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SRCS district mismanaging bond money

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

by Leo Herbstman, editor

Rapidly depleted funds, questionable work and frayed relationships with the local base of contractors are some of the results of business decisions made by Santa Rosa City Schools related to Measure I and L bonds, which were passed by voters in 2014 in order to upgrade facilities and technology in the district. In one case, this involved ignoring the competitive selection process required by board policy to select an out-of-the-area firm to provide architectural and construction management services, and in another contracting for consulting services that may not have been performed. 

In November 2016, through a competitive process required by Board Policy 7140 called a request for qualifications, five architects were chosen that could be used for bond projects: Quattrocchi Kwok Architects (QKA), TLCD Architecture, AXIA Architects and two others that have not been used. Despite the fact that Houston-based PBK Architects did not participate in the request for qualifications process, they have taken on the majority of the facilities work associated with the bonds, including the major roofing and HVAC projects. Working with SRCS out of their Sacramento office, PBK’s original contract in March 2016 was for doing roofing assessments for all of SRCS’s 24 schools. 

In February 2017, an amendment to PBK’s roofing contract gave them architectural projects including 10 roofing/HVAC projects worth over $1 million. Typically with this kind of work, architects and construction management firms, who represent the school board by handling advertisements, legal documents, bid documents and inspections of projects, are separate so that the construction manager can independently oversee the work of the architect, yet on these projects PBK was allowed to do their own oversight. They approved their own change orders and supervised their own progress.

 PBK acted as their own construction manager for the roofing/HVAC projects, for which they were also the architect, even though another competitive process to choose construction managers had already taken place in which PBK did not participate. Counterpoint Construction Services was one of three firms, all located in Sonoma County, selected through the competitive process. Counterpoint was the main representative of the district in the early stages of the bond program, and Project Manager at Counterpoint, Scott Baer, said the original intention was for them to represent the district for bond-related facilities projects, but they have not been used since early 2017. PBK taking the construction management role instead has frustrated Baer and others at Counterpoint. 

Instead of Counterpoint actually taking the lead in terms of construction management, Director of Facilities Michael Braff was hired as Director of Facilities to oversee the bond program in March 2017 and paid through bond money. He proceeded to delegate construction management duties to PBK. Braff came from Twin Rivers Unified School District (Twin Rivers) in Sacramento, where he worked from 2007-2008, and where Deputy Superintendent Rick Edson and former SRCS Superintendent Diann Kitamura also worked when it was still called the Grant Joint Union High School District before being reorganized into Twin Rivers. 

Contrary to what Braff’s assistant, consultant Beth Brose, told the Prensa in a December interview that PBK and Braff have connections that go back to Twin Rivers. While Braff was at Twin Rivers, his boss, Deputy Superintendent of Twin Rivers Bill McGuire, had his own company California School Inspections, LLC contracted to assist PBK with their SRCS roofing assessment in March 2016. McGuire said in a recent interview that the contract with PBK did not happen because if it had it would have been a conflict of interest since he hired PBK while he was on the selection committee with Braff at Twin Rivers. Yet McGuire’s company CSI was awarded two more contracts by SRCS at the end of 2016.

PBK’s main representative for SRCS is Shawn Lecrone. He was director of PBK’s Facilities Consulting Division out of Sacramento and also vice president of BEAM Professionals in Berkeley, a roofing consultant and quality assurance subsidiary of PBK, until he became president of BEAM in 2021. 

Lecrone and PBK have gotten all of the summer roofing/HVAC replacement projects as both architect and construction manager, despite not having been chosen through the process required by the board: six in 2018 including MCHS’s for $2.9 million, four in 2020 for $2.9 million and four in the summer of 2021 for $2.6 million. Up until 2021, the other three architects, the ones who had been approved through the competitive process, had only done five total projects for the district, which totalled just under $1.7 million combined. 

Local contractors have been frustrated by the power PBK has and their relationship with Braff, the facilities director. “We don’t want to work with PBK and Mike Braff,” said Joe Cabral of Matrix HG, one of the main district general contractors that worked on multiple roofing/HVAC replacement projects in the years before the bonds. He said the plans for the projects are not very accurate, but when contractors complain, because PBK acts as their own construction manager, they defend themselves and get no pushback from Braff.

Don Brooks of Henris Roofing, another contractor with years experience working with SRCS, said his company is reluctant to work with the district at this point as well. He said that especially on the Santa Rosa High School roofing/HVAC project, PBK’s plans were not accurate and took a long time to reconcile, slowing down the pace of the job. “If they replace these people and more jobs come out to bid, I am more than happy to bid on them [projects],” said Ismael Avila, from Stronger Building, a general contractor.

