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.

Distrito Escolar de Montebello Acusado de Encubrimiento en el Juicio de “Denunciante”

July 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

El Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello continúa bajo el fuego, ya que dos ex funcionarios del distrito de alto rango afirman haber sido despedidos por exponer la corrupción política en el segundo distrito escolar más grande del condado de Los Ángeles.

La ex superintendente Susana Contreras Smith y el ex director financiero y de operaciones Cleve Pell presentaron el pasado viernes una demanda por despido injustificado contra el distrito en la Corte Superior de Los Ángeles. La demanda afirma que Contreras Smith y Pell son denunciantes que perdieron sus empleos por presentarse por presunta mala conducta de la Junta de Educación y destituyeron al Jefe de Negocios Rubén J. Rojas.

La demanda busca daños no especificados, daños compensatorios y punitivos, además de la reintegración.

La demanda alega que Contreras Smith y Pell fueron despedidos por examinar la posible participación de la junta en una supuesta mala conducta de Rojas.

Los miembros del consejo escolar terminaron a Pell y Contreras Smith en noviembre del 2016, publicando una declaración de que habían sido despedidos por “una diferencia de opinión”.

Pell era un administrador del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello desde hace mucho tiempo que ha servido en varios puestos de alta dirección, incluyendo co-superintendente. Contreras Smith se unió al distrito escolar en 2012 y fue promovido a co-superintendente en el 2013 y superintendente en el 2015.

Bajo la intensa presión de la comunidad y los sindicatos de empleados, los miembros de la junta escolar votaron hace cuatro meses para terminar con Rojas, cuyo currículo vitae y solicitud de empleo se determinó estaban llenos de declaraciones y referencias falsas.

Los detractores de Rojas también lo culparon por los problemas financieros del distrito escolar, que a principios de este año incitó al estado a aceptar una auditoría del distrito escolar.

El Departamento de Educación del Condado de Los Ángeles había emitido advertencias al distrito de que estaba en peligro de no cumplir sus obligaciones financieras y que el condado se vería obligado a enviar a alguien para supervisar las finanzas del distrito si los miembros del consejo no hicieran recortes significativos de sus gastos para reforzar un estimado déficit de $17 millones. En respuesta, los miembros de la junta votaron para enviar cientos de avisos de despido a maestros y otros empleados del distrito, la mayoría de los cuales fueron rescindidos posteriormente.

Los empleados enfadados del distrito escolar acusaron a Rojas hace unos meses de a ver creado una imagen falsa de las finanzas del distrito.

Los miembros de la junta habían sido atacados por su falta de actuar rápidamente y abiertamente sobre el asunto. Fueron criticados por no haber investigado completamente a Rojas antes de ser contratado.

La demanda dice que Rojas, quien estaba a cargo del presupuesto de $300 millones del distrito, “estaba dirigiendo lucrativos contratos del distrito escolar a sus cómplices en violación de las leyes de contratación pública”.

Las presuntas acciones de Rojas, de ser probadas, violarían el Código de Contratos Públicos del estado y otras leyes.

En la demanda, Rojas es descrito como “un individuo que había cruzado California buscando distritos escolares para explotar para su beneficio personal”.

La presunta falta cometida por Rojas llevó a Contreras Smith a ponerlo en puesto de licencia y ella y Pell llevaron sus conclusiones al directorio.

La junta ignoró sus conclusiones, de acuerdo con la demanda, que afirma que los fideicomisarios “trataron de encubrir la red de corrupción que rodeaba ha Rojas, creando su regreso de la licencia de falsos pretextos y luego votó para despedir a Contreras Smith y Pell en represalia por su denuncia”.

EGP informó en el momento que el despido instó a alguien a crear musdcorruption.com, un sitio web crítico del distrito que afirma que los dos ex administradores fueron realmente despedidos porque intentaron tomar una posición contra la corrupción.

EGP se dirigió al comisionado Ben Cárdenas para hacer comentarios, pero su oficina citó la política del distrito de que no comentan sobre litigios pendientes.

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.

