Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DA's office raids South Bay politicos

Bonnie Dumanis seems to have a strange focus for her public integrity unit. It seems to target Democratic Chula Vistans almost entirely. San Diego is a big county, Bonnie. Are you influenced by your boss, Greg Cox, whose wife is the Republican mayor of Chula Vista? This article suggests that Republicans on the Sweetwater Union School District board might also have put pressure. It is interesting that the home of Jesus Gandara was not searched. They wouldn't leave him out, it would seem, unless he were providing information voluntarily.

DA's office raids South Bay politicos
Warrants served on six former and current officials and one contractor
By Wendy Fry, Jeff McDonald and Ashly McGlone
Dec. 20, 2011

Months of investigation into potential corruption at Sweetwater schools and Southwestern College prompted the District Attorney’s Office to execute search warrants Tuesday at the homes of six sitting and past officials.

Also searched was the holiday-decorated home of Henry Amigable, a construction contractor who has worked for both districts.

The searches began early and went on throughout the day at residences from Bonita to Escondido. Investigators spent hours at each site, carting away computers and boxes of documents and declining to comment on the unfolding criminal case. No one was arrested.

One of the first places to be searched was the National City home of Sweetwater Union High School District board member Pearl Quiñones, with agents arriving at the East Sixth Street residence as early as 8:30 a.m.

Quiñones sat on the living-room sofa flanked by two agents as investigators boxed up evidence and carried it out to waiting vehicles. She declined to comment through an investigator.

Later in the day, investigators executed search warrants at the homes of Sweetwater trustees Arlie Ricasa and Bertha Lopez.

“The district attorney is doing their job and I don’t have anything to hide,” Lopez said. “That is the bottom line.”

Five District Attorney’s Office staffers entered Ricasa’s home on Sunny Crest Lane in Bonita even though she was not home at the time. Ricasa arrived at about 1:40 p.m. She said she didn’t know why investigators were there or what they might be seeking.

Absent from the list of those whose homes were searched was Jesus Gandara, the former Sweetwater superintendent who was fired by the board in June amid a series of stories by The Watchdog. Several focused on the district’s interactions with contractors.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to discuss details of the searches, beyond confirming for the first time that it was conducting a criminal probe.

“We can’t comment on a pending investigation,” spokesman Steve Walker said. “I really can’t go any further than that.”

Search warrants typically are signed by a judge only after investigators sign affidavits laying out their case for why they should be permitted inside the home of a suspect or witness.

The affidavits relied on by the District Attorney’s Office were sealed by the court for 10 days. Typically, they would be available for public scrutiny sometime next week.

Those targeted for raids share a web of connections, tied to construction bond measures approved by voters within the two districts.

Amigable works for Echo Pacific Construction, which has won contracts with Southwestern and Sweetwater. He did not return messages left at his home and on his cellphone.

Amigable previously worked as a senior executive at Gilbane Building Co. at the time it won construction-management work for Proposition O, the $644 million bond measure Sweetwater voters passed in 2006.

Echo Pacific was given a $4 million Southwestern contract three weeks after it went on a Napa Valley wine weekend with college officials — a getaway won at auction for $15,000, benefiting a scholarship fund. Amigable went on the trip, which was the subject of a Watchdog story last year. Nicholas Alioto, then Southwestern’s vice president for business and financial affairs, also went.

Alioto’s home was searched Tuesday. He could not be reached for comment but said at the time of the previous story that it was normal for contractors to bid in fundraisers for prizes that bring time with key decision-makers.

Amigable prepared a fundraising dinner prize paid for by an architectural firm — sushi with former Southwestern President Raj Chopra.

Authorities also searched the home of former Southwestern director of business affairs John Wilson.

Two of the officials whose homes were searched have ties to both institutions. Ricasa is a Sweetwater board member and serves as Southwestern’s director of student development and health services. Former Sweetwater board member Greg Sandoval is also former vice president of student affairs at Southwestern.

Contacted by telephone early Tuesday afternoon, Sandoval said he knew nothing about being the subject of a raid and added that he had rented out his home in Escondido and had moved to Moreno Valley.

An hour later, he answered the front door at the Escondido home on West El Norte Parkway and declined to discuss the search that had just concluded on the premises.

