San Bernardino County Supervisor Bill Postmus last week voted to approve a $77,000 contract for a charter school that employs his father and is run by a longtime friend and generous campaign donor.
A spokesman for Postmus said the supervisor knew the contract would go to his father’s employer -- California Charter Academy -- but voted for the funding anyway because state conflict-of-interest laws prohibit public officials only from making decisions that benefit themselves, their spouses or children -- not their parents.
“It’s not a conflict, so that is all that needs to be said,” said Postmus’ chief of staff Brad Mitzefelt. He added that Postmus had abstained on earlier votes involving California Charter Academy but decided to vote on the latest contract after county lawyers told him his vote would not violate state law.
Tuesday’s vote also became controversial when board Chairman Dennis Hansberger opposed the contract, citing a state probe of California Charter Academy for alleged financial mismanagement and inadequate administrative oversight.
Despite Hansberger’s concern, Supervisors Paul Biane, Patti Aguiar and Clifford Young voted with Postmus in favor of the contract. Victorville-based California Charter Academy is the state’s largest charter school program. It operates three schools in San Bernardino County, one in Orange County and about 50 satellite classrooms across the state, from Butte to San Diego counties.
Charter schools are publicly funded, independent schools that enjoy some freedom from state regulations with the expectation that flexibility will result in higher achievement and other gains for students.
In March, state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell launched an audit and investigation of California Charter Academy’s financial and management practices.
Two years ago, the state cut $6 million in funding from the organization, ruling that 11 new academy schools were opened in violation of a law that banned opening satellite charter schools without administrative oversight in the same county. California Charter Academy has sued to reclaim that money.
California Charter Academy was one of 18 agencies that applied to San Bernardino County for funding to give youths ages 14 to 21 after-school services such as tutoring, occupational training and leadership development classes. The contract expires in 2006.
Postmus’ father, Bill Postmus Sr., serves as an instructor and director of California Charter Academy’s criminal justice program, according to academy officials. He has worked for California Charter Academy since 2001.
Supervisor Postmus has strong financial ties to C. Steven Cox, chief executive of California Charter Academy and owner of Educational Administrative Services Corp., the management firm that runs the academy.
In 2000, Educational Administrative Services Corp. loaned Postmus’ campaign $25,000, which he repaid the next year, without interest, according to campaign statements.
Cox also provided Postmus with an airline ticket to Orlando, Fla., in 2002, worth $324, according to state conflict-of-interest records. That year, Cox also paid $1,692 for Postmus’ facsimile services, state records show.
Since 2000, the Educational Administrative Services Corp. has donated $21,100 to Postmus’ election campaign, according to campaign records.