MUSD Union Negotiations At Impasse

April 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Sporting navy blue shirts and wearing “Union Strong” buttons, over 150 teachers, counselors, nurses and other certified personnel of the Montebello Unified School District took to the streets last week to protest what amounts to a short-term, one-time pay bump proposed by the District during union negotiations.

“The district knows there’s money, they just don’t want to spend it,” said Lorraine Richards president of the Montebello Teachers Association, angry that the District has refused to raise employee pay long-term.

“The S-word is going around, we hope it doesn’t get to that point,” added David Navar, MTA’s bargaining chairperson.

Lea este artículo en Español: Negociaciones del Sindicato de MUSD Están Estancadas

Despite a light drizzle in the air, members of MTA – which represents 1,400 certified district employees – rallied at Montebello Park before marching the three blocks to Montebello Unified headquarters where the April 7 school board meeting was about to take place.

“The district can’t say they are putting students first if they are putting teachers last,” Richards told EGP.

For the first time in over two decades, District officials and MTA have been unable to reach a contract agreement. A state mediator has been called in to try to break the impasse, with the first meeting scheduled to take place yesterday. There was no word on the negotiations as of EGP’s press time Wednesday.

At issue is Montebello Unified’s offer to raise employee pay 2.3 percent retroactive to the start of the current school year. The union balked at the offer and instead wants an ongoing, 8.1 percent pay increase to their salary. Montebello Unified can afford the pay hike, say union representatives.

Although enrollment is on the decline, Montebello Unified is expected to receive more revenue due the state’s adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula, which gives more money to school districts with large numbers of English learners, foster youth and low-income students to try to narrow the achievement gap among these students.

Over 150 members of the Montebello Teachers Association rallied last week to protest a one-time raise. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Over 150 members of the Montebello Teachers Association rallied last week to protest a one-time raise. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Union employees received a 5 percent pay hike in 2013-2014 followed by an additional 4.5 percent hike in 2014-2015. Under the District’s latest offer, teachers and other certified personnel would receive a one-time check to cover the proposed 2.3 percent hike for this year, but stay at the current pre-supplement level next year, Richards explained. “Without an ongoing raise that money isn’t going to be there next year,” she added.

Saying educators are the “heart” of MUSD’s mission to prepare students to be successful leaders, Superintendent Susan Contreras-Smith told EGP the District is committed to resolving the current impasse in negotiations.

“We are confidant a conclusion that supports the best interest of our students and the overall well-being of our district short-term and long-term,” Contreras-Smith said.

Many MUSD employees believe, however, that district officials are too busy campaigning for a $300 million dollar bond measure on the June 7 ballot and not focusing on taking care of staff. If approved, bond money would be used to upgrade classrooms and address infrastructure needs.

During the school board meeting, speakers demanded the District reach an agreement with the union or suffer the consequences.

“It was us, the teachers, who made the phone calls to get parents to vote for the previous bond,” Douglas Patzkowski reminded the board.

“If you want us to use our time to get votes for bonds we need to have a bond to you,” he warned board members.

Speaker after speaker reminded the board of the added burden new instruction methods, such as Common Core, is putting on teachers, who are being required to create the curriculum themselves. They reminded the board that teachers take money out of their own pockets to pay for books, holiday decorations for the classroom, and even training materials and photocopies.

“Don’t forget we do the work that makes you look good,” Margie Granado said.

Disrespect to the teachers is equivalent to disrespect to her child, said one parent.

“They take care of our children” when we’re not there, said Tiffany Sanchez. “So when it’s time to vote, we’ll remember this.”

David Navar, bargaining chairperson for the Montebello Teachers Association, confronted the MUSD board over salary negotiations during the April 7 meeting. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

David Navar, bargaining chairperson for the Montebello Teachers Association, confronted the MUSD board over salary negotiations during the April 7 meeting. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Following meeting protocols, district officials did not directly respond to comments made by speakers or on the terms of ongoing negotiations, but instead asked speakers to be patient through the mediation process.

“This board feels very confident we are going to come up with a favorable solution,” MUSD President Ben Cardenas assured. “We understand there’s a lot of passion and we’re willing to listen, we’re just asking you to be patient.”

Hector Chacon, the longest sitting member on the school board, said he hopes a consensus is reached for the benefit of the children.

“Hopefully we reach a fair and reasonable settlement for all parties so we can move to the business of why we are here,” Chacon said.

Their assurances, however, did little to calm tensions among teachers who say they were understanding during troubling economic times, but no more.

“When there were budget cuts we took cuts,” said Alicia Ramos, a teacher at La Merced.

“Now the district has funding [but] it’s not being used to compensate the people who work directly involved with students,” she complained.

