SCCOE Hides Supe’s Contracts, Violates Public Records Act

child porn and abuse scandal—as well as public scrutiny on how the county schools chief spends taxpayer dollars behind closed doors—has sent the Santa Clara County Office of Education into lockdown mode.

The stonewalling includes violations of the Public Records Act.

Over the last month, San Jose Inside has published multiple reports on Superintendent Jon Gundry’s attempts to funnel $250,000 to a mystery company’s consultant—without requiring a single document beyond blanket invoices. Once the contract became public, and after the SCCOE had already shelled out $92,925, the consultant quit.

San Jose Inside pursued the story further and requested a list of all payroll and financial consulting contracts since Gundry joined the county last summer. A request was also submitted for all of the superintendent’s single-source contracts, which allow Gundry to sign agreements up to $99,999 without a bidding process while also skipping review by the Board of Education or business office.

Gundry had the threshold for review changed in November, when previously all contracts above $10,000 were more thoroughly vetted.

The SCCOE, which oversees Santa Clara County's 31 school districts, said that Gundry has signed four single-source contracts since coming aboard, with a ceiling of $185,750. In emails from its chief spokesman, the organization insisted that no other records exist—but that no longer appears to be true.

San Jose Inside has since learned, according to sources, that the SCCOE flouted the state's Public Records Act by refusing to turn over multiple consulting contracts as requested. The SCCOE claimed that no other documents existed, rather than citing confidentiality concerns or government exemptions.

At least one of these contracts appears to have been signed with a consultant named Sue Daniel for a total cost of $99,999—one dollar short of needing approval from the seven-member elected Board of Education. Daniel had no comment when reached by phone, and sources tell San Jose Inside that the Board of Education had no knowledge of her contract.

Despite multiple requests for clarification on the contracts, Director of Media and Communications Ken Blackstone either ignored requests or denied that the records existed. He refused to return calls for comment for several days before going on vacation Thursday. He is not expected back in the office until July 1.

Ken Blackstone

Ken Blackstone

Sources tell San Jose Inside that Blackstone was aware as far back as Tuesday morning that he was actively concealing the existence of public records that were subject to disclosure under California law.

Multiple requests for an interview with Superintendent Gundry have also gone ignored. While his office has refused to turn over all financial consulting contracts, the records that were provided raise serious questions about the superintendent’s commitment to transparency and stewardship of public dollars.

Gundry signed a $99,500 contract on April 8 with the firm James and Stewart for legal work “concerning payment of payroll taxes and penalties.” Of the total amount, $4,885 has already been paid. Sources say the SCCOE’s business office was unaware of the contract until San Jose Inside began receiving documents from Blackstone.

On May 14, the superintendent signed a $15,000 deal with law firm Hanson Bridgett. It’s not clear what inspired the contract, as the only description of duties is “legal services as required.” At a rate of $515 per hour, the contract will max out in a little more than 29 hours of work.

Gundry’s smallest single-source contract—a $3,700 agreement with Skypark, LLC—was designed for coaching and management training, as well as facilitating a Board of Education retreat. The contract’s deliverables were written by hand and it’s not clear if the company contact, Sharon Harvey, is the owner. She declined comment when contacted for this story, and while her company is listed as limited liability corporation in the contract (LLC), no active LLC exists in California under that name, according to  the Secretary of State’s website. The company’s address in Redondo Beach appears to be a 1900-square foot home a mile from the beach.

Last week, Gundry signed a deal to begin farming out communication work, in particular any public relations regarding the Walden West scandal. This was done in part because Blackstone is on vacation and Rachel Zlotziver, who also handles communications/PR, is on jury duty.

On June 10, Gundry signed a $67,500 consulting contract with Communication Resources for Schools. Set to run through the end of this year, the contract brings on Tom Delapp and Stephen Nichols to handle everything from writing press releases and answering media calls to coordinating strategy on what Gundry will tell the public.

Delapp, who was brought on as an “executive coach” during the tenure of Gundry’s predecessor (Xavier De la Torre), told San Jose Inside that he has done “crisis management” for issues as varied as a transgender homecoming queen in Huntington Beach to the Columbine school massacre.

