Letters to the Editor

By Montecito Journal   |   October 29, 2020

Cold Spring School: Just the Facts, Ma’am

I first learned about Measure L2020 a little over a month ago from the front page of this very publication. Little did I know that when I posted about it on NextDoor, I would spark a debate that has both divided and united various members of our community. I have learned a lot about different people whom I have never met, including a District employee who threatened me with a lawsuit via NextDoor private message because I questioned the appropriateness of his serving simultaneously as Chief Business Officer and General Counsel at Cold Spring School. So much for claims that the District wants to hear what the community thinks!

A lot of concerns have been raised about the proposed bond and the school leadership. A lot of claims have been made in defense of the bond and the District. Since nothing was adding up, I reached out to a few people who had posted information about board minutes and asked them to show me where I could get “just the facts, ma’am.” This is what I found out.

I started with the claims that Superintendent/Principal Amy Alzina and the Governing Board had built up the school reserves to $1 million. While this appears to be true, what is interesting is that the board minutes show that the school accepted $823,677 in funding through one-time donations, grants, and fundraisers starting in 2018 (in response to the challenges of the Thomas Fire and the mudslides) and continuing through the spring of 2020. The majority of the money, $698,667, included donations from Katy Perry, the United Way, and even $1,635 from the Mountain View Elementary PTA (maybe that should be sent back?). The remaining $125,000 was donated in response to the Superintendent/Principal’s plea for COVID-relief money this past spring. And this $823,000 is on top of the $125,000 a year the school regularly gets from the Cold Spring Foundation. 

So, while the District leadership brags about their ability to build up the reserve for economic uncertainties, they fail to mention that they were only able to do so because of the one-time flood of support and generosity of the community. It certainly wasn’t because of responsible money management. I found it curious that in last week’s letters to the editor, Governing Board member Mr. Marino went on and on describing how the school buildings had been neglected and required immediate repair, while at the same time noting that the school has $1 million in the bank. Sounds to me like you guys already have the money to do the necessary repairs. I also fail to hear him or any other person in charge up there taking responsibility for the lack of upkeep and deferred maintenance that should be part of the annual budget. If my house starts falling apart, I don’t ask my neighbors to pay for it. I figure out how to pay for it myself. 

The other issue that has bothered me from the start is the fact that the Chief Business Officer is simultaneously serving as the District’s General Counsel. If you Google Mr. Yuri Calderon you will find a number of articles from Calexico, Oxnard, and Sweetwater school districts that indicate a history of what appears to be self-dealing by Mr. Calderon. Looking at the Board minutes, one will find that when other Business Managers/CBOs were hired, multiple candidates were interviewed. Not with Mr. Calderon. While he was serving as District General Counsel, he was invited to write his own contract for a part-time 60 percent position which was presented to the Governing Board for consideration at the April 15, 2019 meeting. The public was given only 72 hours notice that this particular person was being considered for this very important position. There is no mention of an interview process or salary negotiations and no record of the CBO position being publicly posted. It’s also troubling that his salary plus benefits are $100,000 more than the previous Business Manager, who was full-time. 

But the issues of self-dealing don’t end there. While working for the District as General Counsel, Mr. Calderon’s construction management/consulting firm, MillerCalderon, was awarded a $10,000, no bid flat fee contract to oversee the installation of furnaces and thermostats and other energy saving projects using Prop 39 grant money that the District received from the state. The month before he was formally hired as the CBO/General Counsel, MillerCalderon billed the District for the final amount of the contract – to exactly $9,999, in an attempt to allay concerns about the appearance of a conflict of interest. What are the odds?

The Administration and the Governing Board continue to claim that Mr. Calderon will not be managing the bond monies because he is a District employee. However, documents in the Board minutes, Board packets, and a District webinar presentation on October 7 strongly indicate that MillerCalderon is already serving as the Bond Manager. 

You can see for yourself in the February 18, 2020 Board packet: on page 45 there is a letter addressed to the Superintendent/Principal from Nixon Peabody, the Bond Counsel firm that the District hired, that states, “We understand that MillerCalderon, Inc. will assist the School District with preparation for the election (the Program Manager).” The letter goes on to refer to MillerCalderon’s role as the Program Manager of the bond. While it may be true that Mr. Calderon may not personally manage the bond monies, it appears that his firm will – and as the President and CEO of MillerCalderon, he would certainly personally benefit from such an arrangement. 

