Three local lawmakers are requesting an independent state audit of the Montebello Unified School District, according to a letter addressed to the school board’s president, Lani Cupchoy.
The letter comes on the heels of the school board’s approval of nearly 700 in staffing cuts to deal with an estimated $30 million budget shortfall over the next two years.
The Los Angeles County Office of Education warned the district of the shortfall earlier this year, and advised that failure to take action to reduce the deficit would result in the county office sending in a financial overseer to get district finances in order.
In their tactfully worded letter, Sen. Tony Mendoza and Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia and Ed Chau – who each represents parts of the school district – acknowledged MUSD board members’ “efforts to provide the best services possible for our students,” and added it’s “imperative” state officials and MUSD work together to ensure the education of the district’s 30,000 students is not jeopardized by the looming financial crisis.
“An independent audit may present a solid foundation for MUSD to build upon and develop long-term budget reforms to improve its fiscal standing,” states the letter, which informed the district of the legislators’ intention to ask the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) to conduct the financial review.
Back in December, following up on a request by Board Member Ben Cardenas, the school board announced plans for a forensic audit of MUSD finances, a decision supported at the time by school employees and parents.
In a statement emailed to EGP Wednesday, Cardenas he is encouraged by the state’s willingness to step in.
“There is no doubt having the state conduct the audit will ensure a thorough and detailed audit, eliminate the potential for fraud and abuse, bring about integrity to the process, and increase public confidence in the outcome,” he said, adding he’s communicated to Garcia the board’s “support for her intent, the process and to offer our partnership and collaboration in conducting the audit.”
Conducting the audit through the state will keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in classrooms and available for other services, the legislators wrote. The state audit would also provide ongoing follow-up reports to the district at no cost.
“While an audit may not solve MUSD’s current budget problems, it can provide insight on how to begin the process of balancing their budget, as well as how to avoid this situation again in the future,” the letter read.
The state’s audit could take 6 months or longer to complete, depending on the scope. Teala Schaff, Garcia’s communications director, told EGP legislators are seeking an expedited audit and will work with stakeholders to determine the scope.
CSEA Chapter 505 President Lloyd Garrison told EGP that while he’s concerned about how long the audit will take, he supports the action.
“We want to get it done right,” he said, adding he’s confident it will reveal discrepancies in vendor contracts approved over the last two years.
“Contracts that would never be signed by most districts,” he claimed.
“Once they look into that they’ll see some practices definitely need to be improved and even terminated,” he added.
In the end, he hopes the audit leads to new contract negotiations and pink slips being rescinded.
“These are uncertain times right now” for us, Garrison said. “But our negotiations will continue no matter who is here, whether it is the state or not.”
JLAC will make a decision on whether to undertake the audit at their next hearing on March 28.
At an event recognizing women making a difference in their communities, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia praised the work these women are doing in her district, and expressed hope more women will soon take on leadership roles in Sacramento.
Reflecting on her peers in the California State Assembly, Garcia said as one of the very few women in state office, she sometimes feels like a second-class citizen.
Now in her third year representing the 58th district, Garcia said there needs to be more women in the California Legislature.
“It is time for us as women to start demanding our half of the pie,” she said Friday during her annual Women of the Year event at the Southern California Edison facility in Downey.
Women make up half of the country’s population, yet their numbers in elected office fall far short of parity in the political arena, she pointed out.
“We have to force our way” into the male-dominated arena!”
There are currently only 31 women in the State Legislature – 19 out of 80 elected officials in the State Assembly and 12 out of 40 in the State Senate.
The lack of female representation in Congress is just as staggering. Of 435 U.S. Representatives, only 82 are women. Similarly, out of 100 U.S. Senators, only 21 are women.
Minorities are also disproportionately underrepresented.
“We don’t have a single Latina in the State Senate,” Garcia pointed out.
Worse still, the number of women in office is decreasing. Women can’t just settle for the small gains that have been made, they need to do more, she said forcefully.
Being a woman in state office can be lonely, according to the assemblywoman. She said male legislators tend to work closer with other men than their female counterparts.
“I don’t get paid more for being a woman but I sometimes find myself having to work ten times more than my [male] colleagues,” she complained.
Some of my male colleagues still make sexist remarks and I have to call them on it, she said incredulously.
Last year, Garcia was nominated to serve as vice chair for the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, which represents and advocates on behalf of the interest of women, children and families.
She at first did not feel ready for the added responsibility, but quickly realized it would be the opportune position to advocate for more women in politics and to recognize those women who make a difference in their communities.
In February, EMILY’s List nominated her for its 2015 Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award.
EMILY’s List is a national women’s political organization that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for women candidates for office. The award is given to a woman in local or state office whose work shows an extraordinary “commitment to community, dedication to women and families …”
“We have to become leaders! ” Garcia told attendees at the event. “But we need to come back to the community that invested in [us].”
Following the event, Garcia told EGP she believes the best way to address the shortage of women in elected office is to prepare more women for the job.
She said she is hopeful the tide may be turning.
“We may have our first female president” soon, she said excitedly.
“I just can’t believe it has taken this long.”
Vote-by-Mail applications for the March 3 Primary Election are now available and Bell Gardens Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia is reminding voters of an important change in California law that now requires all applications to be mailed directly to the County Registrar or local Elections Official for processing.
Prior to the change, Vote-by-Mail applications could be mailed or handed over to a third party for processing. Political campaigns in particular would pass out the applications and put the campaign’s return address as the place to mail or drop off the application, Garcia’s office explained in an email.
The practice proved an easy and valuable tool for campaigns to keep track of voters.
The potential for fraud or voters not receiving their ballots in a timely manner was high, said Garcia.
A constituent suggested the change in law last year during the assemblywoman’s “There Oughta Be a Law” contest.
The suggestion prompted Garcia’s office to work with the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk to determine if the old process really was a problem and they found that the number of reports alleging tampering and interference with Vote-by-Mail applications was on the rise.
There was no way for the voter to make sure that the application was in fact submitted on time, said Garcia.
“A voter should be guaranteed that the application will reach the County Registrar or Elections Official in a timely manner, without delay.”
The city of Los Angeles began accepting Vote-by-Mail applications on Monday. The city’s election Division must receive the application request by 5 p.m. on Feb. 24 for it to be processed in time for the March 3 election. Applications can be found on the back of the Official Sample Ballot mailed to registered voters and mailed to Office of the City Clerk – Election Division, 555 Ramirez Street, Space 300, Los Angeles, CA 90012, or faxed to (213) 978-0612.
For additional information call (213) 978-0376.