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Print | PUSD Governing Board Member Benefits/Perks
Make It Right© - Apr 05 2012
with John Hardin : jshardin@ocsnet.net

Make It RIGHT - with John Hardin Frustration does not begin to describe the feeling that I and other families felt seeing the current PUSD Governing Board members continue to eliminate student & teacher services. As a volunteer coach at Monache High School, I saw firsthand what little support that activities such as athletics, band, FFA, etc received from the school district under the guise of a difficult State budget.

Parents tried everything to limit the amount of harm that the student/athletes felt from the cutbacks being imposed by the Governing Board members and Superintendent. Offers were made to fund raise and provide an additional revenue source to the district as a way to limit the impact on our students to no avail. A district employee pointed out to me that the burden of cutbacks was unjustly and unfairly being carried by our students and teachers.

The reality was that past & present Governing Board members were providing themselves virtually free and very generous health, prescription, vision & dental benefits with no discussion of reductions in the trustees perks as a way to limit the impact on students. Finding the scope of trustee benefits became an individual mission.

On July 21, 2011, I submitted a Public Records Request to the leadership of PUSD. (The California Public Records Act of 2004's fundamental concept is that governmental records shall be disclosed to the public upon request). I requested information on two topics. First, how many families were receiving tax payer funded benefits and what was the cost to the district. Second, since Porterville Unified School District's Health & Welfare plans are self-funded, what do the claims and benefits cost in relation to the trustees? My initial request covered the scope of the last 5 years.

On August 3, 2011, I received part of my requested information. I was given the cost of the premiums for the PUSD Health & Welfare plans and the number of individuals & families receiving benefits, that number being a total of 15 families. Since there are only 7 seated board members at one time, I discovered that PUSD had the practice of paying for past board members for a lifetime.

PUSD is the only school district in the county out of 43 districts to provide past board members life time benefits. Ken Gibbs, PUSD Assistant Superintendent, provided the following information in response to my request concerning the cost of benefits/claims paid for board members and I quote "The District does not have any documents or records that quantify the claims or benefits paid to or for members of the Board of Trustees, past or current." Obviously, my feeling was that this statement was a fabrication on Mr. Gibbs part and a direct attempt to discourage the release of the public records.

Unwilling to be denied the information from a clearly uncooperative school district, I personally hired Michael Lampe, Attorney at Law to compel the district to release the information that the public was entitled to. This legal action started the following process;

• On October 6th, 2011, Michael Lampe's office served a second Public Records request upon PUSD requesting the same information on claims & benefits paid to the past and present governing board members as I had.
• On October 18th, 2011, Ken Gibbs responded differently than the previous August, advising that the district DID in fact have the information but that "extracting and compiling" the data will be a significant task, and advised that Mr. Hardin would have to pay that cost.
• On October 25th, 2011, Mr. Lampe sent Ken Gibbs notice that Mr. Hardin was willing to pay the costs of extracting the information. The original request stated that Mr. Hardin had already agreed to pay costs associated with the request. Also, that the Public Records Act limits the cost that PUSD could charge for providing the information.
• On November 2nd, 2011, Tulare County Counsel Attorney Carol L. Laird again sent a letter seeking assurance that Mr. Hardin would bear the cost of extracting the requested information.
• On November 10th, 2011, Mr. Lampe informed Ms. Laird again that Mr. Hardin would cover the costs of extracting the information as he agreed to do from the beginning. Ms. Laird estimated that the response time to provide the public records would be 10 days.
• On December 1st, 2011, still without receiving the requested information and in response to another contact concerning the still unreleased data, Tulare County Counsel Attorney Carol L Laird again asked for confirmation that Mr. Hardin would cover the costs of requesting the public records. To which she was again told Mr. Hardin had agreed to do multiple times before.
• On January 13th, 2012, and still not in receipt of records that were originally requested in July of 2011 and should be provided in a 10 day time frame, Mr. Lampe's office notified PUSD and Tulare County Counsel Attorney Carol L. Laird that Mr. Hardin intended to file an action for declaratory relief to compel the production of the requested records, unless those records have been produced by the close of business on Monday, January 23, 2012. Also, that Mr. Hardin will, of course, seek an award of attorneys' fees under the provisions of Government Code section 6259 relating to the production of these records.

Obviously, we had lost patience with the PUSD stonewalling and lack of compliance in providing this very public record. Shortly prior to the January 23rd deadline, the district released the records. Having time to review the information, there was no doubt why the district did not want this information released.

Frankly, the numbers are staggering and border on criminal activity. In the last 5 years, Governing Board member Health, Prescription, Vision & Dental benefits has cost taxpayers a total of $2,209,835.37. This is an average of $441,967.07 for 16 past & present board member families. These benefits are voted on by the board members for the board members with zero oversight and at very little cost to the board members themselves.

As the Bakersfield Californian stated in an opinion piece on Oct. 26th of 2011, where else can one work 10 to 15 hours a week and get free health care? This practice has to end and I believe that the sitting board members have a responsibility to put the needs of the students and teachers first ahead of themselves. I was raised to understand that the word "volunteer" means volunteer and not what can I get for myself.

Please follow this column for updates on this issue.

John S. Hardin -- Trying to "Make it Right"

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