MUSD Rescinds Remaining Teacher Pink Slips

April 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

MONTEBELLO– Montebello Unified School District officials announced last week they were rescinding layoffs for the remaining 100 teachers who received a reduction-in-force notice.

The announcement comes on the heels of the district rescinding 233 teacher RIF notices. Last month, 333 teachers and a number of administrators and classified staff received pink slips in an attempt to close a $17 million budget gap.

Layoff notices sent out to administrators and classified staff, have yet to be rescinded.

The district has been working with the Los Angeles County Office of Education to keep teachers employed.

“They need to know from the onset, this district was looking for ways to keep them on the job,” MUSD Board President Lani Cupchoy said in a statement.

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.”

MUSD Revokes Layoff Notices; Recall Moves Forward

April 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

MONTEBELLO  – Following months of protests from students, parents and teachers, the Montebello Unified School Board unanimously voted to rescind layoff notices for 233 of its employees.

The action was approved April 6, after board members determined the district was closer to closing a $17 million budget gap.

While over two-thirds of the 333 teachers, administrators and classified staff who received pink slips can now count on keeping their jobs for the 2017-2018 school year, 100 employees who received a second layoff notice late last month are still in danger of being cut.

Meanwhile, activists seeking to recall MUSD Board President Lani Cupchoy and Board Member Benjamin Cardenas last week received approval from the County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk’s Office to begin collecting signatures on recall petitions. They blame the board members for the school district’s financial problems.

With CBO Gone, Teachers Thinks Montebello Unified Budget Can Improve

April 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Now that the Montebello Unified School Board has fired its controversial chief business officer, employees are hopeful a clearer, more positive picture of district’s finances will soon emerge.

MUSD board members terminated Ruben Rojas last week following months of protests by employees and the public. They blamed Rojas for the district’s dire financial situation that led to 333 MUSD employees being laid off.

With 235 of 333 jobs in jeopardy belonging to teachers, the Montebello Teachers Association (MTA) has the most at stake. MTA and other district unions, and MUSD officials are now scrambling to find alternatives to job cuts for closing a $17 million budget gap, but they could be running out of time.

MTA President Lorraine Richards told EGP the school district must reduce spending in other areas before it lays off employees. She is especially critical of the millions of dollars spent on consultants, complaining that the expenditures have continued to increase over the years.

She’s not alone; it’s a sentiment repeatedly voiced by students, parents and classified employees.

“When you have a budget showing an increase for consultants of course you’ll see a red line at the bottom,” Richards said.

An MUSD employee discusses the impact cuts will have on students during a special meeting March 30. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

An MUSD employee discusses the impact cuts will have on students during a special meeting March 30. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles County Department of Education (LACOE) informed Montebello Unified officials the district is at risk of not meeting its financial obligations for the next two school years unless it takes decisive action to turn things around. To the dismay of the public, MUSD officials ultimately chose staffing cuts as the vehicle to financial solvency.

Under the latest fiscal stabilization plan, MUSD plans to shore up its finances by eliminating positions, implementing furlough days, freezing pay raises and not replacing retirees.

The biggest hit will be to teaching positions, with an estimated $12 million in layoffs.

Administrative positions will be trimmed by $2.9 million; an additional $1.9 million in revenues will be saved through cuts to non-classroom employees.

According to Richards, MTA has been studying the budget and their research has led them to other areas where revenue can be saved. In some cases, she argues, much of what is budgeted for is in fact not spent.

For example, according to the latest budget summary, the cost for books and supplies has decreased by $6 million since the first interim report, based on an analysis of expenditure patterns, was released. That excess funding, however, will be used for capital expenditures associated with the district’s technology initiative.

Richards hopes the district will consider offsetting general fund expenses with incoming bond revenue, to avoid personnel cuts.

She proposes dipping into the school district’s rainy day reserve fund as another possible way to close the budget gap.

Under state law, however, school districts are required to set aside at least 3 percent of yearly revenue in a reserve fund, and according to LACOE, it’s an obligation the district is already in danger of not meeting.

Richards and others don’t believe MUSD’s finances are as dire as reported by the now fired Rojas.

“A budget can be created to show what you want to show,” she says, skeptical of the financial crisis being painted.

