Tavares, FL April 29, 2015
We often point out local government corruption reports from other counties and states so they can be used as a "lessons learned" suggestion for local Lake County government agencies to avoid the same problems.
But a large corruption school district investigation in California may have some lessons or tips for Lake County.
A smaller "Centinela Valley Union school district" covers just four cities near LAX airport including Lawndale and Hawthorne in LA County. The District had just four schools with 6600 students, but was paying their Superintendent $663,000 per year in salary, benefits and perks, or about 4 times what we pay our Superintendant in the bigger Lake County School District. It was also MUCH more than the head of the MUCH larger Los Angeles School District was paid. One result of the series was he voluntarily cut his salary to 1/3 of what he was getting previously. Later, he was then fired and owes the School District $256,000 from overpayments.
A local paper, the "Daily Breeze" started an investigation series that didn't stop until numerous corruption practices were unveiled and they won a Pulitzer Prize for the 10-part investigation.
A red flag to me was contractor Telacu, who was financing campaigns of school board members and was getting all the business. They were a large Latino owned construction firm, and the board members were Latinos. I am pointing this out because that is a common cultural practice in Mexico, and there are towns right now in Southern California (where I lived) where they booted out the existing professionals to hire relatives and friend of elected Hispanics.
Telacu had many employees and vendors contribute to two women on the board so they could win an election. They then got approval for large construction projects funded by $200-million in BONDS for school renovations in the 6600 student district.
"Critics, on the other hand, say the whole thing smacks of a money grab for the interested parties at the expense of the taxpayers.
“The problem with Centinela Valley, and so many school districts and community colleges, is that they have become bond-passing machines that milk the public to pay for lavish construction projects, outrageous salaries and terrible loans,” said Mariano Vasquez, the plaintiff in a lawsuit opposing a recently passed parcel tax floated by Centinela Valley and four feeder elementary school districts."
And, although there is no real evidence these problems are happening in Lake County now, remember the School District and the County Government are angling to RENEW a one penny sales tax for 15 years. When it was passed the last time, both agencies floated massive bonds to overspend on schools and public buildings.
Perhaps the Lake County local governments need to promise they will NOT float bonds if the sales tax renewal is approved by voters, otherwise voters should turn down sales tax renewals. I will be watching to see who is donating to County Board and School Board member campaigns.