UPDATE: For reference, here is the link to a story that appeared in Wednesday’s Press Democrat about the situation with the CSBA: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20100727/ARTICLES/100729527
The fallout from the recent scandal at the California School Boards Association has what looks like its first local victim: unanimous support for a proposed parcel tax to support schools in Santa Rosa.
While fellow Santa Rosa School Board members are expressing cautious support of the idea of a parcel tax under the right circumstances, trustee Tad Wakefield said Wednesday night, he’s out.
Wakefield just last month pushed his colleagues on the board to put a parcel tax on the November ballot, saying: “My position is that I think it’s responsible for our board, for us, to get something on this year’s November ballot. If the voters turn it down, they turn it down.”
But after learning that non-profit CSBA executive director Scott Plotkin was pulling in $540,000 a year while also using company credit cards for cash advances at Sacramento-area casinos, Wakefield said voters are fed up.
“It makes me uncomfortable to go the public, look them in the eye and say ‘We need it,’” he said.
“It’s a no-brainer that we have to get more revenue,” he said, but asking voters to pony up now will be a tough sell.
“The CSBA executive director’s pay, over half a million dollars with the incentive clauses that apparently the board agreed to – it’s hard for me to dismiss some public members’ perceptions that there is fat in education, that there is exhorbitant salaries,” he said.
Of Santa Rosa’s finances, he said: “We are a tight ship. We are not wasting money.”
But public perception is a key issue when taking a tax proposal to voters, he said.
“I feel badly for my fellow board member here, Frank, who has to deal with this mess,” he said of Santa Rosa trustee and CSBA president Frank Pugh.
“I respect him and I think he is a person of integrity, but I think the public does not want to hear ‘Pay more money,’ they want to hear how we can cut.”
Wakefield said the board must “focus on how we can make painful cuts while keeping teachers and programs.”
“I don’t know if we are magicians and can do that but I think that is what the public wants to see,” he said.
Trustee Larry Haenel said as discussions about whether to pursue a parcel tax in 2011 continue, board unity is key.
“I think it is important that we have a unanimous board on this,” he said.
For his part, Pugh said he is “personally very upset and very disappointed about what has happened” within CSBA.
Board members’ receiving accurate and complete information “has been a problem at CSBA.”
“I’m in charge of trying to put into place checks and balances,” he said. “That is my job.”
“We are working hard to maintain the trust of our membership,” he said. “It is my job as president to fix this problem.”
CSBA is a non profit that derives about 40 percent of its more than $13.7 million annual revenue from dues and fees paid by school districts.
Santa Rosa City Schools paid CSBA $15,880 for the 2009-10 school year and expects to pay the same amount for the upcoming school year which begins Aug. 17.
An independent investigation into CSBA’s compensation system and expenditures has been launched, Pugh said.