MUSD Wins Lawsuit Against County

July 20, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

Montebello Unified School District board members who would ordinarily be up for re-election this year, will get an extra year in their seats now that a Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ruled in their favor.

MUSD has prevailed in a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which after hearing from angry school employees, parents and students, refused to allow the district to postpone the 2017 school board elections until 2018 to comply with a new state law requiring local elections statewide beheld in even-numbered years.

MUSD board members in February voted to move the 2017 election to 2018 and the 2019 election to 2020. The district operated schools in Bell Gardens and Commerce, as well as Montebello.

The vote to reschedule came amid months of protests and threats of recalls as board members struggled to deal with a financial crisis that had initially threatened hundreds of district jobs, most of which were ultimately not lost.

Critics blamed the financial mess on corruption and mismanagement and claimed the board’s decision to delay the election was a ploy to avoid a voter backlash at the ballot box.

They took their anger to the board of supervisors, and in heated testimony demanded supervisors reject the district’s request to delay the election.

Supervisors agreed, unanimously denying MUSD’s plan to hold off elections until 2018.

Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents the cities served by the MUSD, called it a “troubling time” when “voters’ voices should be heard.” She said in a statement that as the school district addresses its issues, voters should not be denied the “right to cast their votes.”

The district filed a lawsuit against the county and board of supervisors, claiming supervisors had acted beyond their “lawful jurisdiction in failing to approve the MUSD’s resolution at its February 14, 2017 meeting.”

California’s Election Code only allows boards of supervisor to deny election requests if the change results in an inability to handle the change due to capacity issues and the need for more materials and/or equipment. The court ruled that MUSD’s election timing change did not meet that standard.

In a statement, MUSD said the superior court judge supported the “district’s position that the county’s denial was arbitrary, capricious and entirely lacking in evidentiary support,” further noting that the “County Clerk had recommended approval of the MUSD’s resolution.”

MUSD board members called the ruling a victory for stakeholders, but also used the decision to strike out at detractors.

“The judge’s ruling today was clearly a victory for the Montebello Unified School District, its parents, students and stakeholders,” said Board President Dr. Lani Cupchoy in the statement released by the school district. She said supervisors “acted based on discreditable and outrageous claims by District detractors and without any corroborated proof of misconduct by the board.”

Board Vice President Edgar Cisneros said the judge was not “influenced by the deceitful and prejudiced testimony” by individuals who want keep MUSD “locked into the past and doing business the old Montebello way.”

Defending the board’s action, Board Member Benjamin Cardenas said the sole intent was to “comply with the new state law, provide continuity and provide for larger civic participation.”

Earlier efforts to launch a recall of Cupchoy and Cardenas were not successful, but a number of candidates had lined up to challenge them in the 2017 election. In light of the court’s ruling, one staff member who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation told EGPs he’s not averse to reconsidering a recall to force an earlier election.

At this point, it’s unclear if the political landscape will change much before 2018.

MUSD Accused of Cover Up in ‘Whistleblower’ Lawsuit

July 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Montebello Unified School District continues under fire as two former high-ranking district officials allege they were fired for exposing political corruption in Los Angeles County’s second largest school district.

Ex-Superintendent Susanna Contreras Smith and former Chief Financial and Operations Officer Cleve Pell last Friday filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the district in Los Angeles Superior Court. The lawsuit claims Contreras Smith and Pell are whistleblowers who lost their jobs for coming forward about alleged misconduct by the Board of Education and fired Chief Business Officer Ruben
J. Rojas.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to reinstatement.

The lawsuit alleges Contreras Smith and Pell were fired for looking into the board’s possible involvement in alleged misconduct by Rojas.

School board members terminated Pell and Contreras Smith in November 2016, releasing a statement that they had been fired over “a difference of opinion.”

Pell was a longtime MUSD administrator who has served in various upper-management positions, including co-superintendent. Contreras Smith joined the school district in 2012 and was promoted to co-superintendent in 2013 and superintendent in 2015.

