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Anaheim School Bonds Approved

Times Staff Writer

Orange County supervisors approved a $12-million bond issue by Anaheim Union School District, despite a recent audit criticizing the district for overspending on construction projects.

The district is facing a $49-million shortfall because of overspending to build new high schools and middle schools promised to voters when they approved a $132-million bond measure in 2002.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Feb. 09, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 09, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Anaheim school district -- A story in some editions of Wednesday’s California section incorrectly reported Anaheim Union School District Trustee Denise Mansfield-Reinking’s testimony before the Orange County Board of Supervisors. In her remarks Tuesday on the district’s handling of fiscal problems related to school construction, she did not say that fellow trustees had declined to publicize the district’s financial woes.

In addition, the district attorney’s office is reviewing the district’s construction work for evidence of any criminal wrongdoing.

Supervisors said they would rather have postponed the vote. But they proceeded after being reminded that the board had only a limited role with respect to school bonds and that the school district needed the money.

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“We did go ahead and approve the bonds,” Supervisor Chris Norby said afterward, “but with the understanding that the district attorney will conduct a full investigation and he will give us updates.” His supervisorial district includes Anaheim.

Supervisors also asked that the county grand jury look into the district’s finances and voted to send a letter to the state Board of Education alerting it to the district’s problems.

The 37,000-student district serves grades seven through 12 in Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, La Palma and Stanton. In 2002, the district launched a $330-million construction and modernization plan, partly funded through the bond measure.

Deputy Supt. Timothy Holcomb told the board Tuesday that failure to receive the bond money by March could seriously impact the district’s financial picture. When Holcomb was hired six months ago, he said the district didn’t have an accurate cash flow for the construction projects. Since then, he said, several administrators have left or retired.

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The audit was requested by the district and done by a consultant last September. Among other things, it found that the district’s management of its bond program was inadequate and that it failed to secure “tens of millions of dollars in state matching funds.”

Norby and other board members were not pleased with what he called “merely rubber-stamping” a school district decision. “At least we had a forum,” said Norby, who like his colleagues was shocked to hear that of the 22 schools originally scheduled for improvement with the bond money, only eight can be completed.

Under state law, the county issues the bonds on behalf of the school district. “The law says the board shall issue the bonds and we define the word ‘shall’ as a mandatory direction,” said John Abbott, senior deputy county counsel.

Also at the meeting was an Anaheim trustee who has been critical of the district. Denise Mansfield-Reinking said she believed the district and school board had not held enough meetings to tell residents about the failures. She said fellow trustees had so far declined to help publicize the district’s financial woes. “All I want is accountability,” she told supervisors.

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At Tuesday’s board meeting, Mansfield-Reinking said she was speaking only for herself but expressed concern about widespread mismanagement of construction projects by district staff members.

Supervisor Lou Correa, who attended Anaheim High School and had helped the bond measure succeed, said the district had violated a trust that many residents provided when they voted for the bonds in 2002.

For parents whose children have been attending overcrowded schools with either old or inadequate facilities, the situation is gut-wrenching, said Roberta Webb of Anaheim, who addressed the board.

“Some of the parents are furious,” Webb said. “But the school district keeps telling us, ‘Oh, there’s nobody to blame. Nobody to tar and feather.’ ... Well, we should have known long ago that they weren’t going to honor the promises made.”

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