“No comment,” he said, before shutting the door and drawing the blinds.

Weeks ago, prosecutors executed a search warrant at the Pasadena offices of SGI Construction Management, the firm paid tens of millions of dollars to supervise Sweetwater’s Proposition O projects.

Jaime Ortiz, the SGI bond manager, confirmed the visit by investigators but said he was informed his company is not a target.

Superintendent Ed Brand, who replaced Gandara on a temporary basis in June and was installed permanently by the board last week, did not return calls.

Those whose homes were searched

By Jeff McDonald and Ashly McGlone
Dec. 20, 2011

Day-end total on South Bay raids: 7

Nicholas Alioto

Former Southwestern College vice president for business and financial affairs. Alioto, 46, resigned in February, after The Watchdog published reports about a trip he took in 2010 to Napa Valley with a developer. Three weeks after paying $15,000 to tour the wine country with Alioto and others, Echo Pacific Construction of Escondido won a $4 million contract with Southwestern College. Prior to his resignation, Alioto also was criticized for inviting several Southwestern College contractors to a wine-and-cheese fundraiser for board members.

Henry Amigable

A former senior vice president at Seville Construction Services of Pasadena, which won a $2.7-million contract from Southwestern College. Amigable, 47, attended the same Napa Valley event Alioto attended in 2010. According to his profile on the online networking site Linked In, Amigable left Seville in February, the same month that Alioto resigned from Southwestern College. The same website notes that Amigable now works at Echo Pacific Construction.

Bertha Lopez

A National City schoolteacher, Lopez served for 10 years on the Chula Vista Elementary School District before winning a seat on the Sweetwater board in 2008. She had been a consistent critic of Superintendent Jesus Gandara before he was fired, even though she dined with him at district expense 11 times, according to The Watchdog’s report in April. Lopez, 57, has historically ended up on the losing end of divided board votes. She is up for re-election next year.

Greg Sandoval

Served four terms on the Sweetwater Union High School District before deciding not to seek re-election in 2010. Sandoval, 57, formerly worked as a vice president for student affairs at Southwestern College and resigned after being accused of sexual harassment. The Watchdog reported earlier this year that Sandoval dined at taxpayer expense with Gandara 41 times over a three-year period.

Pearl Quiñones

Worked as a school dropout counselor before winning election in 2000 to the Sweetwater Union High School District board, where she was just elected president. Quinones, 59, was a key supporter of Gandara, and dined with the former superintendent at taxpayer expense at least 49 times in three years. She also was criticized in 2009 for attending too many conferences at district expense. She defended those expenditures as a good way to get educated about the duties of a public school-board member.

Arlie Ricasa

A graduate of Sweetwater schools, Ricasa now works as the director of student development and health services at Southwestern College. She was first elected to the Sweetwater board in 1998 and last year was re-elected, in part with the aid of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Proposition O contractors. Ricasa, 47, serves as chair of the board of directors of the MAAC Project nonprofit in Chula Vista. In January, The Watchdog reported that state auditors found MAAC leaders wrongly commingled federal stimulus funds. Ricasa dined with Gandara 92 times at taxpayer expense over the same three-year period.

John Wilson

Former director of business services at Southwestern College who has since worked as a consultant on bond projects. The U-T reported in 2008 that Wilson was dating college board Trustee Yolanda Salcido, and that Salcido voted on raises for Wilson and on construction contracts he recommended to the Southwestern governing board. Salcido’s campaign signs were in Quiñones’ garage when it was searched by investigators.

Bertha Lopez Received Money From Contractors and Law Firm Connection

This article is interesting for two reasons. First, it has intriguing information. Second, it suggests who may have put pressure on Bonnie Dumanis to conduct these raids.

Bertha Lopez Received Money From Contractors and Law Firm Connection
June 17, 2011
posted by Southern Exposure
San Diego Rostra

It’s interesting that Board Member Bertha Lopez keeps throwing stones at everyone else for taking money from contractors and the law firm for Sweetwater Union High School District. Most concerning, however, is her complete lack of forthrightness when it comes to her own campaign donations. Lopez attacks other board members for their donations, while continuing to say her votes are independent, but where is her openness about the campaign money she took from the very same contractors and contributor connected to the legal firm?