Under intense pressure from the community and employee unions, school board members voted about four months ago to terminate Rojas, whose resume and job application it was determined were full of false statements and made-up references.

Rojas’ detractors also blamed him for MUSD’s financial woes, which earlier this year prompted the state to agree to conduct a financial audit of the school district.

The Los Angeles County Department of Education had issued warnings to the district that it was in danger of not meeting its financial obligations and the county would be forced to send in someone to oversee district finances if board members failed to make significant cuts in spending to shore up an estimated $17million deficit. In response, board members voted to send out hundreds of layoff notices to teachers and other district employees, the majority of which were later rescinded.

Angry MUSD employees accused Rojas’ of just months earlier creating a false rosy picture of district finances.

Board members had come under fire for their failure to act swiftly and openly on the matter. They were criticized for not fully vetting Rojas before he was hired.

The suit states that Rojas, who was in charge of the district’s $300 million budget, “was directing lucrative MUSD contracts to cronies in violation of public contracting laws.”

Rojas’ alleged actions, if proven, would violate the state’s Public Contract Code and other laws.

In the suit, Rojas is described as “an individual who had crisscrossed California looking for school districts to exploit for his personal benefit.”

Rojas’ alleged wrongdoing prompted Contreras Smith to put him on leave and she and Pell brought their findings to the board.

The board ignored their findings, according to the lawsuit, which claims that the trustees “sought to cover up the web of corruption surrounding Rojas, engineering his return from leave by false pretenses and then voted to terminate Contreras Smith and Pell in retaliation for their whistleblowing.”

EGP reported at the time that the firing prompted someone to create musdcorruption.com, a website critical of the district that claims the two former administrators were actually fired because they tried to take a stand against corruption.

EGP reached out to Boardmember Ben Cardenas for comment, but his office cited district policy that they do not comment on pending litigation.

Graduation Numbers Rise to ‘Record High’

April 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

For the seventh straight year, California is making gains on the number of students who graduate from high school, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson reported Tuesday.

The number of seniors graduating in 2016 reached a record high for the state, Torlakson said in a written statement.

The highest gains were made among English learners and African American and Latino students, according to the data just released by the state Department of Education.

“This is great news for our students and families,” Torlakson said, crediting “increased investments in our schools that have helped reduce class sizes; bring back classes in music, theater, art, dance, and science; and expand career technical education programs that engage our students with hands-on, minds-on learning” for the progress made.

“The increasing rates show that the positive changes in California schools are taking us in the right direction.”

Statewide, the data, which tracks students who entered high school in 2012-13 and graduated in 2016, shows an increase of 0.9 percent from 2015, for a record high of 83.2 percent, which translates to 4,917 more students receiving their high school diploma in 2016 than in 2015.

In Los Angeles County, the graduation rate was 81.3 percent, compared to 78.7 percent for the class of 2015. The dropout rate for students who started high school in 2012-13 was 10.6 percent, down from 12.5 percent for the class of 2014-15.

(LAUSD)

(LAUSD)

The Los Angeles Unified School District saw similar trends, with the 2015-16 dropout rate at 13.7, down from 16.7 the previous year. The graduation rate was 77 percent, up from the previous year’s 72.2 percent.

“I am proud of the heroic efforts by our teachers, counselors, parents, administrators and classified staff who rally around our students every day,” LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King said. “We also thank our education leaders and partners who work with us to understand our challenges and
celebrate our gains year after year.

“This data shows we are closing opportunity gaps and preparing more L.A. Unified students for college and careers, but we still have work to do,” King said. “I expect these numbers to keep rising until we reach our goal of 100 percent graduation.”

In the Montebello Unified School District, which has one high school in Bell Gardens, the graduation rate rose to 87.7 percent, 0.07 percent higher than the previous year.

