Turning the Corner on Condo Debacle

I am very embarrassed. Through an unfortunate set of circumstances, I have contributed to diluting the critical conversation about the quality of public education in Santa Clara County. The debate on how to ensure a high quality public education experience for every child in SCC is too important to have it held hostage to a serious error of judgment. The focus of far too many articles in the San Jose Mercury News has been about a condo and contract debacle that I have tried to own for personal naivety. And not asking the right questions of legal counsel when the new superintendent’s contract was negotiated in March 2012.

I incorrectly thought it was implicit that when a loan is given a monthly or annual payment would be made to decrease the loan’s liability, as well as the public’s. If the Board and I knew about the anti-deficiency legislation, we would have insisted upon a monthly payment and maybe even a down payment. Both would mitigate potential loss of a housing loan after four years, when the employment contract of a superintendent was not renewed or if the county office of education’s CEO left before the contract was fulfilled.

Today, I know more about anti-deficiency legislation—the ability of a homeowner to walk away from an underwater loan without being responsible to pay the whole amount borrowed back to the lender; the case of Superintendent Chuck Weis—than I want to. However, I did not need to learn about it the hard way. It should have been something the Board was informed about five years ago when, before my time on the board and Dr. Weis’ contract was negotiated.

It is imperative that we learn from these mistakes as public servants and never make them again. This is why I am requesting that the SCCOE’s policy council bring back to the board for adoption a legal policy about any future housing loan. If a housing loan is made to a future superintendent, it should never be made without a proper down payment and monthly/annual payment to decrease the public’s liability if anti-deficiency legislation is invoked.

That said, I am certain that in the spring of 2008 not too many experts thought property values in Silicon Valley would ever go down. The credit default swaps and loan scandals across the U.S. led to a cataclysmic meltdown of the U.S. and world economies. I will continue to take the negative hits as president of the Board, but hopefully the corner on this tragic episode can be turned with the renegotiations of a new contract, mutually agreed to with our new Superintendent, Dr. Xavier De La Torre.

As the Mercury News said in last week’s editorial, Dr. De La Torre “is a promising leader.” The SCCOE Board of Trustees strongly agrees with the aforementioned assertion. I believe it is likely he would not have been able to afford to come here from El Paso to lead this complex effort of school reform without the assistance of a housing loan. We are happy he decided to come to the Valley of Hearts Delight.

It is my distinct hope that we can return every potentially lost public dollar—none have been lost yet—to the public till in order to regain the public’s trust. If we held title to the Weis condo at Axis and we sold it today, the SCCOE would be down approximately $225,000. I believe with rising home values, holding Weis accountable and receiving income from renting, minus expenses, we can get pretty close to even by December 2013. It will take a majority of SCCOE Board members to agree with this premise. I believe we will soon discuss all of this in open session at one of our regularly scheduled meetings.

We must get back to a high-level conversation for the public good on the new work of our superintendent as he leads the office, its programs and the services to districts. Public education is the number one issue of our day. It should receive far more attention during this presidential race than it has. Our economic future and our national security are tied to the success of schools and their students.

I hope this is the last column I write that is not totally focused on a public education issue for SJI’s readers consumption and discourse. Next Tuesday, I hope my column will be about the newly released report titled, “Whole Person, Whole School,” by the UCLA Mental Health in Schools Program and Policy Analysis+.

Joseph Di Salvo is president of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

13 Comments

  1. You should be embarrassed about not reading the contract with Superintendent Weis.  In another time, a person who played with the public trust would simply resign their position and step aside.

    You should have been embarrassed when Superintendent Weis called the diverse white American students in schools around the county by a foul label designed to belittle them and deny their diversity.

    You should have been embarrassed when you tried to blame the diverse white Americans in your passive-aggressive way for the dreadful state of public education even as the middle schools all around the city were and are only minimally preparing students for high school…that dirty little secret needs serious attention from responsible media.

    You should have been embarrassed when you did your “smoke & mirrors” plan to kick local education problems down the road to 2020 when all the world knows that public education has been on notice since 2002 that it has serious problems in educating each of its students to proficiency, and was given until 2014 to solve the problems.  Twelve years is not good enough for you…you want an extra six years until 2020 to accomplish what you haven’t even touched in the last ten years.

    What an embarrassment you are!

    PS:  At least County Board Member Anna Song saw most of this coming, and worked hard as County Board President to put a stop to the Weiss nightmare…with very little help from you.

  2. Say it ain’t so, Joe!  Tell me that you didn’t once again give away the store to De La Torre—- my gosh, what are you doing meddling in the business of finance anyway?! 

    You and the SCCOE top finance guy need to make a deal:  you won’t do anything finance related and he won’t make policy decisions for the SCCOE Board of Trustees… please!

