MUSD Workers Get One Month Reprieve

Facing a $15 M budget shortfall, board delays decision on job cuts.

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

Custodians, bus drivers, secretaries and cafeteria workers in the Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) successfully persuaded school board members to temporarily delay action on proposed job cuts and to try to find another away around the district’s looming budget crisis.

“We are the ones at schools before the class lights come on and the ones there way after the lights go off,” Marisol Rivera, a school secretary and regional representative with the California School Employees Association (CSEA) Chapter 505, told EGP during a raucous protest rally before the Jan.19 school board meeting.

Lea este artículo en español: Trabajadores de MUSD Reciben un Mes de Aplazamiento

MUSD is facing a $15 million budget deficit next year and district staff proposed laying-off 319 certificated administrators and classified – or non-teaching – employees to save money.

The proposal comes following notification by the Los Angels County Office of Education (LACOE) that its analysis of MUSD’s finances concluded the school district is in danger of not meeting its financial obligations for the next two school years. They gave the district until Feb. 17 to submit a detailed fiscal stabilization plan or risk the county sending in an overseer.

MUSD must identify $15 million in cuts for the 2017-18 school year and an additional $16.4 million for 2018-19, without touching a penny from its reserve account that has fallen just below the state-mandated 3 percent minimum saving requirement.

News of the potential cuts did not sit well with the approximately 100 employees, parents and some alumni at the protest rally before last week’s board meeting where the layoffs were on the agenda.

“I’m here to put a face to a name on that list,” 54-year-old attendance and pupil data coordinator, Rene Infusino, told board members.

Marisol Rivera rallies hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees during a rally Jan. 19. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

Marisol Rivera rallies hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees during a rally Jan. 19. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

Infusino’s husband Marcello, 57, has worked for the district for nearly 40 years and is currently the print shop operations coordinator. Ironically, he printed the very agenda that called for eliminating his position.

“You’re wiping out an entire family,” he said, pleading with board members to save his job.

He and his wife both losing their jobs would be a huge hardship, Marcello told EGP, explaining he has a mortgage and student loans to pay and two children in college.

During the 2010-2011 school year, MUSD had $44 million in reserves. The fund has since dwindled to less than $10 million.

“Where did all the money go?” demanded Jerry Perez, a district bus driver.

“Why don’t the higher ups get cuts?” he said, punctuating the view of many at the meeting.

Perez, still wearing his uniform, told EGP he blames the board and Chief Business Officer Ruben Rojas for the district’s financial mess.

The worker’s union, CSEA, has passed a “vote of no confidence” in Rojas and accused him of hiring personal acquaintances, lowering district morale and pushing through questionable and expensive labor contracts and falsifying documents on his job application.

“How is it that he’s still employed while our people are getting cut,” said Rivera in disbelief.

Rivera says cutting classified workers will hurt students.

“We are the maintenance workers that make sure the AC works, the bus drivers that get them to school, the clerical [workers] that deal with parents and the health assistants that handle sick children,” she said.

CSEA Labor Relations Representative Simon Rea disputes district claims of having less money due to falling enrollment, saying revenue has actually increased in recent years.

Hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees protest proposed cuts Jan. 19. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees protest proposed cuts Jan. 19. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

He suggested MUSD take a closer look at its professional consulting services and other higher paid positions instead of classified staff, who he says are underpaid and overworked, comparing them to the oil that keeps the parts of a car from breaking down.

LACOE Chief Financial Officer Scott Price reminded the board that MUSD has been living beyond its means for years, refusing to make cuts despite warnings from the county about its structural deficit.

“If you keep going in the same direction you are going to reach zero percent [of reserves] by the end of next year,” Price warned.

Board Member Ben Cardenas asked Price if it seemed plausible the district could find a fiscal solution not requiring layoffs.

“I do not see how you can do that without making cuts in personnel,” responded Price.

Longtime Board Member Hector Chacon called the proposed layoffs the “lazy way out.”

“Cuts have always been the last resort, not the first resort,” Chacon said before asking his colleagues to continue the item until the Feb.16 meeting to give the board time to exhaust all other options.

He suggested the district consider borrowing money to avoid layoffs, take a closer look at contracts proposed by Rojas, freeze promotions, ask unions to consider a 2 percent pay cut and even proposed MUSD sell off its district headquarters and move their offices to the Laguna Nueva School site. Others suggested furlough days.

While many in the audience were pleased to hear Chacon say he would not support cuts, they were also frustrated that Chacon, who’s been on the board for decades and is up for reelection, failed to act on past opportunities to prevent the fiscal fallout facing the district today.

“They should have done that years ago,” someone in the audience said.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“He is all talk,” said another.

If the school board ultimately approves layoffs, the district must deliver pink slips to impacted employees by March 15 to comply with the terms of agreements with its bargaining units.

“Is it possible we come up with multiple scenarios? Yes, it is possible will we find these in the prescribed time, that’s open to interpretation,” said Cardenas.

If the district fails to adopt a plan to stabilize its finances, the county is likely to send in a fiscal advisor to ensure steps are taken to shore up MUSD’s budget.

The prospect of county oversight – particularly over spending – appealed to many in the audience who had complained about Rojas.

In response to those complaints, Chacon asked staff to include on the board’s next meeting agenda discussion of whether Rojas should be placed on paid administrative leave while claims against him are investigated.

The district began hosting informational meetings on their fiscal stabilization plan Wednesday and will hold three more meetings over the next two weeks.

An earlier version of this story was published at www.EGPNews.com

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January 26, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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