Commerce Contrata al Miembro de la Junta de MUSD Como Administrador de la Ciudad

December 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

El vicepresidente de la Junta de Educación del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello (MUSD) ha sido nombrado por el Ayuntamiento de Commerce para servir como el nuevo administrador de la ciudad.

La designación de Edgar Cisneros entró en vigencia el lunes, luego de una larga búsqueda de reemplazo permanente para Jorge Rifa, quien se retiró en febrero.

Al anunciar el nombramiento, la ciudad citó los “amplios antecedentes en el servicio público” de Cisneros, incluyendo un puesto reciente como gerente municipal de Huntington Park y posiciones anteriores como representante del distrito y secretaria de prensa de la senadora estatal retirada Martha Escuita y el diputado superior para la ex supervisora Gloria Molina, entre sus calificaciones.

“Estamos muy entusiasmados de tener a Edgar sirviendo con nosotros como nuestro nuevo Administrador de la ciudad”, dijo la alcaldesa Oralia Y. Rebollo. “Edgar está extremadamente calificado para manejar las operaciones diarias de ciudad de Commerce y cuenta con el apoyo del Ayuntamiento y la comunidad de Commerce”.

Vicepresidente de MUSD, Edgar Cisneros.

Vicepresidente de MUSD, Edgar Cisneros.

Para Cisneros, la contratación es una “forma como de regresar a casa”. Nació en el área Union Pacific del este de Los Ángeles no incorporado, un vecindario fronterizo con Commerce, y creció en el sur de Montebello, una ciudad que también fronteriza con Commerce y comparte muchas de las mismas escuelas.

Le dijo a EGP que durante su tiempo como diputado de Molina trabajó estrechamente con la ciudad y la comunidad y siente que comprende las necesidades de la ciudad.

Hay muchas oportunidades inexploradas en Commerce, dijo Cisneros, diciéndole a EGP que su trabajo es implementar la visión del consejo de la ciudad.

“En mi opinión, Commerce tiene el mejor Ayuntamiento y el personal más comprometido”, dijo Cisneros. Dijo que uno de sus primeros desafíos será “reponer el estanque” y cubrir vacantes clave de todos los departamentos para que la ciudad pueda operar en un “cilindro lleno”.

“Ha sido un desafío reclutar personas en la ciudad sin un administrador de la ciudad por casi un ___ porque hay incertidumbre. Tengo un registro comprobado de reclutamiento de mi época como gerente de la ciudad de Huntington Park.

Commerce es una ciudad altamente industrial ubicada en el centro de los corredores de transporte más transitados de la región, desde la autopista I-710 (Long Beach) hasta la autopista I-5 (Santa Ana) y los ferrocarriles de Commerce Union Pacific que un administrador pasado de la ciudad describió como el “tercer puerto más grande del país”, una referencia al volumen de bienes que entran y salen de la ubicación.

La mayor parte de la industria de la ciudad se concentra en la fabricación y los almacenes ubicados en el centro de las rutas de camiones de la autopista y los patios de ferrocarril.

Commerce también es hogar de aproximadamente 13,000 personas, la mayoría de la clase trabajadora y latina. Los residentes disfrutan de una variedad de servicios y programas comunitarios de bajo costo que son apoyados en gran parte por los ingresos generados a través de la base industrial de la ciudad. El intercambio, sin embargo, es una mayor exposición a la contaminación y otros problemas ambientales.

Mientras el desarrollo económico es otra de sus principales prioridades, Cisneros le dijo a EGP que la ciudad tiene que ser “consciente” de los tipos de negocios que invita.

No hay duda de que “los residentes de Commerce han sido los más afectados por muchos impactos ambientales”, dijo. A pesar de que están ubicados cerca de la industria, los residentes de Commerce ven su ciudad como una “comunidad de dormitorio”, dijo Cisneros. “Tenemos que buscar como diversificar la base de negocios de la ciudad” y “reflexionar” sobre cómo se hace, dijo el miércoles el nuevo administrador de la ciudad.

Los problemas ambientales y de transporte a veces van de la mano y ambos tienen un tremendo impacto en la calidad de vida.

Mientras Metro y Caltrans trabajan para expandir la autopista I-710 como parte de un plan para aliviar las congestiones de tráfico en la región – que las agencias dicen que reducen la contaminación causada por la plataforma grande, los camiones diésel y el trafico suburbano – existe la preocupación de que las opciones bajo revisión podrían llevar a que hogares del vecindario de Ayers sean tomadas para la expansión.

Cisneros dijo el miércoles que Commerce tiene que abogar por parte de sus residentes y también ver que es lo mejor para la región. Si el plan de Metro se lleva a cabo, dijo que la ciudad buscará minimizar el impacto en sus residentes. “Sabemos que una vez que las personas son desplazadas, raramente regresan, entonces ¿cómo puede la ciudad ayudar a estos residentes a permanecer en la ciudad y mantenerse conectados?”, dijo.

