Losing it

Stephen Colbert.

Stephen Colbert.

Chalk it up to the competitive nature of professional athletes. In everything Kevin Johnson does, he goes just a little bit further than the other guy.

For example, it’s not completely unheard of for an independent charter school in Sacramento to fall a little bit behind in their payments to the Sacramento City Unified School District. Charters schools pay the district rent on their school buildings and fees for administrative costs. Being $50,000 or $60,000 in arrears isn’t great, but it happens.

But Johnson’s St. Hope Public Schools are really, really in debt. In fact, the district revealed last week that that St. Hope had racked up nearly $1 million in back rent and other fees it owes to the district.

According to the district’s chief financial officer, Tom Barentson, St. Hope failed to make adjustments to its budget when attendance at Sacramento Charter High School fell to much lower levels than had been anticipated. In fact, the skewed budgets went on for two years before district officials caught on.

St. Hope’s debt breaks a record previously set by the former Visual and Performing Arts Charter School, which owed up to $500,000, according to Barentson. VAPAC was shut down by the district in 2007.

That fate is unlikely to befall St. Hope, said Barentson, because “they’ve been very cooperative.”

In fact, on Thursday, the elected SCUSD board of directors agreed to enter into a special financial agreement with St. Hope, giving the not-for-profit organization until 2010 to pay off its debt to the district. And thanks to a big payment back in October, St. Hope’s debt is now just $729,742.

Here’s what Bites doesn’t understand: School district officials knew about the scope of the problem back in September. But the information just became public last week. Barentson says the elected members of the school board were told about it in mid-October—in a closed-door meeting. The issue wasn’t revealed to the public, said Barentson, because of “potential litigation” involving St. Hope.

Bites will just accept that’s true, and there wasn’t some other reason to keep this issue from becoming public before, say, November 4.

Congratulations to Blue Diamond Growers, who after a four-year union-organizing drive has crushed the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Workers there voted 353 to 142 to oppose unionization on November 19. Ouch. Over the years, Blue Diamond management has been slapped with 20 labor-law violations by the National Labor Relations Board, and the union is considering more complaints to the NLRB, claiming that the company used threats and intimidation to sway the vote.

A few weeks before the election, Blue Diamond banished SN&R newspaper racks from the company’s property. Company officials told SN&R distribution manager Michael Billingsley that they didn’t appreciate the paper’s coverage of the union fight. To replace SN&R, Blue Diamond brought in a rack from another free weekly—one whose editorial outlook was perhaps more “fair and balanced.” That paper—The Sacramento Union.

How embarrassing. You’d think that if Bites is going to steal from Stephen Colbert and title a column about local politicos “Better Know a District,” then Bites would, you know, know the district. Instead, this column last week somehow mistakenly made Dave Jones the assembly representative in 10th Assembly District. He actually represents the 9th District. The error was gently pointed out by Ed Bennett, president of the Stonewall Democrats of Sacramento. Bennett said of Jones, “He’s still awesome, no matter what district we associate [him] with.” And that, dear reader, has been thoroughly fact-checked.