It was two-on-one (before a crowd of almost none) during Wednesday night’s Poway Unified school board candidates forum featuring incumbents Andy Patapow and Linda Vanderveen against newcomer Kimberley Beatty.
While Patapow and Vanderveen often agreed with each other and defended their part in the billion-dollar bond controversy, Beatty slid in a few jabs at the pair, offering herself as a candidate with a “natural proclivity to do due diligence” in financial matters who “will do the research that is necessary.”
The mostly empty room of about 20 people—including media and district staff—presented a stark contrast to a standing-room-only August board meeting after a media investigation showed that board members had signed off on a $105 million bond for school repairs that would end up costing taxpayers nearly $1 billion to repay.
During Wednesday’s forum, hosted by the Palomar Council PTA and the League of Women Voters, three of the night’s 11 questions directly addressed the bond controversy: financial experience; an additional $31 million tacked onto the bond; and an ignored attorney general warning.
One question: “Could each candidate please comment on their financial and accounting background that would provide them with the necessary expertise to understand bonds?”
“Is that a trick question?” joked Vanderveen, who in her two-minute opening statement had referenced the passage of “two successful bonds” in her list of accomplishments.
Vanderveen said she has no professional experience in finance, though she is “CEO of (her) house,” and relies on the experts hired by the district and makes her decisions based on “the sound advice that they give me.”
Patapow, too, said he relies on experts and “district personnel for their insight into the problems and how I should manage the money.” The former Abraxas High School principal said leading that campus for 27 years also helped him understand education finance.
Beatty, the legislation chair for the Palomar Council PTA, cited a past job as an insurance company loan officer, but said that’s not the root of her financial skill.
“My amateur financial experience comes from my natural proclivity to do due diligence whenever we make a major financial decision. ... I do the work. I like to make informed decisions. I think that’s the most important thing,” Beatty said.
A Voice of San Diego report found that by artificially inflating bond interest rates, district officials were able to get an additional $31 million upfront, costing taxpayers another $219 million to repay.
To a question asking what happened to that $31 million, Vanderveen answered—and Patapow agreed—that it had been used for expenses associated with the bond in a “very common practice, I might add, for all major bonds.”
Patapow said bond financing is “the most complicated thing I’ve ever seen. ... Every time when you have a new bond come up, you have another bond to pay for the previous bond. It gets to be where you look at them and you don’t know which came first."
The VOSD report, however, said that while districts typically do use such cash for ancillary fees, PUSD’s associated fees only came to $1.7 million and the rest of the money was used to pay for interest on previous bonds—which Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office took issue with in a letter to the district.
The office, though questioning the legality of the move, never officially challenged the plan in court and the deal went through.
“You would think that if they truly felt it was illegal that they’d do something besides sending a letter to our attorneys,” Vanderveen said. “Some political opponents have used that letter as the supposed smoking gun and it really wasn’t.”
Patapow said the issue had become sensationalized by the media.
“If the reporters can get on one thing they’re going to report on that one thing and if has some merit—whether it has merit or not—they’re going to report on something if it has sensationalism,” he said.
On both questions of the $31 million and the attorney general’s letter, Beatty said she could not speak on the topics with any expertise, though she had spoken with another board member for information.
The candidates also expressed support for Propositions 30 and 38, which relate to school financing, decried bullying, said student input is key to fighting drug abuse in schools and said they oppose term limits for school board members. Beatty, however, said that officials should consider changing elections so that members are chosen from districts to make sure different areas of PUSD are represented. Currently, all school board members live in Poway even though most of the district's campuses are in other communities such as Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Peñasquitos.
There are two open seats during the November election.