By Dave Patterson
At the November 2012 Ramona School Board meeting, several interesting things happened. I suggested that Mr. Graeff’s employment contract needed to be terminated because he is the captain, 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 (certificate of participation). 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 an 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 3 paragraphs that define the board’s 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. Graeff was vociferously defended by one of the board members, claiming that Mr. Graeff is a good guy. I have no reason to think that Mr. Graeff 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 Graeff presented a PowerPoint 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. Graeff 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 $33 million 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. Graeff’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 5 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 $600,000 per year for 2013 and 2014, $1.7M for years 2014 through 2016, and $3.4M every year afterward until 2032.
Later Mr. Graeff 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. Graeff’s annual compensation at approximately $235,000. Third was to use volunteers to repair and maintain the infrastructure, and fifth have the board establish 3 new line items in the budget that include repair of old facilities, adding technology 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.
Dave Patterson is a Ramona resident.