If the situation is as bad as they say, she wants to know why district officials pushed last year for voters to approve a $300 million spending bond. Rojas cited a “sparkling [outside financial credit] report” to move the bond forward, she recalls.

Lloyd Garrison, president of CSEA Chapter 500, the union that represents non-classified employees like plumbers, office clerks and maintenance workers, echoes those sentiment, telling EGP the picture of a tenuous budget was not the one presented last year.

“If we were in such dire trouble why wasn’t that brought up during union negotiations,” he questions. “Why would the board approve raises?”

Last year, after drawn out negotiations, the district agreed to award teachers a two-year pay raise and a one-time bonus. At that time, CSEA members agreed to a one-time bonus.

Richards told EGP she believes the budget crisis was not brought up then because it did not exist.

With Rojas gone and a state audit on the way, but could take 6 months or longer to complete, Richards and Garrison said they expect a more accurate accounting of district finances is forthcoming: not one “covered with Ruben Rojas’ finger prints on it.”

In the meantime, the district’s Fiscal Stabilization Ad Hoc Committee, made up of Board Members Hector Chacon and Edgar Cisneros, representative of MTA, CSEA, the Association of Montebello School Administrators (AMSA), Interim Superintendent Dr. Anthony Martinez and Director of Administrative Services Dr. Angel Gallardo, are working on identifying other areas where money can be saved or reallocated.

MUSD Board President Lani Cupchoy said in a written statement that the committee is focusing on “minimizing the number of teachers and support staff impacted by the recent reduction in force.”

 

 

 

MTA Espera Mejor Presupuesto de MUSD, Con Despido de Oficial

April 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Después del despido del controvertido jefe de negocios de la Junta Escolar Unificada de Montebello, los empleados esperan que más transparencia emerja pronto en las finanzas del distrito.

Los miembros del directorio de MUSD despidieron a Rubén Rojas, la semana pasada, después de meses de protestas por empleados y el público, culpándolo por la situación financiera extrema del distrito que causó el despido de 333 empleados de MUSD.

Con 235 de los 333 puestos de trabajo en peligro, pertenecientes a maestros, la Asociación de Maestros de Montebello (MTA) tiene más bajo su vista. MTA y otros sindicatos del distrito, y los funcionarios de MUSD ahora están luchando para encontrar alternativas a los recortes de empleo para cerrar una brecha presupuestaria de $17 millones, pero podrían estar quedándose sin tiempo.

La presidenta de MTA, Lorraine Richards, le dijo a EGP que el distrito escolar debe reducir el gasto en otras áreas antes de despedir a los empleados.

Ella, especialmente criticó los millones de dólares gastados en consultores, quejándose de que los gastos han seguido aumentando a lo largo de los años. Ella no está sola; esto es un sentimiento repetidamente expresado por estudiantes, padres y empleados clasificados.

“Cuando tienes un presupuesto mostrando un aumento para los consultores, por supuesto, verás una línea roja subrayándolo”, dijo Richards.

A principios de este año, el Departamento de Educación del Condado de Los Ángeles (LACOE) le informó a los funcionarios de Montebello Unified que el distrito está en riesgo de no cumplir con sus obligaciones financieras durante los próximos dos años escolares, a menos de que tome medidas decisivas. Para desgracia del público, los funcionarios de MUSD escogieron en última instancia los recortes de personal como el vehículo principal para resolver el problema.

Bajo el último plan de estabilización fiscal, MUSD planea arreglar sus finanzas eliminando puestos, implementando días de permiso sin paga, congelando los aumentos salariales y no reemplazando a los jubilados.

Los puestos de enseñanza serán los mayormente afectados, con unos estimado $12 millones en despidos.

Los puestos administrativos acumularán $2.9 millones en recortes; $1.9 millones en ingresos se ahorrarán a través de los recortes a los empleados no clasificados.

Según Richards, MTA ha estado estudiando el presupuesto y su investigación los ha dirigido a otras áreas en dónde los ingresos pueden ser ahorrados. En algunos casos, ella sostiene, gran parte de lo presupuestado ni se gasta.