Just go to the county website and search under Lopez’s last name to check out her filings. You will find the following campaign contributions totaling almost $20,000:

Barnhart – $5,000
Design Acquisition Corp – $3,000
Marston & Martson – $3,000
CTE, Inc. (Thomas Gaeto) – $1,000
Rotech – $2,500
Consulting and Inspection Svcs – $1,000
Jose Mireles, Latino Builder – $500
Romero Leonor (HAR) – $250
Seville – $2,000
Laura Martinez – $1,000

The San Diego Reader recently published an article [see below] calling out Board members who took money from Laura Martinez (who apparently co-owns a house with Sweetwater Attorney Bonifacio Garcia), but the story fails to mention that Bertha Lopez also received $1,000 from Martinez. The Reader story seems to be in response to an interview with Lopez — did it not occur to the reporter when listening to complaints from Lopez that her contributions should be checked as well?

Also interesting is that Lopez received a $500 campaign contribution from Mark Watton, general manager of the Otay Water District, where husband Lopez sits on the board. What on earth could Mark Watton care about who gets elected to the board of SUHSD? He and his wife live nowhere near the district. Yet, Jose Lopez, Bertha’s husband, is Watton’s boss...

Sweetwater Union High School District Money Trail Gets Longer
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
June 7, 2011

In a recent interview, Bertha Lopez voiced a strong opinion about Sweetwater Union High School District attorney Bonifacio Garcia. Lopez, who has been a Sweetwater boardmember since 2008 and served as a Chula Vista boardmember for ten years before that, said she did not trust the advice offered by the attorney. Why not?

Garcia recently advised the board to hire attorney Greg Vega to do an independent review of district expenditures. According to Lopez, Garcia did not reveal that Vega had worked for the district. A Union-Tribune story also reported that Vega reviewed Garcia’s employment contract last July.

Garcia has been the district’s main attorney since l996. In 2006, the Union-Tribune wrote, “South County’s high school board has scrapped a $400-an-hour contract with its main attorneys in favor of a $320,400-a-year deal designed to rein in legal spending that topped $1.1 million in the year ending June 30.” Garcia, with the firm Burke, Williams and Sorensen, was the main attorney.

Garcia formed a new firm (Garcia, Calderon and Ruiz) and continued to work for Sweetwater. Changing names does not appear to equal reining in legal spending: Garcia’s current contract with the district is $84,334 a month, or a little over $1 million a year.

Citizens for Good Government in the South Bay was a political action committee that operated out of Garcia’s office until March, when it became inactive. Yuri Calderon, a member of Garcia's law firm, was the treasurer. Garcia gave generously to this committee, as did Laura Martinez, who co-owns a house with Garcia in Sierra Madre, California, according to documents.

According to records kept by the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, Jim Cartmill, a Sweetwater boardmember since l996, received $5000 from the Citizens for Good Government in South Bay in last November’s election. He also received $5000 from Laura Martinez. Arlie Ricasa, first elected in 1998 and re-elected last November, received $5000 from Laura Martinez. And newly elected John McCann received $900 from Laura Martinez.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chula Vista school’s turnaround turns head

How did CVESD do it? Maybe this story offers a clue, since there has been no real change in how the district approaches education.

Chula Vista school’s turnaround turns head
Elementary charter has gone from federal improvement list to distinguished status
November 23, 2011

A charter school in Chula Vista was performing so poorly on state assessments that it made the federal watch list for three years. Now it has staged a dramatic turnaround that is attracting international attention.

Today, the 822-student school has test scores among the highest in the Chula Vista Elementary School District and has been recognized as a California Distinguished School. The dual-language immersion campus has become a type of laboratory where professors from San Diego State University as well as educators from Mexico, England and Switzerland visit, hoping to discover the secret to its success.

Chula Vista Learning Community Charter, which was on the federal “program improvement” list until 2008, has raised its Academic Performance Index scores from 680 in 2005 to 880 in 2011, exceeding the state goal of 800. Every March, hundreds of parents converge on its parking lot to submit applications, with some camping overnight. Last spring, 320 applicants were turned away.

At this school, everyone has a role in the education of children.

