Montebello Unified Approves Deep Job Cuts
Employees say they may consider recalling one or more board members.
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
Nearly 500 Montebello Unified School District employees will receive pink slips as part of plan to deal with the district’s multi-million dollar budget deficit.
Under intense pressure from workers and the public, the Montebello Unified school board earlier in the month postponed voting on a recommendation to cut 319 jobs, saying they wanted more time to look for other solutions to the district’s looming financial crisis. The decision to cut even more positions left many questioning why in less than two weeks the number of jobs slated for cuts grew by nearly 150.
“Looks like soon we’ll all be getting laid off,” said a disappointed Lisa Dominguez following the board’s vote at its Feb. 16 meeting.
Although Dominguez’s job title is not listed on the approved resolutions, as a longtime senior office assistant and member of the California State Employees Association, she knows many of the classified employees who could find themselves without a job come fall.
Montebello Unified is under intense pressure to close an estimated $17 million budget deficit or risk the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) sending in someone to oversee district finances.
For nearly three hours, speakers pleaded with school board members to save their jobs, but in the end the board voted 4-1 to approve laying off classified and non-classified employees – including plumbers, attendance technicians, custodians and administrators on special assignment.
Tom Callison, a district carpenter, said he was not surprised by the board’s decision, but was dis-appointed in the way they handled the situation.
“I thought they should have at least apologized for what they had to do,” Callison complained.
The board’s action met LACOE’s Feb. 17 deadline to submit a fiscal stabilization plan and the ap-proval of corresponding resolutions, while at the same time complying with its March 15 deadline to notify impacted employees as required in bargaining unit agreements.
“Because of the actions you’re taking tonight we no longer feel it necessary to put a fiscal advisor” at the district, said LACOE’s Chief Financial Officer Dr. Scott Price.
Price said their team of fiscal experts would still provide the district with advice, but would not have the same powers as a fiscal advisor to rescind district decisions.
MUSD employees on the other hand were not as impressed.
“Recall” was heard soon after the gavel hit making the layoffs official.
CSEA Chapter 505 President Lloyd Garrison told union members to not give up hope that every job would be saved.
Employees do not plan to wait until the November election to fight back, Garrison told EGP.
“We don’t want to give them 8 months,” he said. “Our goal is to get at least one [board member] out as an example, we just don’t know who that will be.”
Marisol Rivera, a school secretary and CSEA regional representative said employees plan to take their outrage to their neighbors.
“We need to make those phone calls and knock on doors to let them know what is going on in their backyard,” she said.
In the meantime, employees say they welcome the county and state looking into district finances. They hope they will uncover alleged financial discrepancies and to oust Chief Financial Officer Ruben Rojas, who they claim falsified information on his resume and job application.
Board Member Hector Chacon, the lone vote against the cuts is up for reelection in November. He too blames Rojas for the district’s current financial woes.
“There should only be one layoff,” Chacon said, referring to Rojas.
For many employees, their last hope is Superintendent Anthony J. Martinez, who they have been calling on to “do the right thing” and to put Rojas on leave while accusations against him are investigated.
“Why not take the time … if the allegations are not true, provide that proof to the public,” Callison said.
Chacon said he does not trust the budget presented by Rojas, especially since the deficit grew from $15 million at the last school board meeting to $17 million now.
Price said such increases aren’t unusual, explaining that earlier numbers were based on what the district expected to receive before the governor released his annual budget.
CSEA Labor Relations Representative Simon Rea called out Rojas for his contradictory statements over the severity of the district’s financial situation.
“It doesn’t add up,” he said.
Citing a previous article by Eastern Group Publications [publisher of this newspaper], Rea read a statement by Rojas highlighting the “strong fiscal management of the district” that has resulted in Montebello Unified’s $100 million voter-approved school bond receiving a AAA rating from the Fitch Ratings Agency.
Board Member Ben Cardenas stressed the board made a sincere attempt to avoid layoffs and to buy a little more time.
“Given the current timeline we came up with fiscal scenarios to ensure we minimized layoffs, especially in the classroom,” Cardenas said.
With the help of the county’s fiscal experts, he said they might be able to rescind many of the pink slips going out by the end of the fiscal year.
By approving the layoffs, there’s less urgency to save jobs, countered Chacon.
Raphael Ramirez, one of four plumbers in the district and number 29 on the list of layoffs, warned the board that cutting their jobs will have a major impact on students.
“Nobody thinks about how water comes out of the faucet, until it doesn’t,” he said.
Update: Feb. 24, 2017 10:45 a.m. clarified original statement that Lisa Dominguez’ job was not in jeopardy.Print This Post
February 23, 2017 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.