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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, July 27, 2001

Ravenswood probe shifts to county Ravenswood probe shifts to county (July 27, 2001)

District officials alleged that state lacked jurisdiction to conduct investigation

by Patricia Gosalves and Jennifer Dietz Berry

Faced with charges of lack of jurisdiction, state schools superintentent Delaine Eastin has passed a probe of Ravenswood City School District financial and management practices to the San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools.

The move cools a war-of-words between Eastin and Ravenswood Superintendent Charlie Mae Knight. All sides have agreed that San Mateo County schools Superintendent Floyd Gonella should oversee the investigation, rather than giving the job to the state's Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team, as originally announced.

Gonella is "the right person to conduct this investigation," Eastin said in a July 24 press release. "He has my full support on this matter." On Monday, Gonella met with Knight, two Ravenswood board members and the district's business manager.

"The district is looking forward to doing this," Gonella said. "Both board members and the superintendent assured me that the district would be open to any type of review investigation, and would provide whatever materials necessary."

School officials were caught off guard when Eastin first announced the pending probe at a press conference in Sacramento.

Eastin's order of the probe was in large part a response to San Jose Mercury News articles accusing the district of misusing funds and making fraudulent insurance claims, among other things, according to spokesperson Doug Stone,. District officials say the articles were inaccurate and poorly researched. The articles came as Superintendent Knight was standing trial for felony conflict-of-interest charges - she was acquitted on all 19 counts.

Gonella said the probe is based on several factors: "I think that when looking at everything, things said in the trial, said in the paper and just out there in the community, we felt that we needed to look into this. We'll either find something, make recommendations or clear the air."

Gonella is familiar with district spending practices, given that in 1999 a civil grand jury asked the county to monitor expenditures within the district due to questionable credit card and travel spending. He says the expenses in question were legitimate. "The district is solvent. In fact, it has almost a 10 percent reserve" -- well above the required legal limit for school districts, he said.


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