The report also showed a statewide lowering of the dropout rate. Of the students who started high school in 2012-13, 9.8 percent dropped out, down from 10.7 percent the previous year.

While there is room to be optimistic, Torlakson said there is still much work to be done that will require effort from everyone “—teachers, parents, administrators, and community members—to keep our momentum alive so we can keep improving.”

He singled out as critical the work of narrowing “the achievement gap between Asian and white students and Latino and African American students.”

“The latest statistics show the gap has narrowed. For African American students, the graduation rate reached a record high of 72.6 percent, up 1.8 percentage points from the year before and up 12.1 percentage points from 2010. For Hispanic or Latino students, the graduation rate climbed to a record high of 80 percent, up 1.5 percentage points from the year before and up 11.9 percentage points from 2010.”

For the second year in a row, the graduation rate among English learners went up, increasing 2.7 percent to 72.1 percent, 15.7 percentage points higher than the class of 2010, according to the data from the department of education.

Torlakson said changes in education funding and to curriculum, which he calls “the California Way,” are making a difference.

The California Way, he said, includes “teaching more rigorous and relevant academic standards, which provides more local control over spending and more resources to those with the greatest needs.”

Culinary Students Build Gingerbread House Village

December 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

In what’s become an annual tradition, Bell Gardens High School Culinary students kicked off the holiday season by showing off their baking and cake decorating skills by building an entire village of gingerbread houses.

Over 80 students attending the Culinary Hospitality Opportunity Pathway (CHOP) participated in the 5th annual fundraiser held Dec. 9, where more than $1,000 was raised to buy chef jackets and uniforms for students in the program.

The fanciful creations filled an entire classroom, creating a towering neighborhood made out of gingerbread, cookies and colorful frosting.

Some of the creations were as tall as a wedding cake; others took over a month and a half to bake and build.

(MUSD)

(MUSD)

“These students are doing much more than just cooking,” said Elizabeth Kocharian, lead teacher for CHOP. “Our students use geometry and algebra skills to calculate the sizes of the gingerbread walls, engineering to keep them up and design skills to decorate the house.”

BGHS CHOP senior Cynthia Bernal said she really enjoyed making her house and knowing she could create something like this by herself.

“Our houses are all different because we put some of our own background and heritage into it,” Bernal said.

The top three gingerbread houses will be displayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Montebello. Winners include: Alexander Castillo’s “Peppa Pig Village” in first place; Jazmin Ramos’ “Farm Stand and Bakery” in second place, and in third place, Dominic Jimenez’ “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

 

MUSD Opens New Homeless Student Resource Center

November 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Whether living in cars to couch surfing, nearly 1,000 students in the Montebello Unified School District experience homelessness daily.

The school district helps them and their families connect with food banks and other resources, and now plans to take the assistance a step farther by providing them with “essentials” on a weekly basis at a new resource center opened Wednesday in Commerce.

The new Families in Transition Resource Center is located at the former Laguna Nueva School, and the only school district-run facility for homeless students in the region.

School supplies, toiletries, gently used clothing, blankets, towels, pillows and other necessities will be made available every Wednesday to the 972 students and their families enrolled in the district’s Families in Transition Program. Parents will be given a voucher that allows them to go to the center and pick out items for their family.

“Unfortunately Los Angeles County has one of the largest homeless populations across the country,” points out MUSD Boardmember Joanne Flores, a former social worker.

A new resource center for homeless students attending the Montebello Unified School District, opened Wednesday at the Laguna Nueva School site in Commerce. (MUSD)

A new resource center for homeless students attending the Montebello Unified School District, opened Wednesday at the Laguna Nueva School site in Commerce. (MUSD)

“I can see how this is a concern for our communities.”

Although the district has been addressing homelessness for some time, it has not been a concentrated effort like the center, explains Program Specialist Aida Hinojosa,

“We want families to feel safe and comfortable,” she told EGP. “If families need something for their day-to-day living we will have it here.”

