Review of the Lompoc Unified School District (LUSD), conducted by the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury after complaints arose earlier this year, has revealed both a lack of fiscal control and serious ethical shortcomings surrounding the relationship between Board of Education member Bill Christen and his spouse, Tina Christen, LUSD’s Director of Special Education.
The official report, released by the Grand Jury in late June, concluded that LUSD failed to uphold its self-professed mission to provide “leadership and citizen oversight of the district,” based on decisions that gave unfair benefit to Christen’s spouse and her department.
The jury conducted a series of staff interviews and a full review of all fiscal documents dating back to 2012, the year Christen was elected to the board. It was from these sources that the Grand Jury noted Bill Christen’s dual vote — in January 2014 and May 2015 — to approve salary increases that directly benefited his spouse. Complaints of department favoritism were further sustained by $283,000 worth of invoice payments for special education department books that circumvented all systems of approval by the board.
Other findings revisited issues noted by independent audits of years prior. In 2015, audit reports show lackadaisical internal financial control over allocation and disbursement of funds. A discrepancy for travel accommodations for spouses, a fee that should not have been covered by the district, was also present in the Grand Jury’s findings.
In addition to a lack of financial integrity and transparency, the Grand Jury also pointed to complaints of LUSD’s hostile work environment. Employees who appealed to the Grand Jury feared retaliation, in the form of hostility and/or termination, if remarks were made public.
In a list of recommendations intended to remedy both immediate and structural issues, the Grand Jury’s suggestions included the reimbursement of pay increases received by Tina Christen, as well as making ethics training a district-wide requirement. LUSD administrators were not available to comment on potential steps to move forward.
As the “public’s watchdog,” the Grand Jury defers all legal judgments to District Attorney Joyce Dudley, who has yet to release a statement on the matter. The district’s Board of Education has 90 days to respond to the Jury’s findings and recommendations.