Education / Schools

Report highlights public distrust in Gavilan College, lack of Measure X oversight

A lack of training and transparency, incomplete bylaws and a failure to maintain the minimum number of Oversight Committee members are among the 10 findings in the report.

A report by the 2021 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury finds that the Gavilan Joint Community College District has given insufficient support and resources to its Measure X Oversight Committee. It also raises concerns about the committee’s independence from the district and bond management contractor. Additionally, it highlights that the public has a distrust of Gavilan’s commitment to build a campus in San Benito County.  

Measure X was passed in 2018 with 59.9% of the vote, exceeding the 55% threshold. However, it received support from only 54% of San Benito County voters.

Gavilan College Gilroy campus. December 2021. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Gavilan College Gilroy campus. December 2021. Photo by Noe Magaña.

The $248 million bond measure authorized the district to upgrade infrastructure including renovations to the library, new buildings for the science, computer and technology labs, and repairs to classrooms. It allocated $52 million for permanent classrooms and labs in San Benito County at the corner of Fairview Road and Highway 25. 

In its 72-page report, the grand jury notes that because contractor A Kennedy Group (AKG) provides several services under the same contract to Gavilan College, it is especially important to be transparent.

“The fact that they manage the bond program and provide both bond expenditure data and administrative support services to the committee responsible for overseeing the bond program is an issue that needs to be managed carefully,” the report states. “Disclosures and transparency are vital to avoid any misperceptions about the information being provided to the Oversight Committee as it carries out its constitutional mandate.”

It goes on to say that the Oversight Committee and some staff members were not fully aware of the scope of services AKG has been providing the district. It recommends clearly outlining to both parties and the public the contractor’s multiple roles and the checks and balances that are in place to ensure the Oversight Committee’s independence. 

AKG did not provide a comment and directed BenitoLink to the district.

The grand jury also notes a “lingering mistrust felt by some district residents was revealed” in a 2017 survey commissioned by the district in which 61.5% of respondents indicated the district could not be trusted because it managed the last bond—measure E—and didn’t build what they promised. 

In that survey, 60% of respondents also agreed that there was no guarantee the money would be distributed fairly and that some areas would get more than their fair share.

The 2004 Measure E included funding to provide permanent classrooms, labs, a library, job training and college transfer counseling in San Benito County. Nothing was built in San Benito County.

Trustee Jeanie Wallace said Gavilan’s San Benito County campus property known as Four Corners was bought with funds from Measure E. She said that while she has no information on what was promised prior to the bond’s passage, she said according to documentation from the Measure E Bond Oversight Committee, no actual construction of a new campus was in the plans.

“There was money in the budgeting to purchase land in San Benito County and Coyote Valley and they did do that,” Wallace said.

After BenitoLink pointed out language used in the Measure E bond regarding the San Benito County campus that includes classrooms, labs and a library, Wallace said “It’s understandable that people were expecting to see some building happening for sure.”

Among the grand jury’s findings in its report dated Dec. 16:

  • The district did not provide technical support to the Oversight Committee. No training was offered beyond an initial orientation covering 10 topics such as the Bond Accountability Act, committee bylaws and Measure X annual reports. The grand jury also stated there were consistency issues in sections of the bylaws, such as legal language that is difficult to understand and the lack of a conflict of interest policy. 
  • The district has been unable to maintain the required minimum of seven Oversight Committee members. Additionally, the report states the committee was out of compliance when its student member served beyond graduation without receiving approval from the Board of Trustees for a six-month extension. Currently there are two vacancies according to the report. 
  • The Measure X newsletter has not been sent to subscribed members or published on the Measure X website since September 2019, though it’s part of the contract with AKG.
  • The district did not provide Oversight Committee members with a direct tool to receive communications from the public. 
  • The district violated the Brown Act by failing to announce the Oversight Committee meetings, its cancellations or rescheduling. The report also notes that it’s difficult for the public to navigate through the website to access meeting agendas. 
  • The Board of Trustees, though it adopted Measure X’s financial and performance audits, has only provided the draft versions of those reports to the Oversight Committee. It also states the report’s details are “scant.”
  • The Board of Trustees has not communicated to the Oversight Committee about its efforts to maximize bond revenues through cost-saving measures. 

Trustee Irma Gonzalez said that while she believes the report’s findings are accurate, the title of the report is misleading, as she feels some of the issues raised by the report, such as not providing agendas on time and not providing certified documents to the Oversight Committee were primarily because of technical glitches and because the district’s financial department was going through a staff transition. She added that when she reported that the agendas were not posted on time, the IT department confirmed it was a system issue and that the problem was resolved right away.

“Anything that was mentioned, I can assure it’s being corrected,” Gonzalez said. “I have received emails that AKG is taking it seriously.”

As of Dec. 22, there are six more newsletters in the archive, published after the date reported by the grand jury. However, there is a 16-month gap between the last two newsletters—August 2020 and December 2021.

Wallace said though the report identifies some issues that need to be addressed, she said she was happy the grand jury did not find any Measure X fund mismanagement. 

“What I saw was reassuring to me because the grand jury did not find any concerns about misrepresentation, they didn’t find any concerns about misuse of bond funds or they didn’t find any fraud, they didn’t find any mishandling of funds, they didn’t find anything shady going on,” Wallace said.

Regarding the Oversight Committee’s membership, Wallace and Gonzalez said it’s been difficult to find community members within each recruitment category to volunteer their time and that they have both attempted and failed to recruit members. Gonzalez said AKG told her it had a backup list. She said she has requested the list and has not yet received it. 

Other projects included in Measure X include:

  • Central Plant/Water Treatment: $5.9 million. It would be located at the Gilroy campus. Gavilan Superintendent Kathleen Rose told Benitolink prior to the 2018 election that there are blackouts caused by accidents on Highway 101, which forces the school to send students home.
  • STEM Center: $19.7 million. Rose said Gavilan received three federal grants for the center to be located at the Gilroy campus.
  • Library/Learning Resource Center: $18.9 million. The existing building would be demolished. Rose said the 50-year-old building cannot be modernized.
  • Modular building at Coyote Valley campus: $12.8 million to construct a two-story building for computer science labs and other classrooms.
  • Visual and Performing Arts: $61.7 million. The building would be in a new location on the Gilroy campus.
  • Repurpose art building: $2.8 million.
  • Student services: $48.6 million.
  • Kinesiology & athletic fields: $29.3 million.
  • Administrative services: $11.3 million.
  • Site improvements: $9.3 million.
  • Student Center remodel: $2.1 million.
  • Replace water supply system: $6.2 million.

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.