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.

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