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The study session that was not initiated during board

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
February 7, 2020

Back in December 2019, the Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District Board asked Superintendent Watenpaugh to add a second monthly meeting to conduct what were called “study sessions.” This request originated because the board found a special meeting earlier in December beneficial. They said they were able to learn more about the budget process from Chief Business Official Robert Marical during that session. They felt such sessions would make them more informed and better trustees for the school district. 

Watenpaugh complied with their request and in January a secondary board meeting was held on the 14th. That study session was a facilitated meeting to address and develop draft board goals as I reported in the Jan. 17th edition of The Community Voice. Tonight’s meeting was to be the next “study session.” As published in the pre-meeting agenda it was Item 5B which would be “Continued Review and Refinement of Board Goals.” Additionally, a second item was listed as “Review and Prioritize Trustee Requests for Information & Reports.” But item 5B was pulled from the agenda prior to the board going into Closed Session.

When asked why item 5B was pulled, Watenpaugh said because of the anticipated length of the closed session and the Capital Facility Projects discussion. He said the study session would occur at a future special meeting. Fortunately, no community members showed up for this public meeting so cancelling the advertised study session had no impact on the public.

After returning from closed session, Board President Leffler Brown opened the public session. The closed session was shown as “Privileged & Confidential Attorney-Client Communication/Attorney Work Product.” Brown reported no action was taken in closed session. Thus, the only item left for the open session was item 5A which was “Approval to Proceed with Capital Facility Projects.” Without the second monthly meeting request for study sessions, an agenda item like this would normally have been taken up at the videotaped regularly scheduled board meetings. If unable to wait for the next regularly scheduled meeting, a Special Meeting would have been called.

The presentation for this agenda item was led by Marical who was assisted by Josh Savage, the Executive Director of Facilities, Maintenance & Operations. They reported out the findings and recommendations of the Facilities Committee Meeting which was held on Jan 22nd. It was an interesting discussion which probably should have been held at a regular meeting where members of the public could listen and/or watched the recording from home if interested. The discussion was wide ranging and included fiscal concerns, project selection thoughts and plans for the summer of 2020, exploration of potential issues or conflicts, board policies and process steps. The bottom line, this item was just an approval to go get bids, not an actual approval of projects to be started. The board voted 5-0 to give Savage the go ahead to start that process.

So, what were the items Savage will be collecting bids on? They were an Evergreen Elementary School MU project; a Rancho Cotate High School field replacement project; and a pilot program concerning security cameras for the Ranch. If the bids are near the projected cost estimates, there is enough bond monies remaining to execute these projects as well as finish required payments for the Lawrence Jones Middle School Music Room and the Theater, Arts, Gymnasium (TAG) Building at Rancho Cotate. In addition, enough bond money has been set aside for technology upgrades and deferred maintenance items for school years 2020 through 2024. This would leave the district with around 1.8million dollars in reserve from the last approved bond in 2016. The school district has worked hard, at all levels, to increase transparency. They also desire to increase parent and community involvement. While some district business is likely unavoidable at these secondary public meetings, let’s hope that’s the exception and not the rule.