That isn’t the only place MillerCalderon shows up related to the bond. Some of us also spotted their name on the PowerPoint presentation about the bond that was part of the District’s webinar on October 7th. Stone Creek Engineering had prepared a report that estimated the costs for each of the proposed projects that the bond monies would potentially pay for. The report was prepared for MillerCalderon and the project is identified as the Cold Spring School District Bond Program Budget. Why the heck is the estimate being prepared for MillerCalderon and what is this “bond program budget”? 

There is nothing in the Board Agendas, minutes, or Board Packets referring to a contract with MillerCalderon to serve as Project/Program Manager for the District. Yet, evidence exists that clearly indicates that MillerCalderon has definitely taken on that role. Where is the contract? How much money has MillerCalderon collected to date in this role? Who signed the contract on behalf of the District? Why hasn’t it come before the Governing Board for consideration during a public meeting? What other firms were considered for this service? What percentage fee did the District agree to pay MillerCalderon for their services? Did the Governing Board have their District legal counsel review the contract? Oh wait, Mr. Calderon is the legal counsel.

We are tired of having public comments cut off in board meetings and having our serious questions ignored. The only thing that will clear this up and get the answers taxpayers deserve is a forensic audit conducted by the state. If the administration is so sure that they are clean, they should welcome the scrutiny. Because we all know an innocent man would be begging for a DNA test if he wasn’t at the crime scene. Dr. Alzina, it’s time for just the facts, ma’am.

Don Miller (with a little help from his friends)

Why I am Voting Yes on L2020

I am voting ‘yes’ on L2020, and I hope you will too.

The main reason I am voting ‘yes’ is because there is an undeniable need. Regardless of whether L2020 passes or not, the portables have to be replaced and the smaller infrastructure projects have to be completed. The question is how.

If these projects are completed without a bond, then we will get another set of portables and the other projects will be spaced out and kicked down the road. I don’t think that this is in the best interest of the kids, teachers or our community. The portables were originally put there with the intention and hope to be replaced with real classrooms. This has been in the facilities master plan since the early 2000’s. The intent and need for portable replacement is now larger than ever. In addition, now is the time to take advantage of low interest rates. The $130-140 annual cost per million dollars of tax assessment is very low for $7.8 million.

If the bond passes, then our local school district would have real classrooms in a safe building and the other projects will be completed so that our teachers and administration can focus their efforts on the most important aspect of their job: the education of the children. And what a great job they do! Does Cold Spring deserve our vote? Yes!

The administration, teachers, and parents at Cold Spring school work tirelessly to ensure that our children get an amazing education. We are a small district so almost everyone has multiple roles in order to keep the parts moving. That is how Cold Spring works. Everyone pitches in and everyone cares. The fact that our test scores make us the number one school district in California prove that something is working right.

Why doesn’t Cold Spring have money for the buildings?

Contrary to what some may believe, funding for new facilities needs to come from a local bond. The revenue Cold Spring receives from taxes is used for operational expenses and general maintenance. To expect any school district in California to build facilities from their operating funds is unrealistic. Yes, Cold Spring receives a higher revenue per student than some other schools in Santa Barbara. The district spends this money frugally with student education as its only goal. The increase in revenue allows the district to have a teacher and an aide in each classroom, lowering the student:adult ratio. It also allows the district to offer music, art, PE and STEAM. Instead of thinking that Cold Spring should be like other schools, consider that Cold Spring is an example of what EVERY school in California should be. The district is proving the value of better funding for all schools in California. Our administrator, Dr. Alzina, is taking the success of our school and our vision to serve all children throughout the state. According to Tim Taylor, Small School Districts Association executive director, “Dr. Alzina is an exceptional student centered leader focused on serving not only the students at Cold Spring but throughout the state. Most recently, her leadership expertise has assisted districts throughout the state with their reopening plans. Her vision to replace the portable classrooms with a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Music (STEAM) classroom that will serve the Cold Spring students and students throughout the state is exactly the type of leadership our country needs.”

Our community has the extraordinary advantage of having an amazing gem of a school that has become a model for other schools. I hope you will consider voting “YES” so that the District can build the necessary classrooms and facility improvements to match the quality education that is happening inside. Please consider your information sources!