The District’s Families in Transition Program focuses on supporting students identified as homeless through a student residency questionnaire. Each school site currently has a liaison to help identify and support these vulnerable youth, according to the District.

The challenge is students do not always identify themselves as homeless, says Hinojosa, who explained being homeless doesn’t just apply to those living on the street or in a shelter.

According to the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act, homelessness is defined as a student who does not have an adequate nighttime residence, which applies to living in a hotel, temporary housing or doubling up with another family. The Act ensures students experiencing homelessness attend school and are provided the support to succeed.

Students attending special education at the Laguna Nueva School site, join MUSD administrators to celebrate the grand opening of the Families in Transition Resource Center. (MUSD)

Students attending special education at the Laguna Nueva School site, join MUSD administrators to celebrate the grand opening of the Families in Transition Resource Center. (MUSD)

“We don’t have a lot of runaway or unaccompanied youth,” says Hinojosa. “The majority of our families are living doubled up with another family, but most don’t identify as homeless.”

In the past, the program provided referral support to families but was unable to provide actual resources.

Through fundraising, the center has now collected enough money and other donations to help facilitate the added assistance to the families. Funding for the center is made possible under the District’s Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP), which allocates funds to provide services to foster youth and homeless students.

A lack of storage space and manpower, however, is keeping the center from receiving larger quantities of products or opening the center more than once a week, according to Hinojosa.

MUSD students are doing their part to help support the center. Students attending special education at the Laguna Nueva site helped organize, size and hang clothing at the center.

Montebello High School volunteers will be washing and folding donated clothing this weekend and students at intermediate schools across the district have held toiletry and towel drives.

“Not only is this center about helping our homeless youth but it’s helping our students understand service and contributing to their community,” Hinojosa told EPG.

“It’s breaking down the stigma of being homeless.”

Demanding Transparency, Activist Form ‘Watchdog’ Group

October 20, 2016 by · 2 Comments 

MONTEBELLO – There’s a new watchdog group in town and their demanding changes.

They sit in the front row at nearly every Montebello City Council meeting, keep a close eye on city business, read through agenda packets and regularly make public document requests, all in an attempt to hold their elected officials accountable.

Among their successes so far, getting the city to start live-streaming city council meetings. Now they’re trying to block efforts to allow marijuana-related businesses to open shop in their city, and keeping an eye on issues brewing in the Montebello Unified School District.

“We’re watching everything that is going on in our city,” says Kimberly Cobos, a spokesperson for Montebello Activists To Clean House, or MATCH9064

No strangers to city politics, the grassroots group’s members have spent years attending city council meetings and public hearings, often serving as Montebello’s most outspoken critics.

The activists haven’t always been on the same side of issues, but anger over the latest effort to allow marijuana related businesses to operate in the city led them to put aside their differences and work together. What they have in common is a strong interest in making the city more transparent and accountable to residents.

Montebello City Council meetings will now be streamed live online on the city’s website.

Montebello City Council meetings will now be streamed live online on the city’s website.

“We want our voice to be heard and we want to get residents involved,” Cobos told EGP about the collaboration, started in August.

Last week’s resignation of City Treasurer Charles Pell has added to their resolve. In their eyes, they’ve lost an ally who like them has been working to expose mismanagement and discrepancies in the city’s finances.

Pell, a federal prosecutor by trade, announced his resignation during the Oct. 12 council meeting. He cited an increase in his caseload as the reason for his departure. In the last year, Pell put the spotlight on a housing developer that owes the city $600,000, staff’s failure to collect rent on a city-owned property, and questionable practices in the city’s bidding process.

The city council will appoint Pell’s replacement. Cobos worries their choice may not be as willing to work hard on exposing the city’s financial failings.

Although the group is relatively new, MATCH90640 is already claiming a major victory in their fight to make the city more transparent. They claim the announcement last week that effective immediately all Montebello council meetings will be streamed live on the city’s website, is the direct result of pressure they put on City Clerk Irma Barajas to keep her campaign promise to ensure greater transparency in the city.

