Former Trustee Calls County Office of Education ‘FUBAR’

The Santa Clara County Office of Education is a disaster. But is it FUBAR?

According to a recent county Board of Education trustee, yes, the situation is completely FUBAR.

We've seen dysfunction in the past from the SCCOE, but Superintendent Jon Gundry's one year on the job has been especially prolific. In addition to leading the bumbling response to the Walden West child abuse scandal, and consequently going into damage control with an outsourced communications consultant, Gundry has also been responsible for the secret giveaway of taxpayer funds through consulting contracts—with no paperwork to show for it.

Based on interviews and internal emails, he did this because: (1.) He didn't trust his staff to get the job done; and (2.) He doesn't possess the financial acumen to get the job done.

Meanwhile, Gundry's communications director, Ken Blackstone, diligently helped the superintendent conceal documents by ignoring internal pleas to comply with Public Records Act requests. (He's got a history of doing this kind of thing.) It's not known if Blackstone and Gundry failed to provide records beyond the timeline required by law because of: (1.) paralysis by analysis; or (2.) they were simply trying to prevent a paper trail.

San Jose Inside has more to come on the cloaked use of taxpayer funds, as well as the recent turnover in staff within the SCCOE. For now, we wanted to pass along a message former county Board of Education trustee Craig Mann sent late last week to SCCOE staff, trustees, media outlets and District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office has been looking into the shady dealings under Gundry's watch.

Mann resigned from the Board in 2012 and now serves on the Evergreen Community College board. Below is his letter:

Dear Colleagues,

I hope this note finds you & yours well. I am reaching out to you in my capacity as a constituent, a former board member and standing elected official of parts of Santa Clara County. Without much ado, let me say that I am appalled at the flood of negative news about, regarding the SCCOE. Something is very, very wrong—and it begins & ends with the board & superintendent—the governance team. And right now all seems to be 'FUBAR'. It is so FUBAR that a number of my constituents of~18 years want me to do something even though I've not been on the board since 2012. While flattering, I believe what they want more than me to run for my former seat—is for each of you to just grow a 'frogging' pair and to ensure the COE is carrying out it's statutory roles with the highest, unimpeachable levels of integrity.

Thanks in advance for listening & considering my voice.

Craig Mann

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

26 Comments

  1. http://www.metroactive.com/metro/05.07.08/news-0819.html

    Sigh..

    Maybe SJOTB will come and explain how someone who misused the district credit card can still have a job as an elected official. I’m sort of curious why SJI/Josh would leave Mann’s name out of the title. My guess is if anyone had seen it in the title, or the top of the article, they would have simply not read it.

    Josh did do quite a bit of investigating when it came to Shirakawa’s P-Card usage.

    Not saying that Mann isn’t on point, but it’s like, “Oh I didn’t rape and pillage funds nearly as bad as these guys are doing”

  2. To set the record straight, the notion that I “misused the district credit card” is not only old news, but more importantly it’s absolutely false news and the San Jose Mercury News affirmed such in the 2004 editorial below. The expenses I incurred were 97% appropriate, leaving 3% error rate (~$1k) of which I gladly reimbursed the district (East Side) once I was made aware of such. I made an honest mistake and took responsibility for it 12 years ago.

    Publication: SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
    Headline: UGLY TURN IN SCHOOLS RACE
    SPURIOUS ATTACK TARGETS TRUSTEE OF EAST SIDE HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
    Subhead:
    Web Headline:
    Reporter: MERCURY NEWS EDITORIAL
    Day: Monday
    Print Run Date: 11/1/2004
    Section: Editorial
    Edition: Morning Final
    Page Number: 6
    Section Letter: B
    Memo: ELECTION 2004
    Corrections:
    Dateline:
    Slug
    Text: The area’s most divisive school board race turned uglier over
    the weekend, when East Side Union High School District Trustee Craig
    Mann was the subject of a negative mailing misquoting the Mercury News’
    stories about his expenses as a district trustee.
    There’s no way of knowing who’s responsible for the flier that arrived
    in some homes in the district late last week. A group claiming to be
    Taxpayers for Honest Trustees gave a fictitious San Jose post office
    box. The zip code — 95903 — is actually Beale Air Force Base in Yuba
    County.

    Mann and board President Juanita Ramirez are in a tough re-election
    race. They’ve been targeted by the East Side Teachers Association, which
    has spent more than $45,000 contributing to and promoting the
    candidacies of Xavier Campos and Lan Nguyen.

    That’s nine times what the union has directly spent promoting Measure K
    — even though the $50 parcel tax is critical to saving student programs
    and jobs of librarians and other union members. Two years ago, the union
    donated $15,000 to a losing effort for a parcel tax. This year, it
    donated $5,000, although teachers have made phone calls for the parcel
    tax, in conjunction with calls for Campos and Nguyen.

    The teachers’ union’s fliers for Campos and Nguyen are clearly marked;
    there’s no mistaking the source. Not so with the hit piece, which cites
    the Mercury News as the source for its misinformation. It claims that
    Mann illegally spent $30,000 of student money for personal expenses.

    In fact, most of that money went toward legitimate trips to school
    board-related meetings over five years. Mann reimbursed the district for
    the remaining expenses after the Mercury News, at the teachers’ union’s
    urging, questioned some expenses a year ago.

    The flier said Mann bought a laptop computer at taxpayer expense. Mann
    actually bought a desktop computer, but it’s district property, to be
    returned when he leaves office. Contrary to what the flier says, the
    Mercury News did not report that Mann charged a massage to taxpayers
    while on one of the trips.

