WCCUSD: We are a scope driven program damn it!

WCCUSD por­trays Associate Superintendent — Chief Operations Officer Bill Fay’s de­scrip­tion of scope-based bud­get­ing, not as an ex­pli­ca­tion of some­thing every­one knows about any­way, but as the re­sult of Mr. Fay hav­ing a bad day or some­thing. We all know this is a crock of baloney, and that Dr. Harter’s con­tin­ued car­ry­ing of wa­ter for Charles Ramsey makes him look like a smaller and smaller man.

Here is an ad­di­tional source for the WCCUSD bond program’s cen­tral dy­namic: the Facilities Subcommittee min­utes. Naturally, the PDFs are not in­dexed in Google. I’ll have to comb through them man­u­ally. For now, here’s an ex­am­ple from the March 11th, 2014 meet­ing.

The item is:

C.1 Highland Elementary School Architectural Contract. Presenters: Magdy Abdalla, Chief Engineering Officer; Juan Garrahan, Program Manager of SGI; Steve Kwok of Quattrocchi Kwok Architects ; David Ranch, Principal at Highland

Mr. Abdalla in­tro­duced Mr. Steve Kwok of Quattrocchi Kwok Architects. Mr. Kwok at­tempted to ex­plain the slow­down and why there was a need to re­duce the scope.

Mr. Kwok is ob­vi­ously used to work­ing for dis­tricts where there are real bud­gets. The fool!

Mr. Ramsey clar­i­fied that this was a scope dri­ven pro­gram and the bud­get was ad­justed at the Board level, and where was the break­down?

The King bangs his scep­tre and points out the Prime Directive of WCCUSD. Mere fi­nan­cial con­cerns don’t mat­ter. The com­plaisant School Board will sim­ply change the bud­get.

Mr. Abdalla clar­i­fied to Mr. Ramsey that this was a scope dri­ven pro­gram and the bud­get was ad­justed at Board Level, as well as at a past FSC meet­ing.

The District Engineering Officer quickly jumps in to re­as­sure the King that the Prime Directive will be fol­lowed.

Just one ex­am­ple…

Blows against the Empire /​The Empire Strikes Back

I used Storify to col­lect to­gether some news and com­men­tary rel­e­vant to WCCUSD’s pro­posed bond #7, Measure H, lead­ing up to the elec­tion to­mor­row. Here are some points that strike me on look­ing at this:

  • Nobody in the me­dia seems to care that much about WCCUSD’s uniquely gara­gan­tuan (for the num­ber of stu­dents) con­struc­tion pro­gram ex­cept for the Contra Costa Times. KPIX got in­volved once, but only be­cause of the vi­o­la­tion (I want to say rape) of the Bond Oversight Committee (agenda hi­jack­ing by staff) to ob­tain a faux “con­sul­ta­tion” for an al­ready planned debt ceil­ing waiver ap­pli­ca­tion.
  • Tom Butt’s E-fo­rum is a valu­able tool for Charles Ramsey as a non-dis­trict plat­form for pro­mot­ing his an­tics in the school dis­trict.
  • The sim­ple mo­ment of can­dor by Mr. Fay about the cen­tral dy­namic (“scope-based bud­get­ing”) for our bond con­struc­tion pro­gram has a stick­i­ness that will be hard to get over. Part of it’s stick­i­ness, comes from the sim­ple fact that it’s true. I can’t be­lieve how many times it’s been pre­sented to me over the years as just some­thing every­one knows. Wink. Wink. The model fits the ac­tual be­hav­ior of the dis­trict per­fectly:
    • Spend money on projects with­out limit.
    • Adjust project bud­gets so they’re al­ways on bud­get.
    • When it looks like the avail­able cash is run­ning low, bump a bunch of projects.
    • Use the sad sto­ries of the bumped projects to pass an­other bond

    The dif­fer­ence this time was that the peo­ple at the Contra Costa Times lis­tened to the tape.

See the Storify page list­ing cov­er­age.

