Friday, December 6, 2019

[Marin County] Dick Spotswood: State attorney general should not stand in Marin Civil Grand Jury’s way

Blog note: Dick Spotswood chimes in on the issue.
Marin’s Civil Grand Jury is one of our county’s most respected public institutions. Its members’ assignment is to serve as Marin’s ombudsman. Jurors use their practical experience, professional expertise and investigative powers to examine all aspects of local governmental affairs.
The unpaid jurors are solidly non-partisan and above the county’s day-to-day political fray. These are precisely the highly qualified and diverse people most Marinites would want to keep an eye on the details of local government.
When an issue or event emerges that merits a public spotlight or an in-depth look-see, the grand jury’s job is to spring to action, make a thorough investigation and make its findings public.
Such a situation arose when California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a complaint against the Sausalito Marin City School District. The AG charged the district’s school board with racial discrimination when allocating money between the district’s public charter school, Willow Creek Academy, and the district’s traditional public school, Bayside-Martin Luther King Academy.
Attendance numbers and racial demographics are the issue. There are, at most, only 566 students in the entire school district. Depending on the year, between 127 and 161 children attend B-MLK and 405 have attended Willow Creek. B-MLK is 50% African American, 29.2% non-white Latino, 8.7% Asian, 5% white, with the balance listed as mixed race. Willow Creek is 41% white, 25% Latino, 11% each black and Asian, plus mixed-race students.
The litigation was conducted in secret. The result was a settlement that will, according to the grand jury, call on the school district to spend “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.”
Marin’s grand jury wants to find out what was behind the settlement. This is a classic “local” matter involving big money and charges that school trustees’ actions were, according to Becerra, “corrupt.”
It’s black-letter good government policy that the public’s business must be done in public. Our grand jury made a reasonable request for documentation accompanied by properly-issued subpoenas to determine the basis for the blockbuster settlement.
Amazingly, Becerra has filed suit to quash those subpoenas. He claims the AG versus Sausalito-Marin City schools process is secret, meaning key documents should remain under wraps.
Why is the AG stonewalling?
Voters and parents need to see exactly what school trustees did wrong, if anything, so they can decide the appropriateness of their conduct. The public must learn exact amounts allocated to each of the two schools and then accounted for on a per student basis.
This column previously reported that, in 2017, one of the years investigated, the district’s total revenue was $8,740,977. Willow Creek received $3,851,793, $4,251,844 went to B-MLK and $637,340 was spent for joint overhead. Splitting overhead equally between the two schools, per-pupil expenses for Willow Creek are $10,297 and, using the larger enrolment figure, $28,388 at B-MLK. These undisputed numbers were supplied by then interim Sausalito Marin City School District superintendent Terena Mares pursuant to my California Public Documents Act request.
The AG must now disclose that per-school and per-student expenditure figures relied on when he called district trustees “wicked, warped and morally bankrupt.” That damning charge needs to be backed up with written proof. If Becerra ducks transparency, then this is just one more example of a powerful big shot taking on the small fry to propel political ambitions.
When anyone makes efforts to keep the public out of what’s the public’s business, they are hiding something. Would Donald Trump be making herculean efforts to hide his tax returns if they didn’t include incrimination evidence?
If there’s a smoking gun, let’s see it. It’s time for Becerra to show what he’s got.
November 23, 2019
Marin Independent Journal
By Dick Spotswood


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