Board Walks

When I attended Anaheim High School in the mid-'90s, portable classrooms were already creeping onto basketball courts, athletic fields, our student parking lot. We were overcrowded. A decade later, the problem is worse; student parking has disappeared beneath the portables, forcing kids into a Darwinian struggle with their teachers for declining space in the faculty lot.

Nevertheless, Anaheim high schools chief Joseph Farley is pleased—really pleased—with his bosses. In a Sept. 16 Orange County Register column, “District Didn't Conceal Bad News,” the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) superintendent praised trustees for going public with an audit that found the district's construction projects were badly managed.

Bad news comes in threes, so consider: the audit cost taxpayers $100,000, discovered the district's building program is $49 million short, and prompted the DA to launch a criminal investigation.

Oh, and this: Anaheim's notoriously teeming middle and high schools—it's home to two of the county's most crowded junior highs, Sycamore and South—won't get any relief for years, if ever.

But the bad news didn't stop Farley from congratulating AUHSD trustees “for an open approach to findings that its bond-funded construction projects need, well, a lot of work.”

Well, yes.

But Farley's request for applause is a little like President Bush's now-infamous pat on the back for former FEMA head Michael Brown.

The story begins three years ago when Anaheim voters approved $132 million in bonds for expansion and construction projects in the high school district. Parents complained almost immediately about delays and cost overruns.

District officials and the board seemed to ignore those complaints until earlier this month, when the board released a forensic audit five months in the making.

Anaheim parents might reasonably find it disturbing that Farley thinks transparency in government deserves applause—as if it's an extra-credit assignment in a freshman home economics class rather than the heart of democracy. In Anaheim, such openness has been rare, however. Watchful parents recall that the board waited four months before revealing in September 2004 that they'd already scrapped plans for a new junior high school a couple of miles away from Sycamore, where the kids are almost literally ass to ankles.

So Farley may be right to honor his trustees: in Anaheim, apparently, democracy is what you get only after a financial catastrophe.


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