I have been dismayed and concerned about the misinformation posted on a social media platforms. Those posts are not monitored for accuracy and it seems that many of the posts have been false or misleading at best. Cold Spring School District has been transparent about information regarding the bond through mailed flyers, our website, a Webinar, and of course public discussion at our Board meetings, with minutes available on our website. If you have any questions about the Bond, please call Cold Spring School. They would love to answer any questions.

Jennifer Miller
Parent/volunteer Cold Spring School

Now is Not the Time 

I am the father of two daughters who attended Cold Spring School from 2007 to 2015. I am a professor at Santa Barbara City College, and a local environmental consultant. This opinion is solely my own and not representative of my workplaces.

Measure L2020 asks for $7.8 million for replacement of older buildings and renovations at Cold Spring Elementary School (CSS). However, my daughters experienced more than adequate facilities and resources and received an exemplary education at CSS.

Given CSS’s high academic ratings and already large resources, Measure L2020 is hard to endorse. These children are already privileged beyond most others in the county. At a time of rising awareness over long-standing social inequities and significant environmental threat from global warming, it seems poor timing to ask for unnecessary new buildings and renovations that would have a large carbon footprint, and create even more disparity between socioeconomic classes in Santa Barbara.

I am a teacher and I understand the desire for newer facilities, technology and classrooms. The desire to improve curriculum and equipment is laudable and displays dedication and ambition, which typifies most of the CSS teachers. However, the time is not right to promote a measure that would give more to those who already have more than enough, while neighbors and fellow townspeople are hurting. Too many people have lost their jobs recently from COVID-19 restrictions and if the economy doesn’t pick up in the next few months they will lose their homes as well. 

The times we are in are calling for us to act and vote upon deeper principles than competition, but cooperation and altruism. I advocate for using a socioeconomic and cultural triage as a framework in which to make resource-distribution decisions: The first line of support should be given to those who are the most negatively affected by COVID-19, the most discriminated against by racial injustice, the most underprivileged, and the least represented. Bond measures to improve the lives of homeless, financially strapped, and historically devalued classes, and their children, are more efficient ways to improve the greater good in our region, rather than proposals like L2020, which would push more resources to already resource-rich locations. 

In natural systems there is an open metabolism of resources: nutrients, water, energy and mass are openly shared. One tree or deer does not hoard resources and save them in perpetuity. In locations of accumulated abundance, like highly fertile soils and large organisms, these resources are disseminated relatively quickly, or ‘shared’ – large trees fall and decompose, water and carbon dioxide are constantly cycled – nothing gets hoarded for long in nature. The latest forest ecology research demonstrates that trees share nutrients by shunting a disproportionately higher amount of water and nutrients to the individual trees in the forest that are nutrient and water poor. This reciprocity between trees of the same species and trees of different species stabilizes the forest and increases resilience in the overall ecosystem. Human societies are no different: We are stronger, more resilient, and more stable when ALL lives are valued equally, and when abundant and excess resources are disseminated freely throughout the entire community. We are weaker when one sector or class within in our greater community amasses too many resources. We become top heavy and unstable, and are more vulnerable.

To share our privilege and wealth, Cold Spring School parents, including alumni-parents like myself, should opt to run their own private, fund-raising drive expressly to support the underprivileged neighbor school, Cleveland, to help purchase the basics, like textbooks and paper. This would be a more democratic way to lift up our community, build bridges with neighbors, reduce unneeded environmental damages, and create a more just world that all our children would benefit from. Further, we’d be creating a more stable and resilient community, like a stronger, diverse ecosystem, better able to face the challenges to come. Think of the example this would set: Privileged parents, myself included, advocating for sharing their privilege instead of competing for more. I would be the first to donate to such a cause.

Michael Gonella, Ph.D.

A Welcome Change

We are excited to write this particular letter. We (the people of Montecito) have a chance to elect three superb Directors to the Montecito Sanitary District.

Dorinne Lee Johnson: she currently chairs the Montecito Association’s Land Use Committee, where she’s tackled huge subjects like debris basins, roundabouts, under-grounding utilities and the Montecito Sanitary District’s buildings and permitting missteps. She is well qualified as an engineer and entrepreneur. Dorinne is all about serving our Community.