Cisneros le dijo a EGP que no prevé ningún conflicto entre su nuevo trabajo como administrador de la ciudad y sus responsabilidades como miembro electo de la junta escolar de MUSD.

El MUSD enfrenta actualmente sus propios problemas, muchos de los cuales fueron detallados en una auditoria estatal que critico al distrito escolar por el manejo de sus finanzas. La Junta de Educación del condado ha enviado un supervisor, después de repetidas advertencias de que el distrito podría enfrentar una insolvencia financiera. Los niños en Commerce asisten a las escuelas de MUSD ubicadas en Commerce y las ciudades aledañas.

“Como administrador, no tengo autoridad sobre ningún trabajo con el MUSD, eso depende del Ayuntamiento” dijo. “Sin embargo, si surgiera una situación, por ejemplo, que la ciudad pidiera a la junta una exención de tarifas, me retiraría de la votación”, dijo Cisneros.

Cisneros dijo que aún no se había reunido con el Ayuntamiento completo para discutir su visión, pero tuvo una idea de lo que querían durante el proceso de entrevista en tres etapas.

“Es para mí un honor y un placer servir a la excelente gente de la ciudad de Commerce”, dijo Cisneros. “Tengo muchas ganas de reunirme y trabajar con miembros de la comunidad para crear una ciudad modelo vibrante y prospera”.

Commerce Hires MUSD Board Member as City Administrator

November 29, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The vice-president of the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education has been appointed by the Commerce City Council to serve as the new city administrator.

Edgar Cisneros’s appointment became effective Monday following a months long search for a permanent replacement for Jorge Rifa who retired in February.

In announcing the appointment, the city cited Cisneros’ “extensive background in public service,” including a recent stint as city manager of Huntington Park and previous positions as a district representative and press secretary for retired State Senator Martha Escutia and Senior Field Deputy for former supervisor Gloria Molina, among his qualifications.

“We are very excited to have Edgar serve with us as our new City Administrator,” said Mayor Oralia Y. Rebollo. “Edgar is extremely qualified to handle the day to day operations of the City of Commerce and has the support of the City Council and the Commerce community.”

For Cisneros, the hiring is a “coming home of sorts.” He was born in the Union Pacific area of unincorporated East Los Angeles, a neighborhood bordering Commerce, and grew up in South Montebello, a city that also borders Commerce and shares many of the same schools.

He told EGP that during his time as a field deputy for Molina he worked closely with the city and the community and feels he understands the city’s needs.

There are many untapped opportunities in Commerce, said Cisneros, telling EGP it’s his job to implement the vision of the city council.

Commerce hires MUSD Board Vice President Edgar Cisneros to serve as new City Administrator, (EGP archive photo)

Commerce hires MUSD Board Vice President Edgar Cisneros to serve as new City Administrator. Pictured: Cisneros at past MUSD board meeting. (EGP Archive Photo)

“In my opinion, Commerce has the best, most engaged city council and staff around,” Cisneros said. He said one of his first challenges will be to “replenish the pond” and fill key department vacancies so that the city can operate on “full cylinder.”

“It’s been a challenge to recruit people to the city without a city administrator for nearly a year, because there’s uncertainty. I have a proven recruitment track-record from my time as city manager of Huntington Park.”

Commerce is a highly industrial city located right in the center of the region’s busiest transportation corridors, from the I-710 (Long Beach) Freeway to the I-5 (Santa Ana) Freeway, and the Commerce Union Pacific rail yards which one former city administrator described as the “third largest port in the country,” a reference to the volume of goods that move in and out of the location.

The bulk of the city’s industry is concentrated in manufacturing and warehouses centrally located to the freeway truck routes and rail yards.

Commerce is also home to approximately 13,000 people, the majority Latino and working class. Residents enjoy a variety of no- to low-cost community services and programs that are supported in large part by revenue generated through the city’s industrial base. The trade-off, however, is heightened exposure to pollution and other environmental issues.

While economic development is another of his top priorities, Cisneros told EGP that the city has to be “mindful” of the types of businesses it invites.

There’s no doubt “Commerce residents have born the brunt of many environmental impacts,” he said. Even though they are located close to industry, Commerce residents see their city as a “bedroom community,” Cisneros said. “We have to look at diversifying the city’s business base” and be “thoughtful” about how it’s done, the new city administrator said Wednesday.

Environmental issues and transportation issues often go hand-in-hand and both have tremendous impacts on quality of life.

As Metro and Caltrans work to expand the 1-710 Freeway as part of a plan to relieve traffic congestions in the region – which the agencies say will reduce pollution caused by idling big rig, diesel trucks and commuter traffic – there is concern that the options under review could lead to homes in the Ayers neighborhood being taken for the expansion.

Cisneros said Wednesday that Commerce has to advocate on the part of its residents and also look at that’s best for the region. If Metro’s plan goes through, he said the city will look to minimize the impact on it’s residents. “We know that once people are displaced they rarely come back, so how can the city help these residents stay in the city, stay connected,” he said.