“Not many residents attend meetings, but now those who can’t make it can be kept up to speed with city issues” by viewing meetings online, MATCh90640 member Yvette Fimbres told EGP this week.

Members of MATCH90640 speak during the Oct. 12 Montebello Council Meeting.  (MATCH90640)

Members of MATCH90640 speak during the Oct. 12 Montebello Council Meeting. (MATCH90640)

The marijuana dispensary controversy that initially pulled the group together has not gone away, but is instead gaining steam. Residents packed city council chambers last week, where speaker after speaker demanded the council place a moratorium on all marijuana businesses within city limits.

“We’re not activists against personal use or medical use,” Linda Nicklas clarified. “What we don’t want are growers like the ones from Glendale opening businesses across the alley from Eastmont Intermediate,” she told council members, referring to an incident earlier this year when Montebello Police discovered nearly 1,400 marijuana plants in two commercial buildings located next door to the Montebello school.

According to Nicklas, all the residents she’s spoken to are opposed to allowing pot shops to open in the city.

Grant Pstikyan and the others circulating the petition to get an initiative on the ballot – which if passed would amend the City Code to allow and tax marijuana businesses in Montebello—are ready to set up shop in the city, Nicklas claims. The city’s zoning code currently prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries.

If you allow this measure to move forward, MATCH90640 will go door-to-door to inform residents of your decision, Nicklas promised council members.

“Come next election, everybody will get information about where you stood on this issue.”

The council has instructed staff to put discussion of a moratorium on marijuana businesses on its next meeting agenda. They say they plan to conduct a full review on the issue before deciding on a permanent amendment to the municipal code.

MATCH90640 told EGP their plans go beyond city hall, explaining they are also keeping a watchful eye on Montebello Unified; most of the city’s children attend District schools.

The group was at the Oct. 6 MUSD Board meeting to recruit members to their cause. While at the meeting, they learned about the conflict between the Montebello Teachers Association (MTA) and the District’s superintendent, Susanna Contreras Smith, who along with Chief Financial and Operations Officer Cleve Pell on Friday were placed on paid administrative leave Friday. The decision comes months following vote of no confidence by the teachers’ union, which asked the Board of Education to fire Smith.

Assistant Superintendent Anthony Martinez will serve as interim superintendent.

MATCH90640’s goal is to keep residents informed on issues in the city and they say they hope the community will come to them with their concerns. You don’t have to live in Montebello to join the group, membership is open to anyone with a child at a Montebello school, who does businesses in Montebello or plays sports at a Montebello park, according to Cobo.

“We want to help our community,” said Fimbres. “We’re bringing the voice of residents directly to the city council.”

 

‘Set Goals High,’ Chancellor Tells Students

September 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

COMMERCE – Getting local students and their families ready for college has long been a city goal in Commerce.

As far as the city is concerned, it’s never too early to start planning for college or too late to get a college degree.

Each year, the city’s Public Library and Education Commission holds a college fair where middle to high school aged students and adults heading back to school are able to meet with representatives from a wide range of colleges and universities and take part in workshops on everything from admission criteria to college life and finding financial assistance and scholarships.

Commerce’s latest college resource fair took place Saturday at Veterans Park and despite scorching temperatures it again attracted residents from Commerce as well as nearby cities like Bell Gardens.

Most Commerce residents attend schools in the Montebello Unified School District, but some do attend Los Angeles Unified schools. There is no high school in Commerce, however, so once students complete middle school they move on to high schools in other cities, including Bell Gardens and Montebello.

Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Dr. Francisco C. Rodriguez was the keynote speaker Saturday at Veterans Park where this year’s college fair was held.

“My speech is mainly four words,” Rodriguez told participants, showing the audience the white index card where he’d written those words.

“Those four words are ‘No Fear’ and ‘No Borders.’ Don’t be afraid of dreaming big and don’t be limited by anything in this world,” the Chancellor said.