  3. I find your proposal to retain the property and try to make it pay over time a poor path. You are charged with our children’s present and future, not to enter into speculative investments.  Cut your losses and jettison the liability in the most beneficial way possible, but don’t make the Board a party to real estate speculation.  There is no community expectation that is a skill any of you have and it is not what got you elected.  Move on and refocus.  we are all too prone to love the scandal and not the outcome.  Educating children that’s the job.  It is big enough to not add to it with this plan.

  4. How you rose to this level of governance astounds me.  You did not understand a contract ergo you should not have pushed said contract through.  And your statement, “I am certain that in the spring of 2008 not too many experts thought property values in Silicon Valley would ever go down.”  You are obviously dumber (or as you state naive) about the workings of the world around you than any board of education head should be.

    Shame. 

    And why on Earth do you need to entice employees with subsidized housing when you give them hundreds of thousands of dollar a year salaries?  Think about that on its own.  It is rare that anyone except the highest level executives in private industry get such remuneration.  You are not private industry.  I wholly understand ‘pigs at the trough’ now.

  5. > It is imperative that we learn from these mistakes as public servants and never make them again. This is why I am requesting that the SCCOE’s policy council bring back to the board for adoption a legal policy about any future housing loan.

    Oh great!

    I feel better now.  It sounds to me like you have taken decisive action and really held the stumblebums accountable.

    By the way, how many file cabinets are there at SCCOE headquarters full of legal policies accumulated since day one of SCCOE’s existence? 

    Does anyone ever read them?

  6. Your problem is that you fancy yourself as some sort of visionary.  Hire some guy and label him as “a gamechanger”, think deep thoughts about building a charter school and on and on.

    Worry about the little things, and stay away from the big picture.  You are not JFK.  Maybe you can be Gerald Ford.

  7. Get out of “public service” for a while. Start a business. Hire people and pay them with your own money. Make mistakes. Go bankrupt. Feel the pain of your poor decisions. Learn from them. Try again. Get better. THEN come back to public service because then you might be more able to offer something of value.

  8. Now it appears that a group of wealthy Bullis Charter School backers from Los Altos have created a PAC specifically to after Anna Song in retaliation for her efforts last October to force the charter school to do more in educating a broader population than they currently do.

    The mysterious group—Santa Clara County Schools PAC—has a treasurer from Elk Grove, CA, and in a mailer they sent this week, they are trying to blame Anna for the entire mess.

    It also looks like this same group of wealthy Bullis Charter School backers is funding another PAC—this one formed to oppose a school board candidate in Santa Clara.

    I guess Bullis Charter School board members aren’t busy enough suing Los Altos School District. They clearly have cash to burn on campaigns that have absolutely no connection to their school.

  9. The campaign filing for the Santa Clara County Schools PAC, the group that put out the hit piece on Ms. Anna Song, has a principal officer names Alicia Gellegos Fambrini.  Google her name and you’ll find out that she’s the “Director, San Jose Charter School Consortium at California Charter Schools Association.”  What is someone who works for the CA Charter Schools Association doing as the principal of a political action committee which puts out a hit piece on a County School Board Trustee?  Ms. Fambrini has some explaining to do.

    Then do some more Googling of address/phone information.
    The address for the PAC committee of 300 South First Street, San Jose, Suite 340 is for Jude Barry’s political consulting firm Catapult Strategies, and the committee phone number is for JMR Strategic, a political consulting firm owned by Jay Rosenthal (who used to work for Jude Barry) in San Francisco – JMR Strategic lists Bullis Charter School as one of its current clients and Santa Clara Unified School District as a past client.

    Santa Clarans may recall Jude Barry as a consultant for Yes on J, the 49ers stadium campaign, which brought us $5 million worth of mailers, ads, TV/radio commercials, and yardsigns to convince people to vote yes on the stadium, give away precious public funds to a billionaire NFL owner, and unknowingly sign the city up for $950 million in loans which purposefully weren’t disclosed on the Measure J ballot.

  10. “It also looks like this same group of wealthy Bullis Charter School backers is funding another PAC—this one formed to oppose a school board candidate in Santa Clara.”

    Didn’t Van Pernis pledge ethical leadership in Samta Clara?  I guess Van Pernis is a typical politician who says anything.

  11. Gee, now the stadium is involved.  I hardly think so, and it seems that TAXPAYER is more interested in the stadium campaign than the school board campaign.

    I do not support really anyone in Santa Clara anymore, but I did look things up, and Michele Ryan is linked, as even the cyberbullies say, to the Heartland Institute, a neo conservative group opposed to public education and for charter schools.  Again, not a supporter of the stadium, but it has nothing to do with the schools, though I suspect Taxpayer is more interested than being a bailey than a friend to the schools.