Cisneros told EGP that he does not foresee any conflict between his new job as city administrator and his responsibilities as an elected member of the MUSD school board.

The MUSD is currently facing its own struggles, many that were detailed in a state audit that slammed the school district over its mishandling of District finances and for failing to adhere to its own hiring policies. The County Board of Education recently sent in an overseer, after issuing repeated warnings that the District could be facing financial insolvency. Children in Commerce attend MUSD schools located in Commerce and surrounding cities.

“As administrator, I do not have authority over any work with the MUSD, that’s up to the city council,” Cisneros said. “If, however, a situation should arise, for example the city asking the board for a fee waiver, I would remove myself from the vote,” he told EGP.

Cisneros has yet to meet with the full city council to discuss their vision, but says he did get a sense of what they want during the three-stage interview process handled by an outside entity contracted by the city to find Rifa’s replacement.

“It is my honor and pleasure to serve the fine people of the City of Commerce,” Cisneros said. “I look forward to meeting and working with members of the community to create a vibrant and prosperous Model City.”

State Audit Slams MUSD Finances

November 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A review of Montebello Unified School District’s financial records has resulted in a scathing report by state auditors that alleges years of wasteful spending, mismanagement, hiring irregularities, poor leadership and cronyism. As a result, MUSD is on the brink of insolvency, allege state auditors.

“Taken as a whole, the concerns raised in this report call for significant change if Montebello is to avoid financial insolvency,” writes California State Auditor Elaine Howle in a letter to the governor and state lawmakers accompanying the report.

Earlier this year, MUSD came dangerously close to the Los Angeles County Office of Education sending in an overseer to get district finances in order. The audit alleges the District repeatedly failed to heed warnings about its precarious financial situation from the county office of education, the agency charged with its oversight.

Faced with nearly a $30 million budget shortfall over the next two years, the MUSD School Board considered laying off hundreds of school employees, including teachers. The board’s actions sparked months of angry protests from workers as well as students and parents, who accused board members of being corrupt, or at best, incapable of doing their job. They demanded the firing of some administrators, and decried the firing of others.

Two current board members were serviced with recall petitions.

Responding to the outcry from constituents, three local state lawmakers asked the state auditor to review District finances.

That audit is now complete and according to Howle, it “concludes that intervention is necessary to address Montebello’s weak financial management and governance.”

“Most significantly,” writes Howle, “Montebello is in danger of becoming financially insolvent,” in other words, unable to meet its financial obligations and putting the District’s 28,000 students at risk.

The audit notes that District employees attempted to destroy documents during the auditing process.

The audit cites MUSD’s failure to follow its own hiring practices and for employing individuals in unneeded, high-paying positions; not properly advertising job openings or vetting candidates for some of the District’s highest-ranking positions. It also alleges school board members hired people for high-ranking jobs who did not have the qualifications needed for the positions, including a former chief business officer who was responsible for the District’s $300 million budget, and was paid $186,000 a year.

And, despite warnings from the county, the District continued to overspend, according to state auditors.

They cited as an example the school district’s spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars on 200 computers at the same time the District was in “financial distress,” noting that staff could not locate 13 of the computers, 162 computers remained unopened in a warehouse for more than a year, and 25 were in classrooms but not being used.

Facing a $30 million two-year budget shortfall, MUSD board members voted to cut jobs, sparking months of protest in the school District. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Facing a $30 million two-year budget shortfall, MUSD board members voted to cut jobs, sparking months of protest in the school District. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The audit notes that lax oversight of millions of dollars in bond revenue made the funds rife for abuse. It questions whether some of the bond funding was inappropriately spent on salaries, and noted that insufficient documentation was available to justify some expenditures.

The audit goes on to recommend that within 90 days, the MUSD take corrective actions on how it hires and spends. They call for the superintendent of the County Office of Education to direct the MUSD to submit a correct action plan, develop a workforce hiring plan, and to implement other recommendations contained in the report, including “revising its financial stabilization plan and to make necessary cuts to fund its ongoing commitments.”

Responding to audit, MUSD board members issued a statement thanking the state for its review.

While they acknowledged some of the discrepancies and poor financial practices identified in the audit, the board’s statement primarily emphasizes that the audit did not find fraud or corruption to be the blame for MUSD’s financial crisis.

“The fact that the audit did not find any major instances of fraud, abuse or corruption at the District should provide our students, parents and employees with an assurance regarding the status of the District,” said MUSD Board President Lani Cupchoy. “We also believe the audit, coupled with the previous efforts undertaken by the District over the past year will result in improved governance and an even stronger, more responsive and transparent District.”

In the statement, Cupchoy and the other board members took credit for the audit, saying it was they who had asked state lawmakers to ask the state’s chief auditor to conduct the financial review.

They said the District is already working on implementing many of the recommendation made by state auditors.

 

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.”

 

 

 

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