The District had no trouble giving long-term pay raises to its superintendents, MTA members reminded the board.

“Is your mortgage a one-time payment? Do you have one-time bills,” asked Granados, turning to the MTA members in the room. “If an ongoing raise is good enough for the highest paid employees, it’s good enough for us.”


Twitter @nancyreporting

Negociaciones del Sindicato de MUSD Están Estancadas

April 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Vistiendo camisas color azul marino y botones que decían “Unión fuerte”, más de 150 maestros, consejeros, enfermeras y otro miembros de personal certificados del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello salieron a las calles la semana pasada para protestar el incremento a corto plazo de una sola vez, propuesto por el distrito durante las negociaciones con el sindicato.

“El distrito sabe que hay dinero, simplemente no quieren gastarlo”, dijo la presidente de la Asociación de Maestros de Montebello (MTA por sus siglas en inglés), Lorena Richards molesta por que el Distrito se ha negado a incrementar el pago de los empleados a largo plazo.

Read this article in English: MUSD Union Negotiations At Impasse

“La letra S [de strike, huelga] se esta mencionando, esperamos que no llegue a ese punto”, agregó David Navar, presidente de negociación de la MTA.

Pese a que había una ligera llovizna ese día, los miembros de la MTA—que representa a 1.400 empleados certificados del distrito—se reunieron en el parque Montebello para marchar tres cuadras hacia la sede del Distrito Unificado de Montebello para la reunión de la junta escolar del 7 abril que estaba a punto de comenzar.

“El distrito no puede decir que está poniendo en primer lugar a los estudiantes si está poniendo a los maestros al final”, Richards le dijo a EGP.

Por primera vez en más de dos décadas, los funcionarios del distrito y el MTA no han podido llegar a un acuerdo de contrato. Un mediador estatal ha sido llamado para tratar de romper el punto muerto, con la primera reunión prevista para ayer.

No hubo información sobre la actualización de las negociaciones para la hora del cierre de EGP el miércoles.

El problema es la oferta del distrito de Montebello para elevar el salario de los empleados 2.3 por ciento retroactivo al inicio del año escolar en curso. El sindicato se resistió a la oferta y en su lugar quiere un 8.1 por ciento de aumento salarial en curso de su salario. El distrito de Montebello puede pagar el aumento salarial, dicen los representantes del sindicato.

Más de 150 miembros de la Asociación de Maestros de Montebello se reunieron la semana pasada para protestar el incremento salarial propuesto. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Más de 150 miembros de la Asociación de Maestros de Montebello se reunieron la semana pasada para protestar el incremento salarial propuesto. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

A pesar de que la inscripción está en declive, el distrito de Montebello espera recibir más ingresos por la adopción estatal de la Fórmula de Control Local de Fondos, la cual da más dinero a los distritos escolares con mayor número de estudiantes aprendices de inglés, jóvenes en hogares de crianza y de bajos ingresos para tratar de reducir la brecha en el rendimiento entre estos estudiantes.

Los empleados del sindicato recibieron un aumento salarial del 5 por ciento en 2013-2014, seguido por un alza de un 4,5 por ciento adicional en 2014-2015. Bajo la última oferta del distrito, maestros y otro personal certificado recibirían un cheque de una sola vez para cubrir la propuesta del alza del 2,3 por ciento para este año, pero se mantendrá al nivel actual pre-suplementado para el próximo año, explicó Richards. “Sin un aumento en curso ese dinero no va a estar aquí el próximo año”, añadió.

Diciendo que los educadores son el “corazón” de la misión de MUSD para preparar a los estudiantes para ser líderes exitosos, la superintendente Susan Contreras-Smith le dijo a EGP que el distrito se compromete a resolver la actual situación estancada en las negociaciones.

“Estamos confiando en una conclusión que apoye el mejor interés de nuestros estudiantes y el bienestar general de nuestro distrito a corto plazo y a largo plazo”, dijo Contreras-Smith.

Sin embargo, muchos empleados de MUSD creen que las autoridades del distrito están demasiado ocupadas en campaña por una medida de bonos de $300 millones en las elecciones de junio 7 y no se centran en el cuidado de personal. Si se aprueba el dinero del bono se utilizaría para mejorar las aulas y las necesidades de infraestructura de direcciones.

Durante la reunión de la junta escolar, los oradores exigieron que el distrito llegue a un acuerdo con el sindicato o sufra las consecuencias.

“Fuimos nosotros, los maestros, quienes llamamos a los padres para votar por el bono anterior”, Douglas Patzkowski le recordó a la junta.

“Si ustedes quieren que usemos nuestro tiempo para conseguir votos para los bonos necesitamos tener un enlace con ustedes”, advirtió a los miembros de la junta.

