When the Poway Unified School District board met last week, Superintendent John Collins announced the district was hiring a forensic accountant to examine its controversial 2011 bond deal, in which it agreed to borrow $105 million and ultimately repay almost $1 billion.
The superintendent made a pledge to residents.
“We want to be open, transparent and forthright in our responsibility to the district,” Collins said. “If only one member of the community comes forward with questions and concerns, it’s one too many.”
But Collins didn’t say how much the review would cost the district, when it was due or why the district chose the firm it did.
To try to get more information, I sent Collins a request under the California Public Records Act.
At the meeting, Collins said the district had retained the accountant through the firm ESI International, so I asked for a copy of the contract between the district and that company. And I asked for any documents that would show why ESI International has the requisite experience to complete this task, and why and how it was chosen.
This morning, I got a response from Collins in the mail. Read it here.
Each of my questions was answered in the same way: “There are no responsive documents.”
Collins wrote that the district doesn’t have a contract with ESI International. And he wrote that there are “no responsive documents” that would show me why or how the company was chosen.
So, this afternoon, I tried again. I emailed Collins a list of questions:
• Who has been retained by the district to conduct the review outlined at last week’s meeting (specific individual or individuals’ name(s)).
• How much has the district agreed pay for the services outlined at last week’s meeting?
• You state that there is no contract between the district and the individual hired. Why not?
• Without a contract, how has the scope of work for this review been outlined?
• Please provide a copy of the resume or other evidence outlining the experience of the individual chosen to perform this review.
• How was this individual chosen?
• Who made the decision to hire him/her?
• Were any other individuals or companies approached to perform this work?
I gave Collins until 5 p.m. to answer my questions. He didn’t respond by that deadline.
Understanding how and why this company, and why this individual forensic accountant, was chosen to complete this review is important. Collins has billed this as an independent analysis, but he hasn’t provided evidence that would show why ESI was chosen or why it has the experience necessary to unravel a complicated bond deal.
Collins pledged to be open and transparent in the light of the controversy surrounding last year’s bond deal, but he hasn’t disclosed basic facts about the coming review.
I also put in a call to Bob Price, who U-T San Diego identified as a private investigator who works for ESI International and has previously been hired by other local school districts.
If either party responds, I’ll update this post.
Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5670.
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