The city of San Jose, California wanted to award a grant of up to $838,264 to a local school to provide students for a work-study program. The city would get eager young people who want to assist the government, and the kids would get work experience and access to community leaders.
A couple of weeks ago, the City Council made its decision: The contract would be awarded to Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School, a Catholic school.
The religion wasn't an issue here because the school was eligible to apply for the grant (Trinity Lutheran, yada yada yada)… but two things are worth noting:
One: There are only three other public school districts in the community, and two of the superintendents are openly saying they didn't even know the city was trying to do this. They didn't apply for the grant - one that would've helped their economically disadvantaged students - because, they say, no one reached out to them to inform them of the opportunity.
Two: Mayor Sam Liccardo helped co-found the Catholic school that received the money.
The city insists the latter issue wasn't a factor here. Liccardo has no financial stake in the school and he's not on their board. (Still, he didn't recuse himself from the vote.) But how was it possible that the city didn't tell the superintendents about this grant? There were literally a handful of people they needed to inform!
They say an email was sent to everyone… but the superintendents say otherwise.
Nadia Lopez at San José Spotlight explains:
"My office - the superintendent's office - did not receive any information about this," said Superintendent Chris Funk from the East Side Union High School District. "There are only three superintendents in the city of San Jose that have high schools. And why would you not want to engage with the superintendents when you're talking about a contract worth a million dollars?"
San Jose Unified School District Superintendent Nancy Albarrán said she wasn't notified by City Hall about the opportunity to bid for the public dollars, either.
According to documents requested by San José Spotlight, both East Side Union High School and San Jose Unified School Districts are listed as schools that were emailed about the bid proposal for the funding, though city leaders redacted the names of officials who were contacted in each school district because of "privacy concerns."
Albarrán says her staff searched her inbox for that email. They didn't find it.
But all of that is irrelevant. This was a proposal that only a few people needed to know about, and the city seems to have chosen the worst possible way to communicate that information: With a random email sent, spam-like, to dozens of inboxes, including ones that never would have applied for the grant.
When it's that much money, and it's so few people, why not just call them individually? You don't need kids to do everything for you…
Ultimately, the Catholic school is the only one that applied for the program. (Which would make Liccardo's vote meaningless.) It's also, if you believe the superintendents, the only school that knew about the program. That's the real issue.
It's all incredibly sketchy even if you don't jump to some conspiracy theory about what happened. The end result, however, is that a Catholic school that receives tuition money from parents was awarded a nearly-million-dollar grant while public schools with far fewer resources weren't even given the chance to apply.
The city approved the work-study grant last month.
(Screenshot via Google Maps. Thanks to Brian for the link)