In 2017, a firm called Harrison Management Solutions LLC (HMS) located in Folsom, just outside Sacramento, was given a six month contract right after Braff arrived. They were contracted to assist in the preparation of projects and to assist the facilities director as well as to do construction management for $50,000, three days a week, and a yearlong contract in December 2017 for $180,000, five days a week. The company is led and represented by Beth Brose and her daughter Erin. According to Twin Rivers board agendas and contracts, Braff also contracted HMS to do the same kind of work from 2009-2017. HMS, though, was suspended by the California Franchise Tax Board in 2012, despite being handed two SRCS contracts in 2017 and working with Twin Rivers through 2017. When a company is suspended by the tax board, it means that they either did not properly file or pay their taxes or did not update their file with the Secretary of State. If a company is suspended, they cannot legally do business in California. HMS has two separate addresses on Secretary of State forms and a third, different address on district forms. HMS has also not updated the statement of information with  the Secretary of State since 2012. 

After the last HMS contract was up at the end of 2018, KTR Facilities Inc. was created under Brose’s daughter’s name. This company was given four straight $80,000 six month contracts starting two months after the last HMS contract, and one $105,600 six month contract. KTR was also suspended by the Tax Board midway through the $105,600 contract in 2021, and despite this they were awarded a new $80,000 contract in March of this year. 

Both HMS and KTR  have been contracted with SRCS to provide facilities consulting and construction management services. According to architects Steve Kwok of QKA and Don Tomasi of TLCD, contractors Brooks, Avila and Cabral and two district officials, one high ranking, and who both spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, Beth Brose does not do construction management work and is never seen on project sites. “Beth is like Mike’s assistant. She understands construction and acts as an administrative assistant,” said Tomasi. The highest paid administrative assistant in SRCS in 2020 got a salary of $68,000 per year; whereas KTR/Beth Brose receive upwards of $160,000 or more per year.

The signature block of Brose’s  district provided email, the address of which takes the same format as any district employee’s, reads “SRCS/Facilities Services Consultant,” and most invoices for work Brose is paid for mention “facilities and bond assistance.” According to Brooks of Henris Roofing and Matrix representatives Cabral and Frank Villa, Brose does not provide project management or construction management on projects, which is what she seems to be contracted for. Brose did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Beth Brose did spearhead the LED marquee replacement projects at schools. As of 2018, a total of 20 marquees have been installed in front of schools through bond funds by a Sacramento area contractor called Shadko Construction and Design. According to owner Tim Shadko, he also worked with Braff and Brose at Twin Rivers. The marquees cost over $600,000.

The marquees have already been finished; meanwhile, there are still schools waiting for roofing/HVAC projects to either be started or completed. MCHS was a project where only a couple roofs were redone while most of the others were left untouched. There are still nine schools with no roofing/HVAC work done on them yet at all. In a December interview, Braff told the Prensa that there may not be enough money to go back to schools like MCHS and finish their projects. He also said the district is considering going out for a new bond measure, but Tomasi said that he would have trouble supporting another bond measure. “I have concerns about a selection process that identified a handful of [architectural] firms who get very little work,” he said.

There have also been problems with the lighting in the MCHS theater that have yet to be taken care of, and at this point the lights are broken and need to be fully replaced, which could be done through bond funds. MCHS choir teacher Gail Bowers said the broken aisle lights make it hard to see where anyone is going and are a safety issue; however, after five years of emails and calls, there has been little attention paid to them. MCHS Fine Arts Committee member Sherilyn Draper said MCHS has been trying since about 2017 to get the lights replaced by pleading with the district. 

Jenifer Bruneman, former Director of Maintenance, Operations and Facilities for SRCS from 2006-2014 who is now working for the West County Union High School District in the same capacity and is still a member on the Measure I Citizens Bond Oversight Committee for SRCS, said she has had conversations Rick Edson periodically since 2017, the Deputy Superintendent, about the amount of outside businesses coming in. 

“I said why are we spending money on architects and consultants who have to travel to Santa Rosa,” Bruneman said, adding, “TLCD, AXIA, QKA built some campuses, so don’t tell me PBK knows more so you’re paying a ton of money for traveling architects instead of using the local architect pool.” 

The last project Bruneman oversaw at SRCS was the SRHS track and field replacement in 2014. She said that in 2018 it was redone again, this time by yet another Sacramento area company, for $1.9 million, which she said was a waste of money since the track had five to six years left of use. She gave this as another example that, to her, represented a waste of money, along with the marquees. 

School board members are ultimately responsible for awarding the contracts. Often, when contracts are up for approval, board members motion to approve them in bulk without going through each field.

Former Board President Jenni Klose declined to comment except to ask why, with all of the district problems, would the newspaper look into the issues found in the article. Multiple public records requests have been denied through the district’s legal team Fagan Friedman & Fullfrost, who former Superintendent Diann Kitamura consults with, even after every effort to satisfy the districts’ requests for specificity. These requests included email correspondence between multiple high ranking district officials, including Edson and Braff, email correspondence between PBK and the district, as well as communication between HMS and the district. Braff, Kitamura, Lecrone and Edson all denied requests for comment.

Correction: In the May 27 print edition, it stated California School Inspections LLC got two contracts to work with PBK in December 2017. However, only one was for PBK, the other was to help the business department.

*Continued on article Bond problems rooted in personnel decisions

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