“I shared a bit of my story as a first-generation college student, growing up in a household where my immigrant parents spoke no English and had limited formal education,” Rodriguez told EGP in an email. “Today, I serve as Chancellor of the largest community college district in the nation,” he said, pointing out that obtaining a college education is what made a difference in his life.

L.A. Community College District Chancellor Dr. Francisco C. Rodriguez, pictured, encouraged students to “dream big” during the Annual Commerce to College Fair Saturday at Veterans Park. (Courtesy of the City of  Commerce)

L.A. Community College District Chancellor Dr. Francisco C. Rodriguez, pictured, encouraged students to “dream big” during the Annual Commerce to College Fair Saturday at Veterans Park. (Courtesy of the City of Commerce)

Rodriguez told students not to be afraid to go to college or to ask for help when they need it.

“We live in the ‘century of no excuses’ and students should utilize the vast resources available to them through their schools and libraries,” Rodriguez told EGP, adding that he warned students against setting limits on themselves or setting their goals “too low and reaching them.” He encouraged students to instead set their goals high, “even though they may appear unreachable.”

“Students have untapped potential that they are not even aware of” the Chancellor told EGP in his email.

In 2017, in partnership with the city of Los Angeles, the LA Community College District (LACCD) will offer a free year of tuition to seniors graduating from an LA Unified public or charter high school. LACCD Board President Scott Svonkin said last week that the college district hopes to expand the “L.A. College Promise” program in future years, with the eventual goal being to provide free community college to all.

In the meantime, while the program is being spearheaded by the city of L.A., Commerce families with a senior graduating in 2017 from an LA Unified high school can qualify for the free year of college tuition.

Also speaking Saturday was Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) who represents Commerce and many of the surrounding southeast cities. Recognizing that paying for college can be challenging, Roybal-Allard and her staff shared information about her “Paying for College Student Resource Guide.” The guide contains a directory of scholarships, internships, fellowships, and other educational opportunities for students.

According to Roybal-Allard’s Office, the guide can be downloaded from her website at http://roybal-allard.house.gov/uploadedfiles/student_resource_guide.pdf.

Commerce public libraries offer other college preparedness workshops to residents throughout the year, including SAT prep courses and financial aid workshops. For more information, visit the library website at www.cityofcommercepubliclibrary.org.

 

Montebello Unified Sues Companies For Spreading Asbestos

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Montebello Unified School District is collectively suing two companies for $3.5 million, alleging that untrained workers spread asbestos-containing materials throughout various schools in 2015 while work was being done to install energy-efficient lighting.

The MUSD’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit names as defendants Industry-based Evergreen Energy Solutions LLC and Enveniam LLC, which is headquartered in Roswell, Georgia.

A representative for Enveniam did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit, which alleges negligence, breach of contract and breach of an implied covenant to perform work in a competent manner. However, an Evergreen spokesman released a statement.

“Evergreen was unaware of your referenced item via your inquiry, consequently we are very disappointed,” the statement read. “To date the district has yet to communicate anything to the reference item. We are immediately inquiring with the district regarding this matter.”

The suit filed last week states that the MUSD and the two firms entered a contract in February 2015 for Evergreen to “consult and procure” and for Enveniam to install energy-efficient lighting at Montebello Intermediate School, Montebello Gardens Elementary School and Bell Gardens High School. The MUSD agreed to pay $2 million, the suit states.

Before work began, the parties met in April 2015 and discussed fireproofing materials that contained asbestos at Montebello Intermediate, Bell Gardens High and the district office, according to the complaint.

The meeting highlighted that it was “critical that the contractor had the requisite eight hours of asbestos-awareness training at a minimum,” the complaint states.

A month later, the work began at Montebello Intermediate. In August 2015, the MUSD’s hazardous materials coordinator suspected that the workers accidentally disturbed insulation materials carrying asbestos fibers in two classrooms, the suit states.