IMG_6098

Estudiantes y miembros de la comunidad de Montebello protestaron la semana pasada los despidos en MUSD. Foto de EGP por Nancy Martínez.

Por ejemplo, según el último resumen del presupuesto, el costo de libros y suministros ha disminuido por $6 millones desde que se publicó el primer informe provisional, basado en un análisis de los patrones de gastos. Sin embargo, ese exceso de financiamiento se usará para cubrir los gastos de capital asociados con la iniciativa de tecnología del distrito.

Richards espera que el distrito considere la posibilidad de compensar los gastos generales del fondo que se pueden pagar con los ingresos de bonos entrantes, para evitar más recortes de personal.

Ella propone usar el fondo de reserva de emergencia del distrito escolar como otra manera posible de llenar la brecha presupuestaria.

Bajo la ley estatal, sin embargo, los distritos escolares deben reservar al menos el tres por ciento de los ingresos anuales en un fondo de reserva, y según LACOE, esto es una obligación que el distrito está a punto de no cumplir.

Richards y otros no creen que las finanzas de MUSD sean tan nefastas como fueron reportadas por Rojas.

“Un presupuesto puede crearse para mostrar lo que quieres”, dijo, escéptica de la crisis financiera que está siendo demostrada.

Si la situación es tan mala como dicen, ella quiere saber por qué los funcionarios del distrito presionaron el año pasado para que los votantes aprobarán un bono por gastos de $300 millones. Rojas citó un “brillante informe[de crédito financiero externo]” para mover el bono hacia adelante, recordó.

Lloyd Garrison, presidente del Capítulo 500 de la CSEA, el sindicato que representa a los empleados no clasificados (plomeros, secretarias/os, trabajadores de mantenimiento, etc.) repitió el sentimiento, diciéndole a EGP que la imagen de un presupuesto débil no fue presentada el año pasado.

“Si estuviéramos en tantos apuros, ¿por qué no se planteó eso durante las negociaciones sindicales?”, pregunta. “¿Por qué aprobaría el consejo los incrementos salariales?”

El año pasado, después de prolongadas negociaciones, el distrito acordó otorgarle a los maestros un aumento de sueldo de dos años y un bono único. En ese momento, los miembros de CSEA acordaron una bonificación única.

Richards le dijo a EGP que cree que la crisis presupuestaria no se planteó entonces porque no existía.

Con Rojas desaparecido y una auditoría estatal en camino, que podría tardar seis meses o más en completarse, Richards y Garrison dijeron que esperan una contabilidad más precisa de las finanzas del distrito: no una “cubierta con las huellas dactilares de Rubén Rojas”.

Entre tanto, la Comisión Ad Hoc de Estabilización Fiscal del Distrito, formado por los miembros de la Junta, Héctor Chacón y Edgar Cisneros, representante de MTA, la CSEA, la Asociación de Administradores de las Escuelas de Montebello (AMSA), el Superintendente Interino, Dr. Anthony Martínez y el Director de Servicios Administrativos, Dr. Ángel Gallardo, están trabajando para identificar otras áreas donde se pueda ahorrar o reasignar el dinero.

La presidenta del Consejo de MUSD, Lani Cupchoy, dijo en una declaración escrita que el comité se está enfocando en “minimizar el número de maestros y el personal de apoyo impactado por la reciente reducción en la fuerza”.

Para leer más sobre el despido del CBO, Rubén Rojas, visite www.EGPNews.com

Montebello Unified Fires Chief Business Exec

March 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It had been a while since cheers of praise were heard during a Montebello Unified School District board meeting, but on Thursday, teachers, parents and students were on their feet celebrating  news that a controversial top administrator had been fired.

Getting the axe is Chief Business Officer Ruben Rojas who at one point was on administrative leave over questions regarding the truthfulness of information in his resume and job application, which have since proven to be full of false statements and made-up references.

The firing comes months after unions representing MUSD employees and the public began calling for an investigation into Rojas’ hiring.

Rojas’ detractors also blamed him for MUSD’s tenuous budget situation, saying he had presented a false rosy picture of the school District’s financial outlook, and alleged he had improperly awarded District contracts.

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.