    Our editorial pages have recommended Mann’s and Ramirez’s re-election,
    because we believe they will continue to support Superintendent
    Esperanza Zendejas’ efforts for education reform and fiscal
    accountability. They will also stand up to union bullying.

    Voters will make their own choices, but it’s important they have
    thefacts, not anonymous, spurious, last-minute attacks.

    • Mr. Mann. I do not know you and thank you for speaking out for us in fear of Gundry and Dewan.

    • Hi Craig Mann, You are exactly why we need you in public education. Thank you!

  3. Hey Mann- first, learn how to write with correct grammar. You’re an embarasment to the world. Second,go back under the rock you just came from.

    • Hey Insideman, he’s here, he’s explaining himself. I wouldn’t knock him so hard.

      Craig I’m not anonymous, so consider this me, a guy you know of scratching his head legitimately. I’m also nobodies puppet either… $30k for reimbursements in one years seems a bit high. My company reimburses everyone’s cell phones, nighttime dinners, etc and nobody is collecting nearly that much (not a public entity)

      So you can understand my questioning of just the amount reimbursed. Mind giving me a breakdown of what that $30k was spent on? Cliff notes version please.

    • Just to add to this…

      What was the purpose of the desktop you bought that it couldn’t have been sourced through the IT department? Apologies for my skepticism. Usually large organizations have an IT department, and a plan of what kind of computer equipment users will get based on their role in the organization.

      Being a 20 year veteran of IT support of this nature, a 2003 Desktop for $3000 seems a bit excessive. What were the specs? Xeon Processors? Raid Array?

  4. Epilogue: The $30k of expenditures were made over the course of ~5 years, spent primarily on school board meetings – specifically the costs for attending annual state & national school board association conferences. As for the computer, it is customary that school board members are afforded technology to carry out their duties. Instead of waiting on district IT, I bought it and returned it to the district when I left office. About cost differential, it was negligible.

    • I was wrong, article said $2k. Still though you’re dodging the question.

      2003 would have bought me this fairly high end Dell Dimension for $1299
      http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1596215,00.asp

      2.8-GHz Intel Pentium 4 (with Hyper-Threading), 512MB DDR400 SDRAM, 120GB hard drive, nVidia GeForce FX 5200 graphics, CD-RW drive, DVD-ROM drive, Intel Integrated sound card, Altec Lansing ADA 425 2.1 speakers, 17-inch LCD monitor, Microsoft Windows XP Professional.

      So again, what were the specs of the computer you bought for $2k? Don’t dodge. I don’t see why you would need an ultra high spec PC.

  5. Over the last year, the SCCOE has had 3 Superintendents. Yes. The place has become a total disaster the last year. FUBAR is quite accurate.

  6. Gundry was shady in Pasadena. It looks like he continues his corruption. His self-provided selfies are a bit scary. Creepy.

  7. OMG!!! Mark Skvarna is returning to the SCCOE as the Interim Chief Business Officer tomorrow. Why in havens sake would the County Board permit Gundry to bring back his consultant friend? This criminal already violated the public’s trust. He robbed the taxpayers by invoicing outrageous amounts for his commute to work and travel expenses. How could he charge SCCOE nearly $20,000 for his commute/travel expenses in only 6 months? And he was only working 3 days a week according to the invoices in the recent SJ Inside article below. We cannot tolerate this blatant misuse of public funds by Superintendent Gundry. Look at the articles below.

    http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2015/06/03/almost-no-paper-trail-exists-for-250k-county-schools-contract/

    http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2015/07/08/county-education-officials-knew-they-were-hiding-public-records/

    • Sadly, I think the pool of competent, honest people who would want the job is so small, that any replacements would likely be people who, to put it delicately, would be otherwise unemployable.

      • In most of California’s counties, the superintendent of the County Office of Education is elected, not appointed by the County’s Board of Education. Santa Clara County is one of the counties in CA in which the Board hires the superintendent. Perhaps SC County would be better off with an elected, rather than appointed, county superintendent. What do you think?

  8. Recalls are not impossible, but they are very difficult. The most cost effective and efficient way for voters to affect the change they desire is to vote for an alternative to the status quo IF they believe the status quo is not serving them well. Since none of us are perfect people, neither will our public servants be perfect. With that said, voters have an opportunity to keep or replace their public servants every four years and three to four members of the County BOE are up for reelection in 2016.

  9. Gundry actually said he didn’t trust his staff to get the job done. Based on everything I just read, the only one untrustworthy and unethical is Gundry. By the way, them pictures are quite sinister.

  10. OMG!!! Mark Skvarna is back at the SCCOE as the Interim Chief Business Officer today. Why in havens sake would the County Board permit Gundry to bring back his consultant friend? This criminal already violated the public’s trust. He robbed the taxpayers by invoicing outrageous amounts for his commute to work and travel expenses. How could he charge SCCOE nearly $20,000 for his commute/travel expenses in only 6 months? And he was only working 3 days a week according to the invoices in the recent SJ Inside article below. We cannot tolerate this blatant misuse of public funds by Superintendent Gundry. See the articles below.

    http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2015/06/03/almost-no-paper-trail-exists-for-250k-county-schools-contract/

    http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2015/07/08/county-education-officials-knew-they-were-hiding-public-records/

    • Mr. Skvarna was actually paid close to $100,000 without any deliverables and nothing to show what he did. This entire amount needs to be deducted from Gundry’s salary.

  11. Based on past San Jose Inside articles, we cannot trust anything Jon Gundry, Ken Blackstone, Mary Mary Ann Dewan says. They are professionals at covering up the truth.

  12. Sadly, I hear that a number of very competent, high-level employees have resigned from the SCCOE just since this past Friday July 17th. I trust that Josh is probably on this already.