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.