgaard has perhaps the finest of lines to walk when it comes to Measure E, the $170 million school bond proposal on the June 7 ballot.
On the one hand, her long experience as a classroom teacher and principal tells her Gilroy needs the bond measure to pass to build new schools and fix old schools for future generations.
She supports Measure E, passively as a school board member but aggressively as a private citizen member of the yes-on-E committee.
On the other hand, she has voted in the past to place two bond measures before voters while her daughter’s district job as a project manager depends on bond passage and a steady supply of building projects paid for, with interest, over 30 years, by bond sales.
It’s a connection that never really occurred to Midtgaard, she said Tuesday.
“I never think about her in those terms and certainly not in relation to the position I am in. But I get it, it’s a tough position to be in; she is paid out of Measure P funds and I know that the board has to approve how Measure P funds are spent. I guess I don’t think about that. It sounds pretty naïve, but she is doing what she is doing,” Midtgaard said.
“My view on Measure E is it’s much bigger than my family; we are talking about an impact on thousands of kids in the future,” she said.
Neither is Midtgaard concerned about campaigning on behalf of a yes-on-E committee funded largely by companies that contract with the district—contracts she voted to approve.
District officials have a constitutional right to campaign as private citizens, according to school board trustee Mark Good, an attorney and avid Measure E supporter but not a member of the yes-on-E group.
“I think it’s beyond legal, it’s common and the way things are done. I am relatively certain that if you look at the 2008 Measure P that was passed with a substantial majority, that you would also have a similar list of donors. I bet you could go to any school district bond measure and it would basically be the same,” Good said.
For the June 7 election, five of the district’s contractors gave $30,000 to the yes-on-E committee operated by high-ranking district employees and at least three school board members, including Midtgaard. The others are Jaime Rosso and James Pace. It’s all done on their own time without district resources, members say, which is legal and done statewide by school officials pushing bond measures.
Since April, they also have met regularly to work on the Yes-on-E campaign with other volunteers.
The meetings never include more than the three board members who belong, according to Rosso and Midtgaard, because more than three is a quorum and that triggers open meeting laws and requirements.
Since 2011, those same five firms have received contracts worth in excess of $33 million, mostly for facilities work funded by Measure P.
Since its passage, that measure also has paid the salaries of four district employees who oversee bond projects, including Midtgaard’s daughter, Jenny Derry. She is paid $104,000 a year. Combined, the four earn almost $500,000 a year.
If passed, Measure E will pay for a new elementary school, modernizing two aging junior high schools, technology and lab upgrades in classrooms and repairs to school utilities systems. It’s the largest bond measure in district history and will cost taxpayers an additional $60 per $100,000 in assessed valuation.
Gilroy taxpayers still are paying off $219 million plus interest from bond measures I and P in 2002 and 2008.
The one donor firm that will not gain from E passage is the district’s general counsel, the law firm of Garcia, Hernandez, Sawhney & Bermudez. It donated $5,000 to the Friends of Gilroy Unified School District Supporting Measure E. The group walks precincts, makes phone calls and puts up pro-E signs.
Mary Hernandez, a co-founder of the firm, said she was approached by Alvaro Meza to donate.
“We are happy to invest in the community where we do business, Gilroy has been very good to us,” Hernandez said.
Meza is a GUSD assistant superintendent and chief business officer and oversees all district contracts. His home is the registered headquarters of the pro-E group and he has said all his committee work is done on his own time with his own cellphone and computer.
Midtgaard said the contract bids go through a rigorous vetting process.
“I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna, but I try to keep it, clean, just try to play it straight,” she said.
She also has been very happy with the district’s contractors and praised the in-house staff that oversees the work, including the building of Christopher High School and recently completed upgrades for the Gilroy Early College Academy at Gavilan College.
A former and longtime classroom teacher and elementary school principal, Midtgaard said she knows first-hand the difference good facilities can make in the education of children after years in aging Gilroy elementary schools.
“I have worked at every rundown place in town,” she said before she was named principal late in her career of the brand new Antonio Del Buono Elementary School.
“I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” she said of the contrast for educators and students.
It was that sort of insight that Midtgaard brought to the board when first elected in 2004, and that she now brings to the table as a member of the district’s key facilities subcommittee.
Long hours spent on the subcommittee have given her “an in depth understanding of the whole facilities issue,” she said. “It really put all of this in perspective, I have a very clear understanding of why this bond measure is needed.”
As far as concerns about a quid pro quo for contractors who donate to the pro-E campaign, Midtgaard said, “It doesn’t really work that way because of our vetting process.
“Because I sit on the facilities subcommittee, I see more of the process we go through to see who the contracts go to; the lowest bid is kind of who you have to work with, and I want to continue to work with them because of the quality of their work.”
She praised the Seward L. Schreder Construction company. The Redding-based firm has been awarded more than $14 million in Measure P contracts since 2011.
Midtgaard said that if Measure E fails, the result will be overcrowded schools and probably the redrawing of all school boundaries.
“I hope it does not come to that,” she said.