It has been two months since Hesperia Unified School District school board members clashed over their original decision as to who should build Oak Hills High School, which is set to be the district's third. Monday night, it became clear that the wounds still have not healed.

At Monday night's school board meeting at Sultana High School, school board president Bruce Minton clashed with members Hardy Black and Robert Kirk over their desire to build HUSD schools using the construction management system of project management. Construction management firms sub-contract out the individual aspects of a construction project, instead of having a single firm being responsible for all work done. The argument spilled over into suggestions members had violated state open government laws.

The meeting started, ironically, with the HUSD's attorney calling for peace within the district.

"If you have a hypothetical school district where staff and the board are at odds," the district can run into trouble, Attorney Tristan Pelayes, of the Riverside-based law firm Wagner & Pelayes, said in a presentation at the beginning of meeting. "The staff and the board have completely different roles in the system, and you have to be careful about not stepping over each others' shoes. ... If one side doesn't trust the other, it's not going to work."

He may have been carefully speaking about a hypothetical district, but newly elected board members Black, Kirk and Lee Rogers have clashed with school district administrators since their November 2006 election. The battles culminated with former Kingston Elementary School Principal David Long accusing the new board members of driving away more than a dozen administrators in a letter to the editor published in local newspapers.

Pelayes was presenting a draft Request for Proposal evaluation form to be used in grading future proposals from construction management firms hoping to build schools for the HUSD. In July, Pelayes had advised the board to scrap a planned contract with Rancho Cucamonga-based WLC Construction Services after other construction management firms that had submitted proposals complained the school board was inappropriately awarding the contract to a less qualified and more expensive firm. Board members, including Kirk, had said HUSD staff's RFP evaluation form, which had ranked WLC the lowest of all the responding firms that had submitted a complete proposal, was too subjective.

The Wagner & Pelayes draft RFP evaluation form was mostly based on the existing HUSD form.

"We reviewed it and came up with some refinements to the existing packet," Pelayes said.

Among the improvements: Firms are no longer asked to list how many years they've been in business, but how long they have been performing construction management services and overseeing all aspects of a project's construction. Several of the responding firms, including Frick, Frick and Jette and WLC, had been in the construction or architecture industries for many more years than they had been in the construction management business.

Once the board committed to a new evaluation form, Pelayes cautioned, everyone had to live with it: "The minute that you deviate from this form, that's where you run into problems. ... We could come up with the best scoring system in the world, but if it's not followed, it makes no sense and makes no difference."

Too many questions over how a contract was awarded, he warned, and "the state will yank the funding [for new school construction] that's already in place, and that can be devastating to any district."

Historically, the state of California contributes a large portion of the funds to build a public school. Oak Hills High School will cost an estimated $105 million to complete.

To help make sure both the staff and board were on the same page in evaluating proposals, Pelayes suggested the board could have one or more school board members participate in the evaluations or have a third party that both the board and staff trusted participating.

And that's when the trouble began.

"I do not understand how a board member can be involved with the scoring and then later with awarding the contract," said Minton, an attorney himself, openly wondering about the appearance of a conflict of interest.

But it was the suggestion that a neutral third party be brought in that really set him off.

"If that's what we need, why don't we fire our staff and get staff that we can trust?" he demanded.

Pelayes blamed the previous problems with the Oak Hills RFP on ambiguities in the previous document.

"That creates an atmosphere of doubt," he said. "In the past, there were issues in the process. That's what we're trying to address."

Following Pelayes' presentation, when it came time for the board to vote on the new RFP draft, Minton demanded to know what Kirk, Black and board member Lee Rogers had told Hesperia Teachers Association members at two meetings regarding the Oak Hills project the Thursday before.

"I'm talking about you going to union meetings to discuss issues that should be addressed to the public that elected us," Minton said.

Three board members, appearing two at a time, constituted "serial" collusion, Minton said, and was a violation of the Brown Act, the state law requiring most meetings of elected officials to be held in public with advance public notice.

"I'm not going as a board member," Kirk said. "I'm going as an individual who happens to be a board member."

"If the term is being used that the staff 'sandbagged' [WLC's proposal]," Minton said, referring to a rumor of what was allegedly said at the union meetings at Sultana, "I think they ought to hear it."

"I have a right to go to meetings that I am invited to," said Kirk, a former Sultana High School teacher and HTA member.

In return, Kirk said Minton had been guilty of a Brown Act violation himself, during the last election season, when he was one of three board members to sign a letter along with former superintendent Hank Richardson, responding to campaign statements made by Black, Kirk and Lee Rogers.

In the end, with Lee Rogers' absence, it was a stalemate: The board split 2-2 to table a vote on the draft RFP and 2-2 to only use the construction management process for new projects only, not for ongoing ones. Board member Helen Rogers sided with Minton in voting against the former and in favor of the latter.

The next meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board will be held on October 8 at the AESC Center at 15576 Main Street at 6 p.m.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.