MUSD Workers Get One Month Reprieve

January 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Montebello Unified Welcomes New Board, New Year

December 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

With a new face behind the dais, the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education began preparing for a new year.
Elected officials, family, teachers, parents and students filled the boardroom last Thursday during a special meeting that welcomed newcomer Joanna Flores – a Commerce resident and professor at East Los Angeles College – and recognized outgoing board member David Vela for his eight years of service.
Flores and incumbent Edgar Cisneros received the highest number of votes to fill two seats that were up for election on Nov. 3, ousting Vela from the seat he held for two terms.
“Joanna [Flores] is more than just another woman to diversify the board, she brings the passion and intensity of being the first of her siblings to graduate from college,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia before administrating her the oath of office.
Flores said she had vowed to return to the community that had invested in her in hope of improving the public school system.
“Others are slow to give credit to our students in public schools but quick to criticize,” she said.
“So now the hard work begins,” she added.
Following a standing ovation for Flores and a quick chant of “Si Se Pudo” from the crowd, Board Member Lani Cupchoy gushed about the “feminist moment” and having another lady serve on the board.
“As a high percentage of woman are seeking higher education we are looking at more woman seeking leadership positions,” said MUSD Superintendent Susana Contreras-Smith excitedly.
“She earned her seat,” chimed in Cisneros. “If she works half as hard as she did on her campaign the students will benefit greatly,” he said.
During the meeting, Board Member Ben Cardenas was elected president as part of the body’s annual reorganization. Cupchoy was appointed vice president and Hector Chacon board clerk.
In the last two years, the district – which covers Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello and portions of East Los Angeles, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera – was tasked with implementing common core standards, reworking its budget to encompass the goals of the Local Control Funding Formula and supporting the 10 career pathways across the district.
“We had a year of shared vision, shared respect and shared sacrifice,” reflected Cardenas, before going on to outline his agenda for the year ahead.
“My focus as president will be fiscal solvency, we need to look for efficiency.”

Edgar Cisneros and Joanna Flores, who were both elected to serve the Montebello Unified School Board right, took the oath of office during a special meeting on Dec. 10. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

Edgar Cisneros and Joanna Flores, who were both elected to serve the Montebello Unified School Board right, took the oath of office during a special meeting on Dec. 10. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez )

Cardenas said he would pay particular attention to special education, within 60 days putting together a special task force to assist in identifying any shortfalls in the program.
The district’s $600 million in capital improvement needs is one of his biggest concerns, Cardenas said.
“We will have to ask ourselves if we need to put a bond on the ballot to provide our children with a 21st century learning environment,” he remarked.
Contreras-Smith echoed Cardenas’ comments; saying among the challenges facing the district is its ability to bring 21st century technology to students so they are college ready.
“The results-driven, young vision of the district is a refreshing perspective,” Contreras-Smith told EGP, referring to the collective younger age of the board.
Cisneros, the board’s out going president, was acknowledged for his efforts to give more attention to the southern part of the district.
“For some time, Bell Gardens felt like the district’s stepchild but you changed that,” said Bell Gardens Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez.
The meeting also included a salute to outgoing board member Vela, who was honored with several proclamations, awards and recognitions.
“David has been a model for other leaders, particularly young Latinos,” said Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang.
Speaker after speaker highlighted Vela’s work with anti-bullying, lobbying for district funds and his role implementing the pathway school model and curriculum district wide.
“I know you poured your heart and soul into these kids,” said Joseph Martinez on behalf of Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis.
“The next official to take on that role has some really big shoes to fill.”
From mayors to PTA presidents, all acknowledged their belief that this was not the last time they expect to see Vela in public office, adding they look forward to the next step in his career.
“Once a leader, always a leader,” said Chacon, the school board’s longest sitting member. “Montebello Unified will always be your home.”

Election Shakes Up Local Boards

November 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Incumbents on the Montebello City Council and the Montebello Unified School District were ousted from their seats Tuesday, according to semi-official elections results from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/Election Division.

In the city of Montebello, Mayor Jack Hadjinian received the most votes – 1,695 – in the city council race that had two seats on the five-member council up for grabs.

Jack Hadjinian

Jack Hadjinian

Challenger Vanessa Delgado – a developer – received the second highest number of votes at 1,469, unseating incumbent Councilwoman Christina Cortez who received 1,122 votes.

Vanessa Delgado

Vanessa Delgado

Two out of five seats were also up for election in the MUSD school board, which represents schools in Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello and, parts of Monterey Park, East Los Angeles and Pico Rivera. Board President Edgar Cisneros will be returning to the dais, receiving 3,396 votes. Challenger Joanna Flores – a professor at East Los Angeles College – garnered 3,119 votes, enough to win her the second seat on the board.

Edgar Cisneros

Edgar Cisneros

Joanna Flores

Joanna Flores

Longtime board member David Vela was a distant third, receiving only 2,668 votes.

Montebello voters also had the opportunity to elect a new city treasurer and city clerk. None of the incumbents chose to seek office, leaving challengers to face off against each other.

In the race for City Treasurer, Charles Pell, a criminal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, passed the 50 percent mark with 2,061 of votes casts, beating out former councilwoman Rosie Vasquez. Pell is the son of MUSD’s Chief Financial Officer and former superintendent, Cleve Pell.

The city-clerk elect Irma Barajas received 1,614 votes, enough to beat out Christina Gonzales. Barajas is married to city councilman Art Barajas.

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