Board members Hector Chacon and Edgar Cisneros presented the motion to terminate Rojas during a closed session meeting Thursday: the vote was 5-0 to approve.

“The composition and direction of the Board member has been continuously evolving over the past year and with that evolution, comes a set of new priorities,” said Board Member Ben Cardenas in a statement explaining the Board’s decision.

“Given the vision of the board and challenges facing our district, it’s evident that we need to go in a different direction with respect to our business office…”

The news was announced during the special board meeting later that evening, prompting loud applause from a stunned, but pleasantly surprised audience.

“You have finally listened to us,” Lu Cruz told the board during public comment. “You have finally seen reason, thank you.”

While many MUSD employees and parents called the firing of the Rojas a “good first step,” others felt it’s too little, too late.

Over the last two months, chants of “no mas Rojas” (no more Rojas) could be heard during protests outside district headquarters, where teachers, staff, students and others loudly expressed anger over the board’s failure to fire Rojas while hundreds of employees were losing their jobs due to MUSD’s deep budget hole.

It was less than a year ago that the public seemed to have little reason not to trust Rojas, who at the time pushed for approval of Measure GS, a $300 million bond for infrastructure improvements. Voters overwhelmingly approved the bond in June 2016, but by September 2016, the feelings of goodwill were gone and Rojas was put on paid administrative leave over a personnel issue related to discrepancies in his resume, only to be reinstated one month later.

 

 

Former MUSD Chief Business Officer Ruben Rojas presents a budget update to the board during a meeting earlier this year. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Former MUSD Chief Business Officer Ruben Rojas presents a budget update to the board during a meeting earlier this year. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The California School Employees Association (CSEA) Montebello Chapter 505 passed a “vote of no confidence” in Rojas the following month, accusing him of hiring acquaintances, lowering morale district-wide and pushing costly contracts.

The lack of action by the board to fire Rojas and impending layoffs prompted a recall effort against Cardenas and Board President Lani Cupchoy.

Ultimately, 333 MUSD employees received layoff notices as part of the district’s plan to address a $17 million budget deficit. Two-thirds of those cuts were to teachers.

“If the pink slips are rescinded there will be a sigh of relief, but some of the damage will not be undone,” said Shaun Kury, band director at Montebello High School. He is among those who have has received a layoff notice.

The board voted Thursday to give MUSD Superintendent Dr. Anthony Martinez the authority to rescind layoff notices as the budget allows, signaling their willingness to reconsider some of the job cuts in their budget stabilizing plan.

“If we don’t start rescinding [soon], another district is going to steal our talent,” said Chacon, emphasizing the need for urgency.

CSEA Lloyd Garrison told EGP he was very happy with the board’s recent decisions.

“The board wants to move forward,” he said. “By Ruben leaving the district [MUSD] will have a new beginning.”

 

Teachers Make a Difference, Says MUSD Community

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuts to teaching positions were supposed to be minimal, so when news broke last week that 235 Montebello Unified teachers had received layoff notices it sent shock waves through the school community, prompting students, parents, alumni and other school employees to take to the street in protest.

The cuts will have a devastating impact on the quality of education students receive, said protesters at campuses across the district last Thursday.

They demanded the school board explain its 11th hour decision to change its plan to shore up a $17 million budget deficit from one that would have seen the layoff of nearly 500 mostly non-teaching positions, to one that now calls for over two-thirds of the layoffs being teachers.

News of the cuts spread quickly on social media, in some cases postings listed names of teachers being laid off, encouraging the community to protest the cuts.

A petition to save the 235 teaching jobs is currently circulating and will be presented to the MUSD board at their next meeting April 6 and to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). As of Wednesday, the change.org petition had received over 2,200 signatures.

“As a student of a MUSD school, I see how full the classes already are with some having more than 40 students, and can only imagine how much fuller the classes will get with this cut,” wrote Angelo Carrasco, the Bell Gardens High School student who authored the petition.

Under pressure to quickly get district finances in order or risk county education officials sending in someone to oversee their decisions, MUSD board members last month voted 4-1 to layoff close to 500 classified and non-classified employees — including plumbers, attendance technicians, custodians and administrators on special assignment. It was a jump from about 317 positions on the chopping block less than two weeks earlier.