“MUSD immediately shut down all construction activities and retained an environmental consultant to test for asbestos,” the suit states.

A subsequent inspection by the South Coast Air Quality Management District showed that Enveniam “had used uncontrolled methods by untrained asbestos workers to spread asbestos-containing materials throughout not only Montebello Intermediate, but to other sites, as well,” according to the lawsuit.

To ensure the safety of students, the MUSD “initiated a massive cleanup operation, with at least five separate contractors tackling the widespread asbestos contamination,” the suit states.

With workers on the job 24 hours a day, the remediation plan was completed by Aug. 20, 2015, at a cost of $3.5 million, according to the school district’s court papers.

USDA to Keep Children Fed While School Is Out

July 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

To ensure children from low-income areas do not go hungry this summer, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) will serve more than 200 million free lunches to children nationwide.

The federally funded, free lunch program picks up where schools, closed for the summer, leave off, providing what for many is the only nutritional meal of the day.

Lea este artículo en Español: USDA Provee Alimentos para los Niños Durante las Vacaciones

According to the USDA, 1 in 5 children live in households struggling to consistently put food on the table. USDA reports millions of children depend on the school lunch but only 1 in 7 of those children have access to that same meal during the summer break.

Numerous cities and the Montebello Unified School District are partnering again this summer with the agriculture department to provide the free meals to local children 18 years and under at area parks, schools and libraries.

Over 85 percent of students who attend Montebello Unified schools receive free or reduced-priced lunches during the regular school year. The district has schools in Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello and portions of East Los Angeles, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera.

Free lunch will be offered throughout Los Angeles County at schools, parks and libraries. (Montebello Unified School District)

Free lunch will be offered throughout Los Angeles County at schools, parks and libraries. (Montebello Unified School District)

“This program is vital in providing assistance to families who may struggle financially,” said MUSD President Benjamin Cardenas. “We hope our community’s students who qualify take advantage of this program throughout the summer.”

MUSD will offer lunches at nearly all its elementary, middle and high school campuses. Cities like Bell Gardens, Commerce and Montebello will also make lunch and snacks available at various locations.

The free lunches are offered Monday through Friday starting as early as 10:30 a.m. at most sites.

For specific schedules, visit www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks.

 

Local Sites offering Free Lunch Program
(Now – July 15)
Bell Gardens High School – 6119 Agra St.
Montebello High School – 2100 W. Cleveland Ave.
Schurr High School – 820 Wilcox Ave.
Applied Technology Center – 1200 Mines Ave.
Vail High School – 1230 S. Vail Ave.
Greenwood Elementary – 900 S. Greenwood Ave.
Rosewood Park School – 2352 S. Commerce Way.

(Now – July 29)
Bell Gardens Intermediate – 5841 Live Oak St.
Eastmont Intermediate – 400 S. Bradshawe Ave.
Montebello Intermediate – 1600 Whittier Blvd.
La Merced Intermediate – 215 E. Avenuda de La Merced.
Macy Intermediate – 2101 Lupine Ave.
Suva Intermediate – 6660 E. Suva St.

(Now – August 5)
Over 45 Los Angles County parks –
For locations and times call (310) 965-8630

(Now – August 12)
Bristow Park Library – 1466 S. McDonnel Ave.
Veterans Park – 6364 Zindell Ave.
Montebello City Park – 201 S. Taylor Ave.
Washington Elementary – 1400 W. Madison Ave.
Over 350 LAUSD School Sites –
visit http://lausd.schoolwires.net/Page/462

(Now- August 26)
Bell Gardens Youth Center – 5856 Ludell St.
Bell Gardens Ford Park – 8000 Park Lane

MUSD Bond Measure Goes to Voters Tuesday

June 2, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Hoping to make a dent in the $1.2 billion in estimated district-wide needs, Montebello Unified is asking voters in the district –which includes Montebello, Bell Gardens and Commerce — to approve a $300 million bond measure on the June 7 ballot.

