How would you like to discover one day that your name had been used in audit reports for overseeing bond fund expenditures exposing you to legal and financial liability without your knowledge? What would you do?
This is exactly what happened at Cold Spring School District in Montecito when five innocent, respected community volunteers were named in audit reports prepared in October 2020 by Christy White and Associates for having provided oversight of taxpayer funds expended in 2014 through 2018, related to Measure C Bonds approved in 2008.
Personal reputations matter in our small community, trust matters, respect matters, liability matters!
The law requires a bond oversight committee to review and approve proposed bond expenditures. Specific designated slots are to be filled by the governing board for two-year terms.
In the absence of the school district’s compliance with the law, the superintendent/principal made up an oversight committee and called CWA auditors to cover her tracks because she needed to market to voters the district’s Measure L2020, which was placed on the ballot without any notice to district taxpayers.
This glaring omission to not inform district property owners about L2020 was first discovered by bricks-and-mortar/respected district resident Don Miller, who sounded the alarm. That’s when I was contacted as a 40-year resident known as a credible public school activist for doing my homework. Facts matter!
With only two weeks’ notice before ballots were mailed on Oct. 1, district taxpayers fearing reprisals from district leaders asked me to inform others that a bond would appear on their ballot, with no opposition statement because no one knew about L2020 until seeing the stories in media such as the News-Press.
These informed CSS district residents needed L2020 defeated to buy time because operations are out of control without accountability, transparency and worse, I was told. Next, research on CSS was left in my mailbox by anonymous concerned residents. Their independent research followed the same path leading to the same concerns.
With limited time, I chose to simply message: “Vote NO, To Pause” because our beloved neighborhood Cold Spring School matters.
As controversy mounted in the media regarding improper and questionable school operations under Superintendent/Principal Amy Alzina’s leadership, and by the five-member parent governing board headed by President Miller (2016-2022), and advised by general counsel/chief budget officer Yuri Calderon, pressure increased to gain passage of L2020.
The superintendent called CWA auditors in October for a rush audit job, and a non-existent oversight committee for the years 2014 through 2018, was identified in each year’s audits without the knowledge or consent of the named individuals who now are party to the Alzina-Calderon coverup, which may or may not include board President Jennifer Miller.
Who is CWA, and why that firm? CWA has worked with Mr. Calderon in the past. When contacted by me, I was told CSS became an account in 2017, after Mr. Calderon was retained as CSS General Counsel. CWA has a research history with Calderon in other school districts. Google for yourself.
In 2019, CSS General Counsel Calderon was subsequently hired by the CSS S/P to become CBO, despite no known financial credentials, after the resignation of former CBO, Maria C. Santa Cruz, Ed.D. In Santa Cruz’s Jan. 2, 2019 letter of resignation she states in part, “I am not leaving the district to work for a different employer. My resignation is due to the lack of trust, respect and honest communication in our professional relationship.”
It goes on to read, “Legal counsel has been allowed to encroach into my line of work;” … “most of our business related interactions had to be conducted in front of legal counsel. I no longer want to be in your ‘hot seat’ (per Mr. Calderon’s words) every time we meet” … “I no longer want to depend on legal counsel’s advice to perform my business manager duties.” Her professionalism and integrity speaks volumes.
Micro-management by CSS General Counsel Calderon seems to be business as usual given the close relationship he has with Dr. Alzina, who lacked any superintendent experience when she was hired at CSS from SBUnified’s Adams Elementary. Turns out the pro hired to “train her” was substituted out by Calderon.
Now that Mr. Calderon is both general counsel and CBO, he holds the power at CSS, not Superintendent/Principal Alzina who in 2019 was compensated $245,059 by the District.
Combining the legal and CBO positions into one, is not a problem to S/P Alzina, who is on record for comparing these two combined positions with her own. The fact that he uses his power of the district purse to award paid work to his private firm MillerCalderon at 7 W. Figueroa St. is apparently of no concern to any CSS current leader.
Moreover, it is of no concern that district taxpayers now pay another attorney as independent outside counsel besides paying Mr. Calderon.
Dr. Alzina has more tax money that she can responsibly spend. If short, she’ll simply get more. Just recently, on Parent Square, S/P Alzina asked parents for $1,200 more per student to augment the CSS $4 million-plus tax budget, and her use of reserves, to school only 179 students.
She even discussed creation of a totally unnecessary vice-principal position — or more consultants, whichever the Board prefers— to handle her work load that she increased from her unlawful electioneering for L2020 and hundreds of tweets made during school hours. How she spends her time is documented.
The most common question I hear from taxpayers is “Is she running Club Med at CSS?”
If you don’t like it, resign from your position or take your student elsewhere, which is exactly what some have done.
But what about the innocents named on CSS’s Bond Oversight Committee on five years of audit reports? Each is a victim of unconscionable, unethical, shameful and presumably criminal conduct by CSS that warrants immediate remedy by the CSS governing board.
At its Dec. 14 board meeting, what will the board decide when asked by the superintendent/principal to approve these audit reports that were made public pre-election by the S/P to solicit a yes vote on L2020 and trust in her leadership?
In closing, I must add that in 2016, after the S/P Trish Price fiasco, CSS District voters elected a non-parent representative to the school board. In response, our chosen voice on the board was silenced when a “Board Communication Protocol” was adopted requiring advance written approval by the board president and S/P to speak. Wisely, she resigned because there’s point being simply a chair warmer guilty by association.
This silencing protocol is now incorporated into the new “Governance Manual” viewable on the CSS website to be approved at Tuesday’s board meeting. Also to be discussed, is for three board members to voluntarily resign. In my experience, California Brown Act compliance is of no matter at CSS, but Zoom in regardless. Ranked as No. 1 small school district in California allows for privileged exception.
If you’ve had trouble following this – I get it. Too much dumped all at once. Sadly, board actions cannot be followed because board minutes aren’t timely posted despite conducting multiple meetings: 10/30, 11/9, 11/17, 11/18, and 11/20.
Seems like general counsel must first review or edit because there’s a noticeable difference from how the Cold Spring School District was operated in decades past. What matters most to me, and I hope to you, is protecting innocents, whether minor students or community members.
Denice Spangler Adams is a Cold Springs School alumni parent (1996-2011).
Denice Spangler Adams
The author lives in Montecito