Teachers are encouraged to be “teacher scholars” and are expected to keep up with research being done in the field of education. Parent involvement is a high priority, with parents required to volunteer 30 hours a year, including attending parent meetings where administrators offer tips for helping with homework and review lessons their children are being taught.

Students at the school take half their courses in English and half in Spanish each day, and also get weekly instruction in Mandarin, a third language added two years ago. About 95 percent of students at the K-8 school are Latino, with about 53 percent English-language learners and about half come from families poor enough they qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Parents say they like the school for the language immersion and rigorous instruction. Martha Garcia, whose 4-year-old daughter is in kindergarten, said she’s pleased so far. “She reads already in both languages,” Garcia said.

Those who cannot meet the time commitment are asked to leave. “We are a choice school. You choose to be here,” said school Director Jorge Ramirez.

The campus’ turnaround caught the eye of researchers at San Diego State University who were looking at schools that have had success in closing the achievement gap.

SDSU professor Cristina Alfaro is among a team of seven SDSU researchers with the College of Education with expertise in literacy, biliteracy, administration and child development who are studying every aspect of the school — from how its administrators lead staff to how teachers collaborate and develop curriculum to better target the backgrounds of their students.

Alfaro said teachers at the school work closely together, analyze test data to see where gaps exist and alter teaching plans to shore up weak areas.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

CVESD board member Bejarano linked to firm that tried to smuggle son of Gadhafi into Mexico

U-T: SD Firm Linked To Mexican Plot To Smuggle Gadhafi's Son
Veritas Worldwide Security Says Its Associates Were Only In Mexico To Collect Money
Wendy Fry, U-T
December 7, 2011

SAN DIEGO -- Mexican authorities on Wednesday said they thwarted an attempt to smuggle a son of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi into a resort near Puerto Vallarta, a conspiracy they say involves two associates of a San Diego-based security company.

The associates of Veritas Worldwide Security are being detained in Mexico, along with two others who have been arrested, after an investigation dubbed by authorities as "Operation Guest," according to Mexican authorities and an employee of the company.

Veritas specializes in clandestine operations, armed combat and provision of weapons, according to its website, and it lists Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano as its executive vice president for law enforcement training.

Bejarano, who is also a former San Diego police chief, said Wednesday he was a vice president with the company on paper only and has not had any contact with anyone from the company since January.

"I have no idea who is working for the company. I have not done any consulting for the company. I have not received any compensation from the company," Bejarano said. "I wasn't aware I was on their website. I just assumed that the company never got started and I never heard any more."

Saadi Gadhafi, 38, a former professional soccer player, is accused by the Libyan National Transitional Government of commanding Army Special Forces military units that brutally suppressed demonstrators during recent final uprisings against the regime. He is wanted by Interpol and is being held in Niger without extradition.

Four suspects in the smuggling attempt — including a Canadian woman named Cynthia Vanier identified as the mastermind — are under house arrest in Mexico.

Two people connected to Veritas were identified by Mexican authorities as members of the criminal network planning the operation — Gabriela Dávila Huerta and Pierre Christian Flensborg. The authorities said the two arranged air travel to destinations included Mexico, the U.S., Canada, Kosovo and several Middle Eastern countries.

"The large economic resources which this criminal organization has, or had, allowed them to contract private flights," Interior Minister Alejandro Poire said at a Wednesday morning news conference.

According to Gregory Gillispie, director of special operations for Veritas, Huerta and Pierre are his associates through another company, G&G Holdings, and had been sent to Mexico to collect money for air travel.

Gillispie said the payment was for travel to Tunisia for Vanier. Gillispie said he knew nothing about what passengers were up to.

"I brokered an airplane deal," he said. "That's all I did."

Further, he said, his associates were not able to collect their payment before being detained.

Michael Boffo, a training official for Veritas, said Wednesday he is worried about his two co-workers detained in Mexico and that the situation is horrible.

Boffo confirmed the company has leased a plane to Vanier a couple times and also denied any responsibility for the plot.

"We weren't involved in it," he said. "If I rent a car to you and you go rob a bank with it ... "

Bejarano has a history with Joseph Casas, CEO of Veritas Worldwide Security, the San Diego company whose associates have been detained in Mexico over a plot to smuggle in Saadi Gadhafi.

Casas, an attorney, represented Bejarano in May 2010 in a dispute the chief had with a former business partner from an unrelated private security firm that Bejarano had co-owned.