Orador tras orador recordó a la junta la carga que conllevan los nuevos métodos de instrucción, como Common Core, para los maestros, quienes están siendo requeridos a crear el plan de estudios. Se le recordó a la junta que los maestros toman dinero de sus propios bolsillos para pagar los libros, decoraciones de días festivos para sus salones, e incluso los materiales de entrenamiento y fotocopias.

“No olvidemos que hacemos el trabajo que los hace ver bien”, dijo Margie Granado.

La falta de respeto a los maestros es equivalente a la falta de respeto a nuestros hijos, dijo uno de los padres.

“Ellos se encargan de nuestros hijos” cuando no estamos ahí, dijo Tiffany Sánchez. “Así que cuando se llegue el momento de votar, vamos a recordar esto”.

Siguiendo los protocolos de reuniones, los funcionarios del distrito no respondieron directamente a los comentarios hechos por los asistentes o en los términos de las negociaciones en curso, pero en su lugar pidieron a los oradores que sean pacientes durante el proceso de mediación.

“Esta junta se siente muy segura de que vamos a llegar a una solución favorable”, aseguró el presidente de MUSD Ben Cárdenas. “Entendemos que hay mucha pasión y estamos dispuestos a escuchar, sólo estamos pidiendo que sean pacientes”.

Héctor Chacón, el miembro más antiguo del consejo escolar, dijo que espera que se alcance un consenso en beneficio de los niños.

“Esperamos llegar a un acuerdo justo y razonable para todas las partes para que podamos seguir con el negocio de por qué estamos aquí”, dijo Chacón.

Sus garantías, sin embargo, hicieron poco para calmar las tensiones entre los maestros que dicen habían sido comprensivos durante tiempos económicos preocupantes, pero no más.

“Cuando hubo recortes presupuestarios tomamos recortes”, dijo Alicia Ramos, maestra en La Merced. “Ahora, el distrito cuenta con financiación [pero] no está siendo utilizada para compensar a las personas que trabajan directamente con los estudiantes”, se quejó.

El distrito no tuvo problemas para dar un incremento de salario de largo plazo a sus superintendentes, los miembros de la MTA le recordaron a la junta.

“¿Es su hipoteca un pago de una sola vez? ¿Tienen facturas de una sola vez”, preguntó Granados, dirigiéndose a los miembros de la MTA en la sala. “Si un aumento continuo es lo suficientemente bueno para los empleados mejor pagados, entonces es lo suficientemente bueno para nosotros”.


Twitter @nancyreporting

Montebello Partners with MUSD to Sell Bus Passes

April 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Hoping to increase revenue and address declining ridership on the Montebello Bus Lines, the city of Montebello has launched a six-month pilot program aimed at getting students from the Montebello Unified School District on board.

Montebello has agreed to allow Parent Teacher Association (PTA) groups at five Montebello Unified high schools to sell its $30 monthly student bus passes on campus and to keep $5 from every pass sold.

Until recently the Montebello Bus Lines sold a very limited number of student bus passes, less than 100 annually, Montebello’s Interim Director of Transportation Tom Barrio told EGP.

“We believe that perhaps there has been a lack of awareness of the student bus pass program and its benefits, such as the ability to ride MBL any time using the pass and not just for going to and from school,” Barrio told EGP.

Over the last several years bus ridership has declined by 10 percent. The decline has not only produced a revenue shortfall for the city-subsidized enterprise, but has potentially impacted the amount the city receives from state and federal transit subsidies, according to a city staff report.


“The decrease in MBL ridership is part of a larger trend of bus ridership in LA County and the state generally,” explained Barrio. “Decreases in population and aging of transit riders transitioning from full time employment into retirement are all factors.”

PTAs began selling the passes this week at the Applied Technology Center, Bell Gardens, Montebello, Schurr and Vail High Schools. The PTA will be in charge of marketing and staffing the program.

Of the 7,500 students at the five MUSD high schools located in Montebello and Bell Gardens, less than 1,500 are bused daily to their school on district-provided transportation, according to the staff report.

If at least 500 monthly student passes are sold during the 10 month school calendar, the Montebello Bus Lines could see the number of annual bus trips go up by 375,000 and receive $375,000 in added revenue.

This is the first time the city has initiated an integrated marketing plan to increase student riders, Barrio told EGP.

“This is a win-win for the city of Montebello, MBL and the parents whose children are students attending Montebello high schools,” he said.

Montebello Bus Lines run out of Montebello reaching Downtown Los Angeles, South Gate, Alhambra and La Mirada.

Gateway Cities Want ‘Much Needed’ Light Rail

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Even though there is no station in Bell Gardens currently proposed for a light rail project that would connect riders from Downtown Los Angeles to Artesia, Mayor Pro Tem Pedro Aceituno recognizes the impact access to regional transit would have for a community that has far too long been isolated from the rest of the county.