Tom Butt Bestirs Himself to Defend His Gravy Train

Tom Butt is some­thing of a Jekyll-and-Hyde char­ac­ter. As a Richmond City Councilman, from what I see as a non-res­i­dent, he seems pretty sane and OK. When it comes to the school dis­trict, he be­comes Ramsey’s lieu­tenant us­ing things like his e-fo­rum to pro­mote Ramsey’s in­ter­ests. His ar­chi­tec­ture firm is one of the ven­dors in the dis­trict bond pro­gram, so Ramsey’s in­ter­ests are his in­ter­ests.

On his e-fo­rum/e-let­ter he sends out aimed at his con­stiuents, he gen­er­ally main­tains a sober tone, but, in re­sponse to the lat­est salvo from the Contra Costa Times against WCCUSD’s pro­posed bond #7 (Measure H), he gets all wiggy. Along with rant­ing against the news­pa­per, he also sin­gles out peo­ple like me for at­tack at the end. This end­ing part is what I’ll zero in on for now.

Here’s the end part:

Another er­ror in the ed­i­to­r­ial is the state­ment “But the school board ap­points the mem­bers, so the [Oversight] com­mit­tee isn’t in­de­pen­dent.” The fact is that 75% of the Oversight Committee mem­bers are ap­pointed by cities within the District, not by WCCUSD board mem­bers.

Regarding the Oversight Committee mem­bers who were quoted in the ed­i­to­r­ial, an E-FORUM reader de­scribes them as fol­lows:

They are a group of dis­grun­tled par­ents who have held a long time grudge against Charles Ramsey. (Charley Cowens, Anton Jungher, Linda Ruiz Lozito, and Valerie Snyder (lives in Castro neigh­bor­hood, was against Portola be­ing built in their neigh­bor­hood, sued our school dis­trict over this, tried to force Portola to be re­built on the Adams site etc. etc.) They tried to force the school board to have as­signed districts/​seats from Pinole and Hercules in an at­tempt to force Charles off the board (they thought if the dis­trict elec­tions passed, that when Charles’ term was up there would al­ready be a per­son from El Cerrito on the board which would pre­clude him from be­ing able to run.

Finally, the ed­i­to­r­ial re­peats the ac­cu­sa­tion that “ fi­nan­cial ben­e­fi­cia­ries — con­struc­tion com­pa­nies, ar­chi­tec­tural firms and or­ga­nized la­bor — have un­der­writ­ten most of the $2.8 mil­lion in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions since 2002 back­ing the bond mea­sures.” All of these con­tri­bu­tions are le­gal and have been pub­licly re­ported as re­quired by law. This is nei­ther news nor is it a rea­son to bash the bond pro­gram. Any con­struc­tion project re­quires ar­chi­tects and con­trac­tors, and all those work­ing on the bond are do­ing so be­cause they were low bid­ders or were com­pet­i­tively se­lected for pro­vid­ing the best value and high­est qual­ity of ser­vices. Because most of them, in­clud­ing my firm, Interactive Resources, have con­tributed to bond pro­gram cam­paigns should sur­prise no one. At the end of the day, it’s not we who de­cide, it’s the vot­ers.

Let me walk through it:

Another er­ror in the ed­i­to­r­ial is the state­ment “But the school board ap­points the mem­bers, so the [Oversight] com­mit­tee isn’t in­de­pen­dent.” The fact is that 75% of the Oversight Committee mem­bers are ap­pointed by cities within the District, not by WCCUSD board mem­bers.

The school dis­trict ap­points the mem­bers of the over­sight com­mit­tee; var­i­ous groups and in­di­vid­u­als (in­clud­ing each school board mem­ber) nom­i­nate peo­ple for par­tic­u­lar slots. There are 5 out of 19 (yes, 19) slots that are city nom­i­nees. This “75%” is just a lie to ap­peal to peo­ple who live in a city like Richmond.

Here is the of­fi­cial ros­ter I keep as Secretary of CBOC. Note how long the Richmond po­si­tion has been va­cant be­cause of the lack of a nom­i­nee.

Regarding the Oversight Committee mem­bers who were quoted in the ed­i­to­r­ial, an E-FORUM reader de­scribes them as fol­lows:

So, it’s not you, Tom, hav­ing at us, it’s just some anony­mous reader. Who is it? If it’s some­one who is a close as­so­ciate of Charles Ramsey, that would help peo­ple in weigh­ing the com­ment.