His skillset was considered necessary after parents of a child allegedly abused by Walden West camp counselor Edgar Covarrubias-Padilla filed a lawsuit. Covarrubias-Padilla also possessed child pornography, according to prosecutors.

Delapp said the SCCOE task force was his idea, but the group will not be on a fact-finding mission to learn what occurred at Walden West. Rather, the task force plans to study camp policies and see if they are in line with best practices.

“The task force was my idea, largely because I think we have to address the issue of that wonderful camp not being put on trial while we have Covarrubias-Padilla on trial,” Delapp said.

A press conference is planned for Friday to discuss the task force's work in more detail.

Delapp said he and his colleague will be paid $225 an hour, which is the same rate Mark Skvarna was paid for his record-less consulting contract through School Business Service Consultants. Skvarna also billed the SCCOE the same hourly wage for nearly $20,000 in travel time in just six months. Delapp said he would only bill the county if he's working on the phone while traveling "portal to portal."

In a third conversation Thursday afternoon, Delapp seemed to acknowledge that the SCCOE has not been forthcoming with all of its financial consulting contracts, including the one for Daniel’s work as a payroll consultant.

San Jose Inside spent approximately 50 minutes on the phone with Delapp for this story, at a billable rate of $187.50. This additional expense to taxpayers could have been avoided had the SCCOE’s salaried communications department simply followed the law and provided the documents.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to josh@metronews.com or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

34 Comments

  1. I suppose Sue Daniel’s contract was for uber-sensitive stuff as well. National security level stuff not subject to public records act. Hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars being spent on secretive consulting for a big problem that just can’t be disclosed. Sorry, but trust us! What the heck is going on here? Maybe the best use of money for consultants would be to hire a retired DOJ prosecutor to investigate possible RICO violations. The clear deliverable in the contract will be a detailed report describing the findings.

    • Confusing. I clicked on the hyperlink on Sue Daniels Consultant in the article above and the purchase document show consultant is doing payroll services. Is that not what the other consultant named Mark Skavarna is already doing?

  2. Superintendent Gundry and Ken Blackstone appears to be intentionally withholding information from the reporter. This is criminal. Someone needs to take action.

  3. Incompetence

    I read in of the Walden West reports that the SCCOE has an internal audit office. I then read an email that states that that SCCOE’s internal audit office and Mary Ann Dewan spend thousands hiring –or recommending that the County Sup hire — consultants and auditors that are charged with going on witch hunts. Perhaps Gundry has been and continues to be mislead by incompetent advisors? If so, then he too is incompetent for listening to them.

    Board Action Required

    The Santa Clara County Board of Education needs to fire Gundry, the Judy Kershaw/Sue Daniels/Marcos Skavarna/Butler Mafia, Ken Blackstone, and that Dewan Walden West chief. What a bunch of corrupt, unethical and incompetent group of public officials.

    Thanks Josh

    As always, GREAT reporting Josh! You are so thorough, and make complex matters easy to understand. Can you do an article on the consequences of violating the PRA? Will Gundry and Blackstone go to jail? What happens to whistle blowers? Can you please investigate the corruption at Walden West that is being lead by Mary Ann Dewan/Jon Gundry?

  4. Josh: Good job so far. However, it’s time to stop taking no for an answer and file a California Public Records Act lawsuit against the SCCBOE, each Trustee individually, and Blackstone. They are probably hiding or destroying documents which will be sought in the inevitable civil lawsuit against Walden West and the SCCBOE over the alleged pedophile Padilla. It’s also time for the D.A. to start a criminal investigation of Gundry and the Board of Trustees.

    • I’m sure by now, something is happening. Clearly, Board President Green has no authority to direct the Gundry Superintendent. That entire operation needs criminal investigating.  

  5. Nice….again glaringly absent from this story is SanJose Inside’s inside man at the Sccoe Joseph DiSalvo who is a board member And whose bio lists him as part of the JOINT COMMITTEE on CHILD CARE…

  6. Why would any competent superintendent relax signature thresholds by $90,000 and increase his/her liability?

    Incompetent from the beginning

      • John O’Connor, are you saying Jon Gundry is getting kickbacks for himself? Could the County Office of Education be maintaining the clandestine contracts from Reporter Josh because Gundry/Blackstone have a serious criminal operation? Or, could it be that they are incompetent, don’t know what they are doing, and as a result, keep hiring consultants to help them figure something out?

