Friday, 17 May 2024

Grand jury investigates Lake County Office of Education

LAKE COUNTY – The Lake County Office of Education is the object of an ongoing investigation by Lake County's grand jury, whose newly released report looks at allegations of overspending, jobs awarded to individuals without qualifications and retaliation by administrators against employees.


Chris Thomas, the Lake County Office of Education's deputy superintendent of education services, said Friday that the agency was disappointed with “a lot of very general allegations” made in the report, to which it plans to quickly respond.


“There are two sides to every story,” said Thomas, adding that the report “blindsided” the agency.


Lake County's latest grand jury report, released to the general public on Friday, stated that its Public Services Committee “received several complaints alleging a wide range of violations against the Lake County Office of Education.”


The agency, which is independent of the county government, supports local school districts with technical and advisory services while also overseeing the Aspire Program and Clearlake Community Day School.


The Lake County Office of Education is overseen by Superintendent Dave Geck, who was elected to his four-year office in June 2006 and sworn in during the fall of that year following the early retirement of his predecessor, Bill Cornelison.


The complaints submitted to the grand jury included “falsifying documents, receiving credentials under false pretenses, exorbitant spending, misuse of grant funding, wrongful dismissal, violation of policies and procedures, employee abuse, and negligence involving a student,” according to the report.


The report stated that the grand jury's Public Services Committee began investigating the allegations last December, and the inquiry was still ongoing when the report was prepared last month.


“The committee interviewed numerous witnesses, received and reviewed copies of reimbursement vouchers and documents relating to the investigation, and interviewed members of the LCOE administration,” the report stated, adding that the investigation had “grown significantly.”


Geck was interviewed, the report stated. Also interviewed was Thomas, who confirmed she was among those who appeared before the committee.


The investigation is ongoing and will continue this coming year, according to the report.


Chief among the allegations is that an individual within the agency was granted an administrative position and a $25,000-per-year salary increase yet lacked the qualifications for the job, which was created in 2007 and wasn't posted publicly before it was awarded.


The individual who received the job was not named in the report, and Thomas would not confirm the person's identity, saying it's a personnel matter.


Other complaints included a “pattern of exorbitant spending” by an administrator responsible for grant funds, although “documentation has not been discovered to prove misappropriation of grant funding,” according to the report; “hostile conditions,” including verbal and mental abuse; termination of some employees without representation; and reports regarding a student's academic achievements and placement which were allegedly altered to justify the student's placement in a class at the Clearlake Community School.


There also was the matter of fear of recrimination. “Several current employees of LCOE revealed, under oath, fear of administration and fear of repercussions for appearing before the committee,” the report stated.


Asked about that reference, Thomas said the agency's administration would not know who was appearing before the committee, so the accusation was baseless.


Did administration receive any complaints from employees about hostile work environment conditions or specific administrators? Thomas said she couldn't answer the question because it was a personnel matter.


Because the investigation is ongoing, the grand jury report offers no recommendations on the situation.


The report was released to county department heads and other agency administrators, such as Geck, on Wednesday, after the new grand jury was impaneled.


Thomas said Geck saw a copy of the report on Wednesday afternoon. The following day, he left for a planned Alaskan vacation. He's scheduled to return to the office July 28.


“The timing is bad,” said Thomas.


Before he left, Geck discussed the report with Thomas, she said.


“The superintendent has said he will be looking at these issues,” said Thomas.


She said the agency wants to speak to the grand jury about the report's findings and provide an immediate response. Thomas said the Lake County Office of Education disagrees with portions of the report, although she did not specify which parts of the report with which they did agree.


Will they investigate allegations of overspending of funds in responding to the grand jury report?


“What I can tell you is we're looking at all the allegations written here, and we're taking them very seriously,” Thomas said during an interview with Lake County News in her office Friday afternoon.


The report on the Lake County Office of Education is just one of many investigations contained in this year's grand jury report, which is 254 pages long and considered one of the most extensive ever produced.


Bron Locke, the grand jury's foreman, could not comment on the specifics of the report's contents. Generally, however, he said that the report was more extensive this year because the grand jury wanted to be as thorough as possible.


The Lake County Office of Education inquiry is one of several that will continue in the year ahead, said Locke.


“The grand jury has a responsibility to let people know we are actually watching,” he said.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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