Don Eversoll: the former head of the Nature Conservancy Of New York.  Don knows all about Sanitary Districts and recycling facilities, he’s built them.  We would be extremely fortunate to have his technical expertise coupled with his innate boardroom skills.  With recycling of water being our priority, Don’s experience and environmental background will hasten our progress.

Edwin Martin: As an attorney, Ed defended victims in toxic environmental cases.  Because of his legal investigative mind, Ed is able to slice through documentation to get to the heart of an issue and make his case. Edwin is a big fan of good governance and transparency, both of which will be extremely valuable to our sanitary district and community.

As your elected Directors, these three candidates have our full endorsement. With your help, we will be excited to get them on board to make scalable recycled water a reality, end ocean discharge to protect our environment, focus on the District’s priorities and convert as many septic properties to sanitary service as possible; again protecting our environment. They’ll bring strong fiscal responsibility and open government practices. With Dorinne, Don and Edwin on our Sanitation Board, all criteria required for the variety of expertise will be met!

We urge you to vote for Johnson, Eversoll, and Martin. Thank you. 

Dana Newquist & Woody Barrett

Enforce the Law

My concerns regarding leaf blowers are based on the experience of an emergency-room physician who asserts that the allergens, toxins, and small particles that become and remain airborne when leaf blowers are used cause people with respiratory conditions to become more ill. These particles may remain in the air for hours or days after the leaf blower is used, including possibly viruses.

Citizens of Santa Barbara outlawed leaf blowers with the initiative process many years ago. When the police are notified of a leaf blower being used, they consider it low priority and usually arrive long after the operator has finished and left. The proper number to call the police is 882-8900 in the city of Santa Barbara, 683-2724 for county enforcement. Please call and report one today!

If you are someone with respiratory ailments living in or around Santa Barbara, consider suing the City for its failure to protect your health if your condition worsens. All the City has to do is enforce the law that the citizens passed to protect you, and it has chosen not to do so!

Sincerely yours,

Rowland Lane Anderson

Vote ‘No’ on Prop 23

The vast majority of state newspapers recommend voting ‘no; on 23. MJ may be unaware that there are not anywhere near enough MDs in the state to meet the demand this proposition would create. Medicare that regulates and pays for most dialysis across the country does not require MDs to be located in the clinics. As a kidney recipient and Ambassador for Donate Life California, I ask that you please vote ‘no’ on Prop 23.

Thanks

W. Scott Burns
Santa Barbara

Give Us a Break

Many young adults like myself are cynical about politics because too often candidates think voters are dumb. They think they can pretend to be things they aren’t. In our local politics, we have two candidates who are quite extreme in their conservative beliefs, yet are backed by a mysterious and illegal Political Action Committee – Impact Education, a new iteration of Fair Education – that tries to paint a different picture.  Elrawd McLearn and Brian Campbell oppose an inclusive approach to education that is widely supported here in Santa Barbara, such as bilingual education for those who choose it (which passed by nearly 70 percent in this county), ethnic studies (which has been a growing movement for over a decade) and medically-based sex ed that families can opt out of. Yet the PAC that supports them speaks only of “inclusivity” and “transparency.” This group is in clear violation of campaign finance rules: none of its donors is known to the public, as is required. Mr. McLearn took over $5,000 from the PAC yet claims he knows nothing about it. Meanwhile, on a right-wing radio show hosted by a devoted Trump supporter, McLearn speaks of fighting Marxism and accuses the Black Lives Matter movement of promoting anarchy. McLearn and Campbell have cynically been trying to distance themselves from Fair Education, yet their ads are all funded by Impact Education. Give us a break. Voters are smarter than you think. 

Jonna Wallin

Words of a Third Grader

If you ask me, the specialists of art, music, steam, and PE are something special. For me, they can help see that even if your work is not what you wanted, it’s still special because you’re the one who made it. 

Each of us students have a little light that shines within us that make us special in our own way. We all see things differently, and that is what makes us unlike anybody else. All schools are special, all grades are special, but most importantly, all the students are special.

I noticed during Zoom school, that our art specialist had to work in a small, tight space, barely big enough for her and her supplies. Measure L would provide money for the school to build more classrooms and fix problems like flooding in the portables.

If you are willing to help our school stay strong even when it seems impossible, we would love it if you’d consider supporting the Cold Spring School bond.

Amelia K.

 

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