His words came last week during a legislative briefing in Paramount where elected officials from across the southeast region pushed for funding a light rail project proposed by Eco-Rapid Transit, a joint powers authority made up of twelve cities and the Bob Hope Airport Authority.

“It is going to open doors,” Aceituno noted, pointing out the economic opportunities for his constituents. “This gives folks an opportunity to apply for jobs further away,” that otherwise they could not reach, he said.
Eco-Rapid’s rail system would run from Union Station to Artesia with stops in Vernon, Huntington Park, Bell, South Gate, Downey, Paramount and Bellflower.

“The current [transit] system has for far too long avoided the southeast,” said Assembly Speaker-Elect Anthony Rendon, whose 63rd district includes many southeast cities.

“The region is desperately in need of a rail service,” Rendon urged.

The communities along the proposed rail route are some of the densest areas in the region and would benefit greatly from the rail line being built, said representatives from the area one after the other.

Edgar Cisneros, who serves as a board member for the Montebello Unified School Board and as city manager for the city of Huntington Park, told EGP even the cities without a station within its borders would benefit. MUSD has schools in the cities of Bell Gardens, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Montebello, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera.

“Many kids aren’t walking to school, they have to rely on school buses,” he said. Regional transit is a “convenient and cheap way that allow parents to ride with their children.”

The southeast has not seen any new transit projects since 1995 when the Green Line opened. After decades on the shelf, Sen. Tony Mendoza said it’s time to make the rail project a reality.

“For many, the bus is the only means of transportation and this project will help families travel to the rest of the county,” Mendoza told EGP.

The proposed rail project would run from Union Station to the city of Artesia. (Eco Rapid Transit)

The proposed rail project would run from Union Station to the city of Artesia. (Eco Rapid Transit)

A recent Metro study found the proposed project would connect 4 million residents to regional transportation and have an estimated daily ridership of up to 80,000 people – more than any current or proposed light rail line in the Los Angeles area. If built, the Eco-Rapid rail project could create thousands of jobs for a region where the unemployment rate is a high as 16 percent in some areas, supporters said.

“The project will create economic development opportunities in and around each station,” Mendoza emphasized.
Diane Dubois, Director of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and councilwoman for the city of Lakewood, however, noted that finding funding could be a problem. With a price tag of $4 billion, it will take a lot more than the $240 million the agency has secured in Measure R funds.

Extending the voter-approved Measure R half-cent sales tax and new sales taxes is key to funding the project, said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. Gov. Brown recently approved a bill allowing Metro to ask voters for a tax increase, which could generate as much as a $120 billion.

On Thursday Metro approved $18 million of Measure R funding for the pre-development and planning of the light rail line.

“This investment of resources brings us closer to ensuring that the necessary funds are available to develop and build the light rail to completion,” Mendoza said in statement.

Mass transit projects ease the number of cars on the road, reducing the amount of road maintenance required over the years, pointed out Sen. James T. Bell, who serves as chair of the California State Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing. He told local elected officials to consider what the direct impact would be to each of the municipality’s general fund.

The longer Los Angeles County residents wait to address mass transit projects, the higher the cost will be, Bell said. “If we don’t act it doesn’t keep things the same, it makes it worse,” he said.

Mendoza asked the city leaders to begin educating their constituents on the need to pass a transit tax.
Using the Gold Line Extension as an example, Rendon described how the rail system helped connect eastside communities along the route to downtown.

As proposed, the southeast rail project would use the abandoned West Santa Ana Branch right-of-way. The goal is to complete the project by 2027, with subsequent links to Santa Clarita and possibly the High Speed Rail lines in Norwalk.

“This project will dramatically change mobility for an area that has waited for decades,” said Dubois.

Update: Feb. 26 11:40 a.m. included new funding approved by Metro; statement from Sen. Tony Mendoza.

El Distrito de Montebello da la Bienvenida a la Nueva Junta de Educación

December 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Con un nuevo rostro detrás de la tarima, la Junta de Educación del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello comenzó a prepararse para un nuevo año.

Funcionarios electos, familiares, maestros, padres y estudiantes llenaron la sala de juntas el pasado jueves durante una reunión especial que dio la bienvenida a la recién llegada Joanna Flores—una residente de Commerce y profesora en East Los Angeles College—y reconocieron el trabajo del saliente miembro de la junta David Vela por sus ocho años de servicio.

Read this article in English: Montebello Unified Welcomes New Board, New year

Flores y el titular Edgar Cisneros recibieron el mayor número de votos para ocupar dos asientos que estaban en elección el 3 de noviembre, expulsando a Vela por un asiento que ocupó durante dos mandatos.

