Page One

BUSD extends contract with finance consultant

By Jeffrey Obser Daily Planet staff
Thursday October 04, 2001

Faced with slim pickings in the search for a new associate superintendent for finances, the Berkeley School Board on Wednesday was expected to approve a $23,000-per-month contract with a Southern California consulting firm to carry out the district’s financial functions in the short term. 

Two part-time consultants with Vicenti, Lloyd and Stutzman, an educational services firm based in La Verne, Los Angeles County, have managed the district’s problem-plagued finances since the summer departure of associate superintendent Cathy James, after 11 years. 

“We thought when they first were hired that we would have a business manager sooner than it’s turned out to be,” said School Board President Terry Doran. 

The district’s finances have been plagued in the last two years by persistent fallout from the Y2K computer bug and a difficult ongoing transfer of computer operations to a new system. In August, the Alameda County education department deemed the 2001-2002 Berkeley Unified School District budget unacceptable because it overstated revenues by up to $2.5 million and omitted federal revenues and categorical programs totaling some $17 million. 

District Superintendent Michele Lawrence said at that time that the district could not meet a Sept. 8 deadline to fix its books. As a result, Alameda County officials were scheduled to formally announce the rejection of the budget at Wednesday’s board meeting. This will trigger intervention by a state-appointed budget committee. 

“The districts that have the greatest trouble recruiting are the ones that have had financial difficulties in the past,” said Kevin Gordon, executive director of the California Association of School Business Administrators (CASBO). 

Lawrence and her staff have been searching for a new business services chief, but Doran said the small pool of qualified candidates so far may necessitate either a second round of ads and queries or the hiring of a professional search firm. 

“There isn’t an active recruitment right now,” Lawrence said Wednesday.  

Dr. David Gomez, the district’s associate superintendent for administrative services, said options under consideration included looking outside California, offering a higher salary, or changing the job description or title. The first round of advertisements, Gomez said, had specified a maximum salary of $126,000. Doran said the next might rise to $150,000. 

In the meantime, the consultants are working at an annual rate of $276,000. The gap between the figures can be partially accounted for by the benefits package awarded to full-time employees, said Gordon, the CASBO chief. The consultants, said Doran, are also doing extra work on streamlining and reorganizing processes. 

The consultants are staying at “local hotels, not expensive ones,” Gomez said. 

Gordon said that the consultants’ extra cost may be a good investment. California school districts, with the most ambitious educational mandates in the country, are faced with attaining “world class standards on a third-world budget” and need to allow the time to find someone who is a proper fit for the district. 

“This is not someone who is a bean counter, this is not somebody who worries about where the furniture is going to be placed,” Gordon said. “This is a person who has to have a very broad understanding of the goals of the district and that helps to drive the budget and fiscal processes of the district to achieve those goals.” 

“It’s a broader job; it’s a leadership job,” Gordon said. 

Doran and other school board members said Wednesday afternoon that the resolution was “not controversial” among board members and that they expected it to pass. 

“It is absolutely necessary,” Doran said.