Posted: Wednesday, April 15, 2015 – 11:42 AM
By Laura Coleman
At last night’s Beverly Hills Unified School District’s formal Board of Education meeting, newly reinstated Board President Brian Goldberg voted together with newly reinstated Board VP Howard Goldstein and Boardmember Noah Margo to put the kabash on accessing funds that could be used immediately to build safe Beverly Hills schools.
“You’re gambling with your children’s lives,” BHUSD’s interim Facilities Director Tim Buresh admonished the board majority who were also voting in direct opposition to the recommendation made by the Board’s Financial Committee to approve the immediate acceleration of all remaining Measure E funds.
Last night’s vote, in addition to delaying the school building program, also risks the school district’s ability to capitalize on around $30 million in matching State of California Seismic Mitigation Program (SSMP) funds to remedy Beverly Hills’ most at-risk school buildings.
Roughly six months ago, a SSMP report identified 14 buildings of the BHUSD that are seismically unsafe. Multiple experts have since told the BHUSD Board of Education that in the event of an earthquake above 3.5 on the Richter scale, depending on its epicenter, those 14 buildings are at risk of major structural damage including collapse. In that case, serious injury and even death can be expected.
In anticipation of last night’s vote, BHUSD general counsel Vince Ewing emailed all Board members a letter warning them of their personal liability for failure to act in response to a recommendation made by Buresh’s consulting firm Prime Source.
The report states: “Board members may be exposed to personal liability if they receive information related to the unsafe condition of school buildings and do not take reasonable steps to repair them. A jury would consider whether the steps the Board took to repair the subject buildings were reasonable. The information contained in the Prime Source memo, the Prime Source reports, and the verbal warnings made to the Board by Prime Source, likely trigger the Board’s duty to act to avoid exposing it to personal liability.”
Seven years have now passed since Beverly Hills voters authorized a total sale of $334 million of Measure E bonds to fund the repair, reconstruction or replacement of seismically-impaired school buildings. Since then, the board has learned that it will require approximately $450 million for all five schools to complete necessary seismic and rehabilitation needs throughout the school district.
The sale of the remaining Measure E bonds is controversial because the BHUSD board in 2008 (comprised of current Board member Goldberg, plus Myra Demeter, Myra Lurie, Nooshin Meshkaty and Steven Fenton) issued statements assuring Beverly Hills taxpayers that the rate they would pay on the bonds would not increase.
Goldberg, Goldstein and Margo are all banking on voters approving a replacement bond in June 2016 in excess of $350 million.
In contrast, Board members Lisa Korbatov and Lewis Hall, who last night voted in support of allowing the district access to the remaining Measure E funds immediately, prefer to tap Measure E and then ask voters to approve approximately $140 million in a new bond in June 2016.
So far, the district has sold $117 million of the bonds with another $34 million that can be sold without a tax rate increase.