The Leader's front-page, leap-before-looking story ("Millions at ready, receipts or not," July 14) concerning millions of dollars of Burbank Unified School District bond, state grant, and city funds for the modernization of Burbank's schools trivialized what should be a topic of concern for thousands of young students, their parents, and all taxpaying businesses and residents.
Apparently, former President Reagan's oft quoted admonition, "Trust, but verify!" was ignored. The Leader completely mischaracterized my inquiry into district accountability and the whereabouts of essential project documents and taxpayer dollars, leaving the reader in the dark as to the true significance of this issue.
Recently, it was brought to my attention that millions of school bond, state grants and $23 million provided by the city for district-wide modernization of school facilities had been inappropriately used, were not properly accounted for, or simply disappeared. Upon learning of this alleged improper management of school bond money and other government funds, I immediately contacted the current president of the Board of Education seeking clarification of these serious allegations. The Leader's portrayal of my call for accountability to make certain that city tax dollars were not being tapped twice to pay for new school fields if surplus modernization money remained available was distorted and inaccurate.
The Leader's injection of the term "original receipts" into its spin of events has no significance to the questions at hand. Rather, I specifically sought the foundational source document used as the template for each school project called the "Facilities Master Plan," along with carefully detailed spreadsheets linked to it. Had they been produced, the spreadsheets would have clearly shown the source of funds and account for all project budgets, expenditures and surplus money.
"Original receipts" were never part of my requests made to the Board of Education or its staff. With dizzying spin, the Leader again misstated facts when it asserted, "After taking the school district to task for failing to produce receipts, Gordon remained alone in calling for further examination." Not only did I not take the school district to task for failing to produce receipts, it is patently untrue that I remained alone on this issue. Councilman Gary Bric clearly voiced support for me at the July 6 Council meeting when he said, "I really appreciate you bringing this forward. I really wouldn't want you to drop it right now….Whatever avenues you may want to continue on, I'll support that."
The foundational document for the 1997 Facilities Master Plan was called the "Needs Assessment," which detailed the modernization needs of each school facility. The master plan was revised and updated incorporating the Needs Assessment, in preparation for a new, $112.5-million bond measure going before Burbank voters in April 1997. Presenting these two critically important documents to the voters was deemed essential to ensure passage of the renewed 1997 bond measure.
The1997 School bond ballot promised that a Community Oversight Committee would ensure that all bond money would be accounted for and spent appropriately on the school facility modernization projects laid out in the FMP. Yet for years, the Oversight Committee members were stymied and frustrated. They publicly complained, often unanimously, to the School Board and staff that they were not being provided all the information necessary to carry out their oversight responsibilities and that funds supposedly represented in project budgets did not exist. They questioned why millions of dollars in interest and IRS imposed arbitrage fees were not accounted for and unanimously urged the Board not to expend bond funds for non-bond related purposes.
School board members and the new superintendent have been very cooperative in searching for essential project and accounting documents that would shed light on what happened to the surplus money. Nevertheless, the 1997 Facilities Master Plan and the accompanying spreadsheets have still not been produced.
The Leader has attempted to portray my concern for Burbank Unified's gross lack of accountability for millions of taxpayer dollars as my issue. However, this issue was brought to my attention by concerned members of the community.
Anything less than a full and complete accounting by the district for the utilization of all these funds should be unacceptable to all voters and taxpayers who are footing the bill. It seems fiscally irresponsible to turn over additional city funds to renovate John Burroughs Memorial Stadium without first knowing with certainty whether millions of dollars in surplus school facility funds remain available, or should have remained available, for this purpose.
Stepping back from a solemn ballot promise to the voters to ensure every penny of bond money would be properly accounted for does not bode well when considering the next call to tap city coffers or lighten voters' pocketbooks.
Editor's Note: Gordon is a Burbank City Councilman
On July 2, a critical incident involving a dangerous felon occurred in front of the Kmart store on San Fernando Boulevard ("Two officers shot," July 3). As a result of the attack by a desperate criminal, two Burbank Police officers were shot and seriously wounded. Through the valiant efforts of the officers, the subject was subdued and taken into custody before he could harm innocent bystanders.
Due to the nature and magnitude of the crime, an extensive and thorough investigation was conducted. The department's primary goal was to ensure the successful prosecution of the alleged suspect to make sure he would never commit harmful acts against other in the future.
We realize that as a result of our efforts, the parking lot and surrounding area were restricted for an extended period of time. This action had a detrimental effect on businesses by restricting customer access, an created a stressful inconvenience to customers and citizens. Please know that we appreciate your cooperation during our investigative efforts and recognize the sacrifice you made in the name of public safety. We apologize for the inconvenience and would like you to know that we remain committed to providing outstanding safety and service to the city's businesses and citizens.
In addition, the Burbank Police Department and the two involved officers are truly appreciative of the numerous expressions of concern for the officers' welfare. Also, the hundreds of cards and posters prepared by Burbank residents and youth groups are a tribute to the support the Burbank Police Department receives from the community on an ongoing basis.
The partnership that exists between the Burbank Police Department and Burbank community is exceedingly gratifying. Again, the police department thanks you for your support and concern, and we look forward to working with our community to build and solidify the best possible police-community partnership.
Editor's note: LaChasse is Burbank Police chief.