Revenue from Measure GS would be used upgrade everything from bathrooms to libraries to computer and science labs as well as other infrastructure improvements, according to district officials. The one thing funds specifically could not be used for is administrators’ salaries and pensions.

“The district was aware of the need for modernization, it was apparent,” said Ruben Rojas, MUSD’s chief business officer. And the “General Fund would never be able to address these needs.”

A needs assessment study conducted last year looked at the district’s 30 campuses and district office. It found that elementary schools need $390 million in upgrades, intermediate schools $320 million and high schools $487 million in improvements.
Rojas explained safety needs alone, for such things as security fences, gates, pavement, lighting, video monitoring and fire system improvements, add up to $130 million.

Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will cost another $110 million while other facility renovations could add up to another $500 million, Rojas said. An additional $190 million is needed to make classrooms more energy efficient.

However, the big-ticket item getting the most attention from parents in the school district is technology upgrades, Rojas told EGP. According to MUSD’s assessment, fiber optic upgrades, wireless internet access in classrooms, computer labs and overall tech infrastructure will cost about $70 million.

“We are not even talking about iPads or computers,” explains Rojas. “We are talking about classroom readiness for the 21st century.”

Richard Michael, a school bond watchdog, told EGP he is concerned that a specific list of projects has not been included in the ballot measure. MUSD wants a blank check, he opined.

“Tell us what you really need,” said Michaels. “If it’s a leaky roof tell us what school has a leaky roof.”

Rojas, however, assures there are specific schools with specific needs and if the bond measure is approved the next step would be to prioritize those projects to get the “biggest bang for our buck.”

Election signs for Measures on the June 7 election cover the lawn of a Montebello home. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

Election signs for Measures on the June 7 election cover the lawn of a Montebello home. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

In the past, some residents and elected officials in Bell Gardens and Commerce complained that schools in the southern portion of the district receive less attention than their northern counterparts.

District officials, however, say they plan to ensure revenue is dispersed evenly across the district and will reach out to the community to determine funding priorities.

MUSD Board of Education President Ben Cardenas told EGP the district looks forward to optimizing every dollar to modernize and enhance classrooms and facilities.

“This funding will be integral to ensuring we continue to provide safe, clean and engaging learning environments in which our students can reach their potential,” he said.

G. Rick Marshall, chief financial officer for the California Taxpayers Action Network believes the project list provided in Measure GS is too generic.

“There’s no guarantee any particular thing will be done, at any particular location,” he wrote in his argument against the measure. “No specifics equals no accountability.”

According to Rojas, MUSD anticipates it will use 80 percent of the bond revenue to modernize existing facilities. “We want to be able to be on par with other districts, whether its LAUSD or children on the Westside,” he said.

If voters authorize the bonds, property owners in the area would be on the hook for the bond amount plus interest and debt service fees that would be collected through a tax levied on properties within the school district. The specific amount each property owner would pay depends on the value of the property. The tax would translate to $60 for every $100,000 of the assessed value of the property. The average resident would pay $144 in new taxes based on the district’s average property value, which stands at around $240,000, according to Rojas.

Improvements at schools could attract more students to the district and make MUSD a district of choice, raising property values in the area, he ventured, calling it a win-win for businesses and residents.

Not passing Measure GS would be “unfortunate” for a district that already has to do more with less, Rojas contends. “All we would be doing is patchwork,” he said.

MUSD voters approved a $98 million bond in 2004. School districts are allowed to issue no more than 2.5 percent of the total assessed value of property in the district, which according to Rojas limits MUSD to $366 million in total bonds.

“What’s going to happen if down the road when they are maxed out,” questions Michaels.

Rojas defended the bond measure, stating that bond programs today are much different than they were 10 years ago.

“Bonds are not just about putting up pretty buildings, it’s about adding value to the district,” he said.

Measure GS requires a 55% voter approval for passage.

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