They are a group of dis­grun­tled par­ents who have held a long time grudge against Charles Ramsey. (Charley Cowens, Anton Jungher, Linda Ruiz Lozito, and Valerie Snyder

  1. I am no longer a dis­trict par­ent and Anton never has been. (The pub­lic schools are a con­cern for the whole pub­lic.)
  2. Our “grudge” against Charles is a con­sis­tent op­po­si­tion to his pol­icy of an un­lim­ited con­struc­tion pro­gram that takes prece­dence over every­thing else and to the sort of regime in the dis­trict that places so much ef­fec­tive power in the hands of one per­son. When a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion is so cor­rupt that it be­comes the per­sonal do­main of one per­son (as WCCUSD of­ten seems to be), any crit­i­cism of that in­sti­tu­tion can be triv­i­al­ized as per­sonal, but that’s just a rhetor­i­cal game.
  3. Valerie Snider has never been on CBOC.

(lives in Castro neigh­bor­hood, was against Portola be­ing built in their neigh­bor­hood, sued our school dis­trict over this, tried to force Portola to be re­built on the Adams site etc. etc.)

How clever — at­tach­ing a paren­the­sized phrase only af­ter Valerie’s name and no one else’s, so it seems like the state­ments ap­ply to all of us. If it’s called out, it’s just an un­in­tended am­bi­gu­ity! None of the rest of us live in that neigh­bor­hood or sued the dis­trict over this. We do all agree that the Portola-new-build vs. Adams-retro­fit de­ci­sion is a per­fect ex­am­ple of how our dis­trict squan­ders con­struc­tion money.

They tried to force the school board to have as­signed districts/​seats from Pinole and Hercules in an at­tempt to force Charles off the board (they thought if the dis­trict elec­tions passed, that when Charles’ term was up there would al­ready be a per­son from El Cerrito on the board which would pre­clude him from be­ing able to run.

Now we get into the big fat lie area…again. I was a co-chair of the ward elec­tions cam­paign. We wanted to “force” an elec­tion to have the vot­ers de­cide on whether to switch away from at-large elec­tions to ward dis­trict elec­tions like in Oakland. One of the ma­jor ob­jec­tives was to bust up things like the El Cerrito 3 (out of 5) that seemed to con­trol the Board fre­quently and also to make it eas­ier for can­di­dates with­out a lot of money or spe­cial in­ter­est back­ing a bet­ter chance to run an ef­fec­tive cam­paign. I wouldn’t have cried if Ramsey ended up off the board, but I had no doubt he would find some way to stay on if it came to that. The point was to achieve the main two ob­jec­tives. However, to a Charles Ramsey groupie, it would have to be com­pletely about him.

Pinole and Hercules are too small to be sep­a­rate wards (and were not treated as such on the sub­mit­ted map), so this idea of re­serv­ing two seats is ridicu­lous and just pan­der­ing to a Richmond au­di­ence.

Finally, the ed­i­to­r­ial re­peats the ac­cu­sa­tion that “ fi­nan­cial ben­e­fi­cia­ries — con­struc­tion com­pa­nies, ar­chi­tec­tural firms and or­ga­nized la­bor — have un­der­writ­ten most of the $2.8 mil­lion in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions since 2002 back­ing the bond mea­sures.” All of these con­tri­bu­tions are le­gal and have been pub­licly re­ported as re­quired by law. This is nei­ther news nor is it a rea­son to bash the bond pro­gram. Any con­struc­tion project re­quires ar­chi­tects and con­trac­tors, and all those work­ing on the bond are do­ing so be­cause they were low bid­ders or were com­pet­i­tively se­lected for pro­vid­ing the best value and high­est qual­ity of ser­vices. Because most of them, in­clud­ing my firm, Interactive Resources, have con­tributed to bond pro­gram cam­paigns should sur­prise no one. At the end of the day, it’s not we who de­cide, it’s the vot­ers.

Presumably, this is now Tom speak­ing. Yes, of course it’s le­gal, but many per­fectly le­gal ac­tions can have so­cially harm­ful con­se­quences. Not only does the large amount of money float­ing around cre­ate a vi­cious cir­cle of end­less bonds, but that money also af­fects who gets elected to over­see the ex­pen­di­tures and de­cide on how much ef­fort to put into pur­su­ing fu­ture bonds.