“Joanna [Flores] es más que otra mujer para diversificar la junta, ella trae la pasión y la intensidad de ser la primera de sus hermanos en graduarse de la universidad”, dijo la asambleísta Cristina García antes de administrar el juramento del cargo.

Flores dijo que había prometido regresar a la comunidad que había invertido en ella con la esperanza de mejorar el sistema de educación pública.

“Otros son lentos para dar crédito a nuestros estudiantes en las escuelas públicas, pero rápidos para criticar”, dijo.

“Así que ahora comienza el trabajo duro”, agregó.

Tras una ovación de pie de Flores y un canto rápido de “Si Se Pudo” de la multitud, la miembro de la Junta Lani Cupchoy elogió el “momento feminista” de tener otra mujer sirviendo en la junta.

“A medida que un alto porcentaje de la mujer busca la educación superior estamos viendo más jóvenes buscando posiciones de liderazgo”, dijo emocionada la Superintendente de MUSD Susana Contreras-Smith.

“Ella se ganó su asiento”, intervino Cisneros. “Si ella trabaja la mitad de lo duro que trabajó en su campaña los estudiantes se beneficiarán enormemente”, dijo.

(Izq. a der.) Miembros de la Junta del Distrito Unificado de Montebello Edgar Cisneros, Joanna Flores, Ben Cárdenas, Lani Cupchoy y Héctor Chacón tuvieron una reunión especial el 10 de diciembre. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

(Izq. a der.) Miembros de la Junta del Distrito Unificado de Montebello Edgar Cisneros, Joanna Flores, Ben Cárdenas, Lani Cupchoy y Héctor Chacón tuvieron una reunión especial el 10 de diciembre. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Durante la reunión, el miembro de la Junta Ben Cárdenas fue elegido presidente como parte de la reorganización anual de la junta. Cupchoy fue nombrada vicepresidente y Héctor Chacón como secretario.

En los últimos dos años, el distrito—que cubre Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello y partes del este de Los Ángeles, Monterey Park y Pico Rivera—tuvo la tarea de aplicar las normas básicas comunes, reelaborando su presupuesto para abarcar los objetivos de la financiación de la Formula de Control Local y el apoyo a los 10 caminos de carrera en todo el distrito.

“Hemos tenido un año de visión compartida, respeto mutuo y el sacrificio compartido”, reflexionó Cárdenas, antes de pasar a su agenda para el próximo año.

“Mi objetivo como presidente será la solvencia fiscal, tenemos que buscar la eficiencia”.

Cárdenas dijo que iba a prestar atención en particular a la educación especial, dentro de 60 días armará un grupo de trabajo especial para ayudar a identificar cualquier déficit en el programa.

Los $600 millones en mejoras de capital que el distrito necesita es una de las mayores preocupaciones, dijo Cárdenas.

“Tendremos que preguntarnos si tenemos que poner un enlace en la boleta electoral para proporcionar a nuestros hijos con un ambiente de aprendizaje del siglo 21”, enfatizó.

Contreras-Smith hizo eco de los comentarios de Cárdenas; diciendo que entre los desafíos que enfrenta el distrito es su capacidad para llevar la tecnología del siglo 21 a los estudiantes para que estén preparados para la universidad.

“Los resultados impulsados, es la visión joven del distrito que da una perspectiva refrescante”, Contreras-Smith le dijo a EGP, en referencia a la edad colectivamente más joven de la junta.

Cisneros, el saliente presidente de la junta, fue reconocido por sus esfuerzos para dar más atención a la parte sur del distrito.

“Desde hace algún tiempo, Bell Gardens se sentía como el hijastro del distrito pero eso cambió”, dijo la alcaldesa de Bell Gardens Jennifer Rodríguez.

La reunión también incluyó un saludo al miembro saliente de la junta Vela, quien fue honrado con varias proclamas, premios y reconocimientos.

“David ha sido un modelo para otros líderes, sobre todo jóvenes latinos”, dijo el asesor del Condado de Los Ángeles Jeffrey Prang.

Orador tras orador destacó el trabajo de Vela contra el bullying, el cabildeo para los fondos del distrito y su papel implementando en el distrito el modelo de escuela vía el currículo.

“Sé que puso su corazón y alma en estos niños”, dijo José Martínez, en nombre de la supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles Hilda Solís.

“El próximo funcionario para asumir ese papel tiene unos zapatos muy grandes que llenar”.

Desde los alcaldes a los presidentes de la PTA, todos reconocieron que esta no fue la última vez que esperan ver a Vela en los cargos públicos, y agregaron que esperan el siguiente paso en su carrera.

“Una vez que se es un líder, siempre será un líder”, dijo Chacón, el miembro con más tiempo en la Junta Escolar. “El distrito de Montebello siempre será su casa”.


