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Bond problems rooted in personnel decisions

Business contracts from SRCS (Photo: Rose Cromwell, The Puma Prensa)

by Leo Herbstman, editor

*Continuation of article titled SRCS district mismanaging bond money

In an effort to provide readers with more context, this article provides more information about decisions made under Superintendent Diann Kitamura that led to the business decisions described in the mismanagement article which have drained the bond fund and caused rifts with local contractors.

Rick Edson, who will be Deputy Superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools through the end of 2022, was hired by the district in 2014 to be the Chief Technology Officer. Although limited to overseeing technology at first, in 2016, when Kitamura became superintendent, Edson was made Chief Bond Officer in addition to retaining his position as Chief Technology Officer and was charged with overseeing all the Measure I and L bond projects. Edson worked at the Grant Joint Union High School District out of Sacramento at the same time as Kitamura from 2004-2008, which became Twin Rivers Unified School District in 2009.

 Director of Facilities Michael Braff was hired early 2017 to oversee more of the bond projects that Edson was responsible for. Braff worked at the Grant District at the same time as Edson and Kitamura from 2007-2008. Braff has contracted PBK up until 2021 for most architectural services and pushed to keep BEAM Professionals, a PBK subsidiary, even after there were problems with contractors and projects (see front page).

In 2018, Edson was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Business Services after a series of other assistant superintendents had just resolved a structural deficit in the district’s budget.

A structural deficit means the district had more expenditures than revenue, and the blame for this issue went to Assistant Superintendent of Business Services from 2014-2017 Steven Eichman and Executive Director of Fiscal Services from 2015-2016 Carolyn Bischof. In a recent interview with the Prensa, Bill McGuire, who was contracted to help the business department at SRCS, said that Eichman had been overwhelmed and unprepared for his job. Eichman was Chief Bond Officer at San Bruno Park school district before his time with SRCS and has a masters in School Business Management from University of Washington, Whitewater. Eichman also has a Chief Business Officer certification from the California School of Finance.

At the time, the deficit was blamed on an accounting error first reported on January 19, 2017 by The Press Democrat in a story about the structural deficit of the district’s budget. In a recent interview with the Prensa, Bischof explained that there was a line in the budget she missed that was worth around $4 million, but she discovered it in September 2016 and at a budget review in December, an adjustment was made to add the line back. However, The Press Democrat article had an interview with then board president Jenni Klose, who blamed the error on a “high ranking official,” and the paper noted that Bischof had left and that Eichman was leaving to go home to San Bruno. However, Bischof had left months earlier in September 2016, and multiple officials said Eichman was supposed to have been with the district long-term instead of leaving to go home after two years.

“My name was thrown under the bus,” said Bischof during the Prensa interview, adding that The Press Democrat never requested a comment from her in 2017 or after. She said she suspected someone in the district office was attempting to cast blame on her not just for her mistake, but for the $12 million deficit. Ultimately, Bischof’s error was seen to reflect negatively on Eichman as head of district fiscal affairs.

Andre Bell, who similar to Eichman had chief business officer experience, came in to replace Eichman, and said in a recent interview with the Prensa that he thought he would be in the district for a while. “I asked Rick and Diann [about the accounting error] and they didn’t know how to answer. They deflected the whole thing. The [deficit] wasn’t [due to] accounting, it was a bunch of purchases that made the budget overrun,” said Bell.

Bell left eight months after implementing the fiscal recovery stabilization plan to clean up the budget. “The Superintendent [Kitamura] blamed me for the budget problems. I was the scapegoat,” said Bell, adding, “[Kitamura] wanted Rick to have the position but not be under fire, so when the issues were fixed I left and Rick came in.” 

McGuire and current SRCS Executive Director of Fiscal Services Joel Dontos said Bell and Eichman were not good at their jobs and were overwhelmed. However, under Edson, who has been the district’s chief business official since 2018, and who seemingly has no formal business experience prior to his work with SRCS, there has been a fiscal recovery stabilization plan every year, four in total so far. Under these recovery plans, millions of dollars have been cut from the budget and jobs have had to be eliminated or reduced. 

In 2019, according to SRCS School Board meeting minutes, a new position was created for Edson called Deputy Superintendent where he oversaw all business, bonds and technology. 

Though Kitamura is no longer superintendent  and Edson is leaving at the end of this year, Braff’s job does not end until the bond funds run out. 

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