Measure R: Debra Medina Cordes and Dr. Ruby Durias for the Oxnard Elementary School Board
In 2012 the concerned residents living within the Oxnard School District agreed to raise their own property taxes for up to 40 years by passing a school bond to “ relieve overcrowding at every school” in the Oxnard School District, in the form of a bond called Measure R. What voters may not have realized was that recently modernized schools— Harrington, Elm and Lemonwood — would be razed and new buildings would be constructed. K-8s would be created at five former elementary campuses. All school boundaries would be erased and the entire district would become a school-of-choice district. On top of that ambitious agenda, every child would receive an Apple iPad. In other words, the Oxnard School District was going to reinvent itself in a very risky reconfiguration where 15,000 children and their families would play guinea pigs in an educational experiment approved by the school board.
Caldwell Flores Winters Inc., CFW, is a consulting firm that many school districts hire to write, campaign and pass bond measures. Once the bond is passed CFW will provide bond management services for a district. Oxnard did exactly that with Measure R. The board, with the district’s lawyer, Yuri Calderon, providing the board with legal representation, approved Measure R for the ballot.
CWF then formed a PAC for Measure R and money began to flow in. Ideally, bond projects should be awarded to local contractors keeping the money in the community that was taxed. For the Measure R PAC, out-of-state contractors and out-of-county contractors began to pour cash into the PAC to pass Measure R. Contractors like architectural firm Dougherty and Dougherty were among many that contributed $12,500 to this PAC. About $150,000 were raised to campaign and pass Measure R.
Dougherty got the contract for the Measure R work and this may not be a coincidence. According to an article in Bloomberg in 2006, CFW “shuns competitive bidding 97 percent of the time.” Measure R does not allow competitive bidding for work done in the school district. This means that the taxpayer does not get the lowest bid, or even the highest-quality bid; the taxpayer gets the bid CFW decides they will get.
Yuri Calderon was the district’s chief counsel and helped guide the district on the contract with CFW. The contract between the district and CFW was signed July 11, 2012. By August 2012 Calderon jumped ship from the law firm to become the project director for the district’s new bond consultants, CFW. Calderon’s former legal associates and former partner, Bonifacio Garcia, remain in Oxnard providing legal services for the district.
CFW’s contract with the district has the consulting firm receiving 4.75 percent of costs from Measure R. Remember, that is a $90 million bond with many millions more in matching state grants. CFW does receive an additional 2 percent from any state grants, which were $7 million this year alone. Since technology was a part of the bond, Apple iPads would be bought and handed out to 15,000 students and 750 teachers. I have found that the district has paid CFW around$ 2 million in the past year alone. This may all be typical and ethical business practices for these types of services. I’m not an expert, but I do question the effectiveness of these practices.
Remember the first statement for Measure R, ”Relieve overcrowding at all Oxnard schools”? After all of this money being spent, Oxnard schools still have among the highest class sizes in Ventura County. In addition Oxnard has new K-8s stumbling and unprepared for rowdy middle school students and a lack of behavioral accountability in place, inadequate school busing for clubs and sports programs, and a district staggering with the inherent confusion of having no school site boundaries.
Three incumbents are up for election on Nov. 4. The Oxnard teachers association, OEA, of which this writer is an elected representative and PAC chair, are backing Debra Medina Cordes and Dr. Ruby Durias, two former teachers, one an administrator and the other a curriculum specialist in the district. Teachers believe we need common sense and a fresh set of eyes on this bond and the millions of dollars being spent. Teachers are aware that the incumbents have always had the best intentions for the students. We thank them for their service. District trustees are not paid a salary and being a trustee is not a career. By voting for new leadership on the school board nobody is losing a job, but perhaps, maybe, the children of Oxnard can finally be relieved of overcrowded classrooms.
Chuck Manley is an elected representative of the Oxnard Educators Association.