Twitter @nancyreporting

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.

Most MUSD Students Fail to Meet New State Standards

September 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s only been a few weeks since students in the Montebello Unified School District returned to school, but standardized test results released last week show more than three quarters of them did not make the grade and are already falling behind.

According to the results from the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, (CASPP), fewer than 20 percent of MUSD students tested met the state standard for mathematics and less than a quarter met the standard for English Language and Literacy.

MUSD Deputy Superintendent Art Revueltas told EGP he believes students at the district are doing better academically than the test shows.

“This is the first administered test so there is a learning curve,” Revueltas said. He did acknowledge, however,  “We have our work cut out for us.”

The computerized test was administered to 3.2 million students statewide last spring to assess how well the Common Core curriculum has been implemented. Only students in grades three through eight and eleven were required to take the test.

Nearly 17,400 MUSD students took the new test, which replaced the previous Standardized Testing and Reporting program known as STAR. The results will serve as a starting point for each school district.

“All high schools and intermediate schools performed about the same, the big difference we saw was in the elementary schools,” said Revueltas, citing the district’s large number of English Language Learners for the lower English language scores.

“Bottom line the test is in English,” and getting students in the elementary grades to dominate the English language has to be a priority, he said.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the new standards and test are challenging for schools to teach and for students to learn. Only nineteen percent of the students tested statewide met the math standard and only 28 percent met the standard for English.

Overall, only 13 percent of MUSD students tested met the state’s standard for math; 4 percent exceeded the standard and only 28 percent met the standard for English Language and Literacy while 6 percent exceeded the standard.

Even more alarming, close to half of all students tested, 43 percent, did not even come close to meeting English standards.

Unlike previous tests, education experts say the CASPP is supposed to test what a student has actually learned in the classroom and not just their test taking skills. It is intended to test a student’s critical thinking skills and how they apply what they’ve learned.

The test results showed MUSD students had trouble applying mathematical concepts and procedures, with more than 60% falling below the standard. In contrast, almost 50 percent of students were at or near the math standard that involved demonstrating ability to support mathematical conclusions.

Most students also struggled with demonstrating an understanding of literary and non-fiction texts and producing clear and purposeful writing. More students were close to meeting the standard or even exceeded in testing portions that covered investing, analyzing and presenting information and demonstrating effective communication skills.

“You can’t study or cram for this test,” acknowledged Revueltas when asked why MUSD students did so poorly in comparison to past testing measures.

“Our number one objective is to teach the new common core standard,” he said, recognizing the challenges ahead for the school district.

The common core state standards were developed in consultation with teachers and parents across the country and established what students need to learn but not how a teacher should teach. The focus is to teach critical thinking and problem-solving emphasizing the need to reason out the best answer during a test not memorize the correct response. It was implemented in the district two years ago.

“We can’t compare this test to the old test,” Revueltas told EGP. “This is our baseline, by next year you will see growth,” he assured.

When compared to their neighbors to the west, MUSD again came close but still performed worse than the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In the LAUSD, 16 percent of students met the mathematics standard and 23 percent met the state standard for English.

Of the grades tested at MUSD, a higher percentage of students in the eleventh grade met the English standards compared to students at elementary and intermediate schools. Only 14 percent of third and fourth graders met the English standards compared to 34 percent of 11 graders who did.

Third graders, however, performed higher on the math portion of the assessment than other grade levels.

Some critics of the new test were worried that tests scores would be affected by switching from pencil and paper to a digital exam, but Revueltas says he had an “Ah-Ha” moment when he visited classrooms during the testing.

‘There was no disconnect, the kids were engaged,” he said.

Starting in 2016, the new API formula will be calculated using the new test results. Sixty percent of the API score will be linked to the assessment while 40 percent will be based on graduation rates, a-g courses and other indicators of a student’s college and career readiness.

“We’re happy we started and got the first test out of the way,” said Revueltas. “This is our baseline and we now have our target.”


Information from City News Service was used in this report.

Reading In Two Languages Is Fun

September 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

During back to school night last week, students at La Merced and Winter Gardens Elementary schools received free bilingual books to promote reading in English and Spanish.

Read Conmigo, a nationally award winning literacy program donated the easy to read bilingual books to the two Montebello Unified School District schools.

“These books are powerful tools in the pursuit of bilingualism and are right in line with our goal to promote diversity and academic excellence in both English and Spanish,” said MUSD Board President Edgar Cisneros.

The two school sites are home to the district’s Dual Language Immersion Programs.

The giveaways are part of Read Conmigo’s mission to combat the “summer slide,” an academic loss children experience during summer break.

