Montebello Alumni, Parent Chosen for School Board Seat

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

A 36-year old parent and computer engineer was picked out of a field of 17 candidates to become the newest member of the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday afternoon.

Paul Montoya will take over the seat left vacant by the death of board member Marcella Calderon. He will serve until Nov. 2013, at which point he will be required to run for election to serve out the remainder of Calderon’s four year term. Montoya was officially sworn in Wednesday morning. A ceremonial swearing-in will be held Thursday at 7pm in the district board’s meeting chamber.

Paul Montoya

The school board, saying it would be cost prohibitive to hold an election estimated to cost $150,000, decided to appoint a provisional member to the board.

Had the board members not appointed someone by Mar. 1, an election would have been required, as it was in 1999 when Tom Calderon, the husband of the late Marcella Calderon, left his seat to move on to a position in the State Assembly.

Members of the community have 30 days from the date that a new board member is selected to petition for an election to be held.

At an interview session held this past Saturday, the 17 applicants who went up for the position displayed varying degrees of qualifications and political experience. The pool included former board members, volunteers in the PTA and other parent committees, MUSD employees, and those who have background in the political field or have worked for local politicians.

During his interview, Montoya said he has no “political aspirations.” He attended school in the district, volunteers in the surrounding community, and is the new parent of two young children.

“I have roots in this community, so I want to make sure my children have the best opportunities available to them,” said Montoya, who attended Joseph Gascon Elementary School, Eastmont Intermediate, and Schurr High School.

He feels a board member’s job is to provide oversight, as well as to serve as a bridge between parents and the district. “I think it’s important to have parents on this board that are able to transmit the values of community to the rest of the organization,” he said.

Montoya said he is concerned about students who are interested in school when they are young, but seem to lose motivation as they became teenagers. “It’s sad to see apathy in some of the students… Is it the schools, the teachers? … There are a lot of different things that come into it, but I think that if we provide the structure, the guidelines for them to expand and excel, and to not be limited in their dreams… I think it’s something this district can do effectively,” he said, pointing to the new Applied Technology Center high school which he called a “bold move” that was spearheaded by former board member Marcella Calderon.

While Montoya has not been directly involved in district activities, he says he watched his own parents get involved while he attended schools in the district.

Several of the board members appeared impressed by Montoya, but said they did not know him personally. For Board President Hector Chacon who nominated Montoya, this was a good thing,

“This individual said we’re here to serve, we’re here to advocate for students. I have no political aspiration. I’m just a new parent. I just want to be here to help,” said Chacon, who said during the meeting that he would not vote for a former board member.

Meanwhile, Board Member Gerri Guzman, who cast the only no vote against Montoya’s appointment, said, “I don’t know him, I’m sorry,” only to find out too late that he is the son of Elena Montoya, whom she knows as an actively involved parent.

When it dawned on her, Guzman jokingly said to Montoya’s mother, who was sitting in the audience, “How rare of you not to say anything.”

Board Member David Vela has met Montoya personally in a different context and like Chacon, also cast him as a representative for parents.

“This individual has been involved in the Montebello Unified, East LA area for years, in particular the [Joseph Gascon Elementary School] community,” Vela said.

“He has also been a volunteer in the community around Eastmont, so as my day job working for another elected official, I was able to meet this person… I thought at the end of the day it’s a parent that cares about the children.”

Each of the applicants were asked four questions on Saturday: Why they want to serve on the school board, what they think is the mission of the board, what they know about the district, and what they could contribute if they became a member of the board.

Montoya said he felt that even if parents did their best to get involved, their efforts would be “limited as far as how much you can do by yourself,” whereas becoming a member of the school board would allow someone like him to do more.

Montoya also said that through his job as a computer engineer for the Los Angeles County, he has gained experience as a public servant, witnessing “first hand the value of what we can provide to the community at large.”

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February 29, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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