Little accountability in the San Mateo County Community College District



Daily Post Editor

It’s astonishing that the San Mateo County Community College District board is thinking about giving Chancellor Ron Galatolo a raise after he covered up a $114 million blunder by his administration.

Since 2002, Galatolo has been the chief executive of a district that runs Canada College in Redwood City, the College of San Mateo and Skyline College in San Bruno, with a combined enrollment of 45,000 students. The district’s $177.9 million budget comes mainly from property taxes and enrollment fees. Galatolo reports to a five-member elected board. Two of the three board seats are up for grabs in 2018 and the other three in 2020.

College district elections don’t draw much attention because the ballot is too long, and typically the incumbents are re-elected without breaking a sweat. There’s rarely a public debate at election time about how the college district is doing its job.

Last year, Galatolo made a whopping $469,889. He’s up for a 3.8% raise. Who says public education is a low-paying career?

Board kept in the dark

The biggest strike against Galatolo was his coverup of a $114 million mistake his vice president, Jan Roecks, made when the college district was trying to sell its noncommercial KCSM-TV in the FCC spectrum auction.

The district’s board had wanted to close the station for several years because it was losing money. A Wall Street firm named LocusPoint Networks came along and promised the district money to keep the station going until the auction.

The FCC held the auction to allow stations across the country to sell some or all of their bandwidth to companies like T-Mobile, Dish Network, AT&T and Comcast. In return for the money to keep KCSM on the air until the auction, the college district would give LocusPoint 36.5% of the proceeds.

On Nov. 15, at a predetermined hour, Roecks was supposed to go on the FCC website and click the “bid” button so that the station could be offered for sale. Inexplicably, she did nothing, thereby blowing the college district’s chances of picking up $114 million. And the FCC wouldn’t allow any do-overs. Immediately afterward, Roecks told Galatolo.

But, according to a lawsuit LocusPoint filed, he didn’t tell them for several months. They thought the station had been sold. And, Galatolo didn’t even tell his own board of the blunder for four months — until sometime after March 15.

Mistakes happen. They can be forgiven. But it’s a different matter when you make a mistake of this proportion and then cover it up from your bosses.

Public pays for alcohol

Another strike against Galatolo came in 2015 when NBC Bay Area revealed he was buying alcohol with district money, a policy violation. NBC Bay Area combed through expense reports Galatolo submitted and uncovered hundreds of dollars in alcohol purchases, including a $100 bottle of Rubicon Cask at a swank San Diego hotel.

Galatolo got a pass from his bosses. They took the approach that he was entertaining donors to the college district’s foundation, and if the fat cat wanted a drink, it was OK for Galatolo to pull out the district’s credit card and pass the tab on to taxpayers. The board made a minor change in policy but Galatolo walked away unscathed.

Another complaint against Galatolo is that the district operates a private fitness center at the College of San Mateo that was built with public funds from a 2005 bond measure. The San Mateo Athletic Club at CSM has dual purposes — students learn about the fitness field there, and it’s also a health club available to the community on a membership-fee basis.

The San Mateo County civil grand jury in 2011 said the college district headed by Galatolo didn’t inform the public of its plans to build what essentially is a private athletic club when it went to voters for approval of the $468 million bond measure. The grand jury said the bond measure’s list of projects was so broad it “permitted generous interpretation in the purpose of the funds … For example, college district officials stated that the bond language ‘workforce development center’ was the basis for the construction of the wellness-fitness center.”

Given this history — the KCSM coverup, the alcohol and the health club — it was a surprise to see on the board’s June 28 agenda a 3.8% raise and new four-year contract for Galatolo.

Former San Mateo Planning Commissioner Maxine Terner, who keeps a close eye on the district’s board, was surprised, too, and she began asking district officials about it before that meeting. Then the raise and contract were suddenly pulled from the agenda. Terner thinks it happened because she was asking questions.

But board member Tom Mohr told the Post that the item was held to make sure that all 42 of the district’s top administrators were included in the raises, and extra time was needed to double-check the agenda item.

Among the 42 administrators on the list to get raises is Roecks.

Decision on Wednesday The contract renewals and raises are on the board’s agenda for Wednesday. The agenda indicates the board will talk about it behind closed doors and then announce a decision. The board is also meeting behind closed doors on Wednesday to talk about the LocusPoint lawsuit. The board has yet to schedule a public hearing about the KCSM-TV debacle.

Maybe the board members think that if they don’t say anything, these problems will go away. When things like this happen, an elected board should hold its chief executive accountable. Then again, since voters don’t hold the board accountable for anything, why should the board focus on accountability?

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].