Parents at the event were also encouraged to register to receive a new book every four months. Some of the books students took home included “Matteo and His Abuelito/Matteo Y Su Abuelito,’ written by Manuel Martinez and Erika Perret-Martinez with illustrations by Salomon Duarte.

“These books expose students to literacy in both languages and promotes bilingualism and effective communication,” Erika Garcia, parent of a second-grader at La Merced, said.

“I like that both languages are in the same book because some students don’t know English, but can still read in Spanish,” added Kenneth Perez, a third grader.

Candidatos de MUSD Hablan Sobre Desempeño Académico de Estudiantes

September 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Estudiantes del Distrito Unificado de Montebello han regresado a la escuela y los candidatos para dos puestos en la Junta de Educación dicen que quieren asegurarse que los estudiantes esten en camino a ingresar a la universidad o con una carrera después de la graduación.

A través de los años, el distrito escolar predominantemente latino, ha hecho grandes avances en la mejora de la tasa de graduación, que de acuerdo con el Departamento de Educación de California se sitúa actualmente en el 94 por ciento.

Read this article in English: MUSD Candidates Take on Student Performance

“Es el más alto en años”, cuenta David Vela, miembro de la Junta quien está postulándose a la reelección.

Vela y el presidente de la Junta, Edgar Cisneros, se enfrentarán entre si y ante sus retadores Joanna Flores de Commerce y Nancy Hernández de Montebello en las elecciones del 3 de noviembre. La junta de MUSD supervisa diecisiete primarias, seis escuelas intermedias, cinco preparatorias y dos escuelas de continuación en Bell Gardens, Commerce,  Este de Los Ángeles, Montebello, Monterey Park y Pico Rivera.

El Distrito une sus números de graduación a su baja tasa de abandono del 1.4%: Ambos el condado y el estado tienen las tasas de abandono de más del 3%, mientras que cerca de tres veces más estudiantes abandonan el distrito vecino de MUSD al oeste, el Distrito Unificado de Los Angeles.

Pero Flores dice que las tasas de graduación no cuentan toda la historia. Ella dice que las mediciones académicas muestran que demasiados estudiantes todavía se están quedando atrás.

“Cuando comparamos el Distrito con otros en el estado nos quedamos cortos”, dijo la oponente para un asiento en la Junta.


Estudiantes del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello utilizan computadoras para tomar sus exámenes. (Archivo de EGP)

Estudiantes del Distrito Escolar Unificado de Montebello utilizan computadoras para tomar sus exámenes. (Archivo de EGP)

De acuerdo con datos del estado, sólo dos de 17 escuelas primarias de MUSD han alcanzado la meta estatal de 800 en el Índice de Rendimiento Académico API: Montebello Gardens y Potrero Heights. Macy Intermediate es la única escuela media para llegar a la meta, pero ninguna preparatoria ha alcanzado la puntuación de 800 en la evaluación orientada a medir el rendimiento y progreso académico de las escuelas públicas.

Mientras que los candidatos de la junta escolar pueden sacar resultados de exámenes pasados para incrementar su posición, el sub-superintendente Art Revueltas le dijo a EGP que los resultados de API son una cosa del pasado. El año pasado estudiantes fueron introducidos al Consorcio de Asesoramiento Balanceado Inteligente (SBAC). El nuevo examen es diferente a los anteriores de lápiz y papel, ahora los estudiantes toman un examen en computadora que incluye secciones de respuestas largas sin límite de tiempo; los estudiantes incluso están permitidos a tomar el examen por segunda vez.

“Es imperativo que no comparemos estos resultados con cualquier otra cosa”, dijo. “Vamos de naranjas a manzanas”.

Los resultados de SBAC aún no se han revelado, pero Revueltas dijo que espera que los estudiantes obtengan buenos resultados porque SBAC pondrá “a prueba lo que los maestros enseñan en el aula”.

Sin embargo, es difícil alejarse del uso de los datos de prueba en la evaluación de desempeño, Por ejemplo, de los 2,114 estudiantes que se graduaron el año pasado, sólo 583 se inscribieron en los cursos A-G requeridos para las admisiones de Cal State y la Universidad de California.

Vela dice que los miembros de la Junta están conscientes de la desigualdad y han adoptado iniciativas innovadoras para mejorar la situación, como por ejemplo las 10 vías curriculares ofrecidas en todo el Distrito.

A través de las vías, los estudiantes toman los rigurosos cursos A-G destinados a prepararlos para la universidad y una carrera, como ingeniería, artes culinarias, computación  o  salud.

Todavía no está claro cuántos de estos estudiantes llegan a algún tipo de universidad después de la graduación.