        The remainder of my comment will assume they are completely incompetent.

        I have worked for and provided services to many city and county governments, and have found that some incompetent public officials hire us consultants to do their work because they are incompetent. As a partner of my firm, quite honestly, we regularly ‘milk’ public officials like Gundry/Blackstone because it’s easy to make money. Very easy. They don’t ask for deliverables, they don’t ask for reports, they don’t ask for back-up. Simply put, we invoice/bill, they pay. NO QUESTIONS. No back-up required. These public officials just pay. It’s complete fiscal irresponsibility, but it happens. So when reporters start asking for back-up of the various consultant contracts, and they have nothing to show for, they panic.

        Based on your report, if the contracts were legitimate and on the up and up, why would they hide them from the reporter? I don’t understand.

        Reporter Josh, please keep digging. We hope the County Board of Education takes action soon, and before the DA, AG and CDE take them down. At that point, it’s too late and they become complicity.

        • Nope. Signature Threshold asked a question. I responded with a POSSIBLE answer. There are other possible answers. You, however, have just confessed to a crime, most likely a felony, when you wrote: “As a partner of my firm, quite honestly, we regularly ‘milk’ public officials like Gundry/Blackstone because it’s easy to make money.” Any DAs reading? Time to subpoena SJI’s records to determine the identity of Kickbacks For Gundry’s Team and prosecute him/her.

  7. > Despite multiple requests for clarification on the contracts, Director of Media and Communications Ken Blackstone either ignored requests or denied that the records existed. He refused to return calls for comment for several days before going on vacation Thursday. He is not expected back in the office until July 1.

    What arrogance! “Not expected back in the office until July 1.”

    In the real world of the private sector, Blackstone would have received a phone call from the CEO saying:

    “Cancel your effing vacation and get your butt back in here in ten minutes.”

  8. Who is the President of the County School Board? Isn’t it Darcie Green, candidate for State Assembly? Voters beware!

  9. Let’s see:
    1. Oh there is a lot more to the behavior of many people in the COE. One likes to loiter or troll around dirty book stores on his lunch hour. How do I know. He frequents the bookstore I used to work at it was a job. Like his face in not known…
    2. The county center on Hillsdale frequently has adults who are sex registrants, parole’s and adults on probation for drug sales to murder regularly attending classes with high school students. I attend that place about six years ago when in high school. I was working with an older dude in his 40’s. He told me he was on parole for a sex offense. Didn’t do anything to me, but he was in class with kids my age and it was pretty damn weird. Asked him if they knew he was a sex offender. He told me they didnt. I would never send my kid to that place…creepy

  10. ABOUT 10 MONTHS AFTER GUNDRY started with the SCCOE, and when Gundry was first caught by Josh Koehn regarding his corrupt contracts, Gundry reported that Butler/Skavarna provided LIP SERVICE to him for the $90,000 he authorized in payments to Butler/Skavarna. No deliverables. No reports. No products. The Board of Education gave Gundry a pass on his report that Butler/Skavarna provided LIP SERVICE to the County Superintendent for $90,000.

    No accountability.

    Now, Gundry/Blackstone deny that a $99,999 contract with the Susan Daniels “auditor” exists. I don’t even work there anymore and I know that Susan Daniels is there. There is another consultant who is working there with the name of Pat (I’ll get her last name very soon and send it your way). I think all these people started after Gundry changed the signature threshold.

  11. Huh?

    I just read through the various SJI articles on this scam. I also watched the board meeting video which is apparently going viral privately.

    Disalvo tried but was critized and reprimanded by Ana Song. Josh tried but apparently Gundry/Blackstone lied to him.

    Who’s next?

    How many people can these SCCOE bafoons blame before something happens?
    It’s so clear that Gundry has no respect for his supervisors. If I lied to my bosses, I’d be canned. I guess that’s because my boss’ have brains.

    This consultant kick back scandal is the worst public scandal in years. More soon.