 Parents, students and alumni join Montebello Unified teachers outside district headquarter to protest the layoff of 235 teachers. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)


Parents, students and alumni join Montebello Unified teachers outside district headquarter to protest the layoff of 235 teachers.
(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

That number of layoffs has dropped to 333, but most of the cuts are now to teachers of English, social sciences, art, music, physical education and health. Layoff notices, often referred to as pink slips, were delivered to impacted teachers on March 15, the deadline for MUSD to notify employees of an impending job loss as required under agreements with its bargaining units.

In a statement, the current board blamed previous boards and administrators for MUSD being “on the edge of insolvency if drastic action is not taken.”

“Consequently, the current Board has had to work with staff to minimize the impact to our employees and to ensure the District remains solvent.”

The last minute decision sparked anger across MUSD, which has schools in Montebello, Bell Gardens, Commerce and a small number of campuses in other cities.

Hundreds of students walked out of Bell Gardens High School the next day, including 17-year-old Ceshia Palos Castellanos.

“These teachers are the foundation of our future,” she said. “I want to go to college and I’m scared this will hurt my chances.”

 

About a dozen teachers at Bell Gardens High have received layoff notices, including the school’s beloved band director and the only teacher of the Advance Placement Comparative Government course. These are our mentors, role models, students lamented.

MUSD representative Ricardo Mendez told students layoffs were based on the district’s overall needs and program objectives, not an individual teacher’s performance.

Many teachers noted the pathway programs and the Applied Technology Center were left untouched. Cuts were not based on seniority, a change from past staffing cuts, when it was usually “the last person hired is the first person fired.”

“They are taking away the few aspects of this school that make it worthwhile,” Castellanos’ mother Victoria told EGP in Spanish. “Soon they will only offer the bare minimum,” she complained, not satisfied with Mendez’ effort to reassure the group.

At some schools, nearly half of all teachers received a pink slip, leaving many to wonder what the impact to student-teacher ratio will be.

“They won’t be able to run a school … let alone a district” with this many cuts, said Christine Alcala-Snee, who’s been laid off after 13 years with MUSD.

In neighboring Commerce, about a dozen students from Rosewood Park School held their own protest.

Holding signs and chanting, “Students and teachers here to fight, education is our right,” students said they want to keep their favorite AVID teacher from being laid off.

For young activists like Zoe Garate, 13, someone has to step up to make sure teachers aren’t cut.

“Can’t the city do something? Don’t they have a lot of money?” she asked, referring to the many programs Commerce provides residents at little or no cost.

Amber Cabreros, 13, told EGP she and her classmates wanted to show just how much their education and teachers matter to them. “They respect us for who we are and show us how far we can go,” she said.

Students at Rosewood Park Elementary School in Commerce protest teachers cuts March 16. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Students at Rosewood Park Elementary School in Commerce protest teachers cuts March 16. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Later that afternoon in Montebello, alumni and parents marched with former teachers from the Montebello Teachers Association headquarters to the district office, hoping to “put a face on” the cuts.

“They pushed us to do more, mentored us as we applied for college and kept us out of trouble,” remarked Erendira Zamudio, who graduated from Schurr last year.

Former Montebello High School student presidents Christopher Jimenez and Jennifer Gutierrez regularly attended school board meetings and were shocked to learn of the district’s current financial mess. They blame the board members they once looked up to for not getting help sooner.

“This could have been prevented,” said Gutierrez. “That is why we need more transparency.”

 

These kinds of cuts violate student rights, according to 2nd grade teacher Patricia Meneses, a 17-year district veteran on the verge of losing her job.

“We set the foundation, and what happens when you break the foundation, the house comes down,” she said.

Maria Navarette has two children at Winter Gardens Elementary in East Los Angeles. She told EGP that district officials must realize that parents see the cuts as an attack on their children.

“These are the people who take care of our children from 8 to 3 and who we entrust with their education,” she said in Spanish. “They are the ones that make it possible for our children to obtain a better future.”

Next Page »

Copyright © 2017 Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews, Inc. ·