Flores, profesora en el Colegio del Este Los Ángeles, cree que la participación de los padres es clave para el éxito del estudiante. Ella quiere que el distrito escolar este más comprometido con los padres y les dé un papel de liderazgo para lograr que los estudiantes de MUSD estén preparados para la universidad.

“Como primera generación graduada de la universidad, sé lo difícil que es tratar de navegar a través del proceso de la universidad”, dijo Flores.

Vela está de acuerdo y dice que el Distrito ha iniciado programas para ayudar a los estudiantes a entrar a la universidad. Señala la colaboración de MUSD con la organización no lucrativa College Bound Today, que se ofrece en todas las preparatorias y empata a un número selecto de estudiantes con mentores para guiarlos a través del proceso de solicitud de la universidad. El año pasado, el 100 por ciento de los estudiantes en el programa se matriculó en la universidad, dijo Vela.

Según Revueltas, el 80 por ciento de los graduados de MUSD terminan una carrera de 2 o 4 años. Un 2 por ciento adicional se enlista en el ejército.

Los datos muestran que, incluso aquellos en la universidad tienen problemas. Durante el año académico 2013-2014, poco más de 1,500 de los más de 10,000 estudiantes de MUSD tomaron exámenes de nivel avanzado. Para la mayoría de las universidades se requiere una puntuación de 3 para recibir crédito por el curso de la universidad, pero muchas universidades sólo aceptan las puntuaciones de 4 y 5.

Ese año, sólo 363 estudiantes que tomaron el examen recibieron una puntuación de 4 y apenas 158 recibieron una puntuación de 5. El problema, sin embargo, no es exclusivo de MUSD: Alrededor del 15 por ciento de estudiantes de preparatoria de los grados 9 a 12 del LAUSD inscritos en cursos AP sólo obtienen una puntuación de 3 o menos, según el Departamento de Educación.

La desconexión se puede encontrar en la demografía socioeconómica del alumnado, de acuerdo con Flores. De los 29,000 alumnos matriculados en el Distrito, casi el 96 por ciento son latinos y casi el 87 por ciento califican para comidas gratis o a precio reducido, debido a los bajos ingresos familiares.

Para Cisneros, la tecnología puede ser un gran ecualizador. Dijo que MUSD está haciendo que los estudiantes sean más competitivos mediante la mejora de su acceso a la tecnología y la modernización de la infraestructura.

“Yo quiero que tengan acceso a la tecnología que se va a utilizar en el mundo real”, dijo.

“Quiero ver clubes de computadoras, robótica y tecnología en cada escuela”, dijo con entusiasmo.

Los costos, sin embargo, a menudo pueden ser un obstáculo para la velocidad y la calidad de la ejecución de esos programas.

Asegurarse que las escuelas están cumpliendo con las normas fundamentales comunes, requerir a los distritos que estén tecnológicamente listos ha sido un reto incluso para los vecinos al oeste de MUSD, señala Vela.

El último Plan de Responsabilidad de Control Local (LCAP), que distribuye fondos adicionales para las escuelas con gran número de estudiantes de bajos ingresos, los estudiantes aprendices de inglés (EL) y los niños de crianza será de vital importancia en la aplicación de la tecnología en las aulas, dijo Vela. La fórmula de financiación revisada tiene como objetivo reducir la brecha de logros en las escuelas de más pobre rendimiento.

Alrededor de un tercio de los estudiantes de MUSD son estudiantes aprendices de inglés, un número mayor que en el LAUSD.

En el distrito escolar de Montebello, cerca del 98 por ciento de los estudiantes aprendices de inglés hablan español. Otras lenguas incluyen cantonés, armenio, vietnamita, mandarín y una docena más. El año pasado, el 9 por ciento de los estudiantes aprendices de inglés fueron reclasificados como Dominantes Fluidos del Inglés, la mayoría de ellos para el tercer grado, dijo Revueltas.

Revueltas señala sin embargo que el número de estudiantes aprendices de inglés está disminuyendo debido a un menor número de inmigrantes que se están mudando al Distrito.

Mantener financiación LCAP dependerá de la asistencia, algo que mejoró el año pasado, pero sigue siendo un reto para el tercer distrito escolar más grande del condado de Los Ángeles, reconoció Cisneros.

Revueltas dijo que la disponibilidad de fondos LCAP permite tener clases con tamaños más pequeños en las escuelas primarias, guarderías de día completo y mejorar el acceso a la tecnología en todo el distrito.

“Cada año el reto es algo diferente, pero la prioridad es siempre el rendimiento estudiantil”, dijo Revueltas.

Con la elección de la Junta Escolar a sólo dos meses de distancia, titulares y aspirantes deben comenzar los detalles de sus planes para lograr ese objetivo.

Nancy Hernández no respondió a la petición de EGP para hacer comentarios.


Twitter @nancyreporting

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