A Berkeley Unified School District oversight committee designed to assist the BUSD board in monitoring school construction funds has had difficulty providing such assistance in the past year because of lack of a quorum.
Most recently, the School Construction Oversight Committee has been charged with overseeing $116.5 million in Measure AA school bond construction money passed by Berkeley voters in 2000.
Committee member Bruce Wicinas says that “after a pretty good record of meeting for the past nine years we have met only intermittently this year.” Wicinas explained that the committee “only had quorums three times this year,” with “a couple of more meetings held where we couldn’t make any decisions because we didn’t have a quorum.”
BUSD Facilities and Maintenance Director Lew Jones—who provides staff support for the committee—had a different recollection, stating that the committee met 10 times last year, with a quorum for six meetings.
The School Construction Oversight Committee has positions for 11 appointed members. Each elected school board member and the board student director has one appointee apiece, the superintendent has two appointee slots, and the board has three more slots to choose collectively.
BUSD Public Information Officer Mark A. Coplan recently released a notice that the BUSD Board of Education “is currently soliciting applicants for ... committees and commissions,” including the School Construction Oversight Committee, and listing an Internet site address where prospective members can fill out an application.
At last week’s reorganization meeting of the board of education, only five members were appointed to the construction committee—the same number, and the same members, who were appointed last year: Lloyd Lee (appointed by board member Joaquin Rivera), James Hallman (John Selawsky), Carl Bridgers (Terry Doran), Matt Taecker (Shirley Issel), and Bruce Wicinas (Nancy Riddle). Student Director Lily Dorman-Colby was not present at last week’s meeting, and Superintendent Michele Lawrence said that she had no recommendations to make for the committee.
At the same meeting, the district filled only five slots on the 11-member Facilities Safety and Maintenance Oversight Committee. Superintendent Lawrence filled only one of two slots on that committee, while both board members Selawsky and Doran said that they had not identified anyone to appoint. Two of the members of the facilities committee are appointed by the Planning and Oversight Committee of the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP).
According to BUSD Facilities and Maintenance Director Jones, a quorum of board advisory committees consists of a majority plus one of the members actually appointed. That means a quorum of the currently five-member School Construction Oversight Committee is three members.
One of the problems with filling the positions may be the specialized qualifications needed by committee members. The district’s web site lists criteria for committee membership that includes construction experience or knowledge (including familiarity with costs of construction and standard trade practices in public construction projects), maintenance and safety knowledge, and budgetary knowledge.
Jones said that while the district desires the committee to function and is “always” interested in getting more people to serve, school construction can legally continue without it.
“The School Construction Oversight Committee is not a statutory committee,” Jones said. He explained that oversight committees created within a bond measure—such as BSEP or the Facilities Maintenance and Security Advisory Committee of Berkeley School Bond Measure BB of 2000—must function in order for the bond money to be spent. Oversight committees created by board policy—such as the construction oversight committee—are advisory panels that are desirable but not legally necessary. “Nothing concerning school construction has to go to the committee first before it goes to the board,” Jones explained. “It’s the board which decides which items they want the committee to review.”
But Jones stressed that the district considers the work of the oversight committee “valuable.”
“We have good people on there,” he said, “but we don’t have as good as an analysis as we would have if there were more committee members.”›