  12. Seems to be a pattern of behavior for Gundry:
    http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com/2014_02_01_archive.html

    “The saga of Ramon Miramontes’ questionable “contract” with PUSD continues, as reflected in new revelations disclosed in articles in the Pasadena Weekly and the Pasadena Star-News last week. Both the Pasadena Weekly article, “A closer look”, and the Star-News article, “Pasadena Unified School Board President halts Consulting Contract with former School Board member“, report on the controversy over an alleged agreement between PUSD Superintendent Jon Gundry and Miramontes to have the former school board member get paid as a consultant to the district soon after he left the board.”

    • There is a legendary story known to all former IBM employees about the firing of Thomas Watson:

      http://www.rightattitudes.com/2010/02/03/folklore-origin-expression-you-are-fired/

      Watson worked for NCR, and “offended” NCR Chairman John Patterson. Patterson ordered Watson’s desk moved out to the sidewalk and set on fire.

      Maybe Blackstone will get the message when he returns from vacation in July and finds his incinerated desk by the dumpsters.

      This being the era of political correctness, it would probably be wise for the SCCOE check with the California Air Resources Board and get the proper burn permits.

  13. While the cat’s away, the mice will play. And create more shenanigans. Set the contract threshold back to $10,000 so the bureaucrats once again have to better answer for their capers and lack of transparent expenditures. And why does the county office of education need a most likely highly paid media and communication bureaucrat, especially if he fails to respond to legitimate requests from the media?

  14. What is with all the outside consultants? What are the county employees paid to do?
    Do we need a director of media and communications to obfuscate? Let the actors speak for themselves!
    This appears to have indications of theft or misuse of public funds.
    Keep following the trail.

  15. In reference to the recent articles regarding Jon Gundry clandestine and unethical operations, it appears that he’s just continuing the practices of the Interim Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan.

    Exactly ONE YEAR AGO, PRIOR to Gundry’s time, San Jose Inside uncovered a similar situation of lies and corruption. However, this time the unethical activity was lead by Interim Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan.

    Check it out.

    http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2014/06/19/emails-show-office-of-education-committed-to-obfuscation/

    “Well, I think in response to requests and things of that nature and public records and/or media requests, we have been setting our processes here at the county office and looking to be compliant and efficient and take a global schematic approach across our department. Our efforts are more cohesive. We want to be responsive. That’s certainly our intention to be responsive. But we also want to make sure we’re compliant and efficient.”—Mary Ann Dewan.

    Dewan’s robotic response says nearly as much about her “intention to be responsive” as the emails her office turned over—which included documents she and Blackstone withheld from previous requests for information.” — SJI

    “One email shows that Dewan, who got a $7,500 monthly raise on her $169,000 annual salary after receiving the interim superintendent tag, coached board member Beauchman for an interview with San Jose Inside while also providing invoices that were never turned over. In an April 11 phone call, Dewan told San Jose Inside that she would have cooperated more with the database story had she known we were requesting comment sooner. But emails show Blackstone—who refused to even meet with San Jose Inside before its story ran April 9—was blind carbon copying (Bcc-ing) her on emails as far back as late March.” — SJI

    My question to the Santa Clara County Board of Education, why do you allow this conduct? Why do you continue to put these types in leadership roles representing you? For goodness sake, clean it up.

    • They’re one and the same. Arrogant, privileged, and irresponsible.

      The SCCBOE needs to take action on both of these clowns, and move on. Prior SCCOE superintendents have all been educators. Perhaps the SCCBOE should hire a retired Military businessman as Superintendent to put that place in check and regain some credibility. The SCCBOE needs to take action now. They can’t have these incompetent types who lie and obfuscate to the media, constituents of Walden West, their staff, and to them.

      • RIGHT-
        “They’re one and the same. Arrogant, privileged, and irresponsible.” That’s an understatement. But, as we see nationally, they get away with criminal conduct because they have a common denominator. This is one example of Joseph DiSalvo’s hypocrisy.

        • I don’t generally agree with DiSalvo’s approaches toward education, but he’s not the one condoning systematic incompetence, corruption or racketeering(?) in this case.

  16. This is outrageous. What is the Board doing about thIs? This Superintendent is stealing from tax payers and innocent children. Stop this guy now!!

    • This is the same Skvarna who,when his contract came to light, ran away with his tail between his legs before finishing whatever mysterious job he was supposed to be doing? Who approved these moves?