Bejarano’s former business partner at Presidential Security claimed Bejarano was still writing checks and collecting a paycheck from the firm after leaving to become police chief in August 2009.

Bejarano said he was approached a year ago by Casas to provide “active shooter, threat training and first responder training” at a Veritas center in San Antonio. Bejarano is listed on the Veritas website as executive vice president of law enforcement training.

“Headquartered in San Diego, Calif., VW Security is in the ideal location to provide personal security detachments (PSD) to both American and Mexican clientele,” according to the Veritas website. Bejarano said he signed a contract with Veritas Worldwide Security, but would not provide it because it’s confidential. He said he has received no compensation from the company and may have made an investment of $500 in the venture.

“I’m not aware what they’re involved in or what they did, but obviously if they’re involved in anything illegal, I absolutely would not condone that or be involved in that,” Bejarano said.

The company’s website also states, “With kidnapping and border violence at unprecedented highs, VW Security can provide safety and peace of mind for a wide range of domestic and international scenarios.”

Bejarano leads a department of 224 sworn law officers, 100 civilian staff members and about 70 volunteers. He oversees a budget of about $44 million providing law enforcement services to the second largest city in the county with 225,000 residents.

In addition to being Chula Vista’s police chief, where Bejarano earns an annual salary of $187,000, he is on the board of directors at Vibra Bank and the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

Also listed among Veritas personnel, as vice president of acquisitions, is former Port Commissioner Michael Najera. He could not be reached for comment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Allen School in Chula Vista loses score on teacher cheating concerns

School loses score on teacher cheating concerns
Karen Kucher
Nov. 15, 2011

CHULA VISTA — The state didn’t issue a key academic performance score for a Chula Vista elementary school this year after several fifth-grade students told their homeroom teacher they had seen passages of the English language arts test material prior to taking the state exam.

Allen School, a 300-student school in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, reported the irregularity to the state Department of Education in May.

As a result, the school was not issued an Academic Performance Index or API score for 2011. The district did receive score information for individual students, classes and grade levels.

“It was brought to the attention of the principal there,” said district spokesman Anthony Millican. “It was dealt with swiftly and decisively.”

Millican said the teacher is no longer employed in the district. He said he couldn’t say anything more because it was a personnel matter.

“It is very unfortunate this was done. This is a very high achieving school and we are certain that they are continuing to make outstanding progress,” Millican said. “During this year’s (testing) we expect them to do extremely well.”

In 2010, the school scored 881 on its API. A score of 800 is a state goal.

News of the school’s testing irregularities were included in a Los Angeles Times story Sunday that found about three dozens teachers in the state were accused this year of cheating, making mistakes or engaging in other misconduct involving standardized achievement tests.

According to a report Chula Vista submitted to the state, the teacher said she used poor judgment by downloading test passages from the Internet to use for test preparation.

Millican said the school principal sent a letter to parents in late August telling them about the incident.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweetwater Union High School District pushes charter schools out of guaranteed SDSU admission

I looks like the charter schools are just going to have to do a really good job so that their students can get into SDSU without a special guarantee.

South Bay School Competition Heats Up
By Rory Devine and Sarah Grieco

Parents are up in arms about a policy change that could impact whether or not their children get a guaranteed admission to San Diego State University.

The former policy used to be students who continuously went to Sweetwater Union High School District from 9th through 12th grade could take advantage of the district’s contract with SDSU for guaranteed admission.

With the change, students now have to attend Sweetwater Union High School District from 7th to 12th grade.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District said that change means middle school students in the five charter schools outside Sweetwater will lose the SDSU guarantee.

But the Sweetwater superintendent said the change is aimed at giving students more time to complete their A through G classes necessary to get into college.

“It's really, really, really important for all kids to get as many classes out of the way in the 7th and 8th grade as possible,” said Superintendent Ed Brand. “We're the only district that can do that because A to G has to be approved by UC and CSU … we've done that in our district charter schools haven't.”

The rationale is that by giving students more time to take their A through G classes, more students will complete them.

“It's Sweetwater's decision to make … we're definitely disappointed we don't really understand the rationale, but we want to continue to have a dialogue with Sweetwater about this issue,” said Matthew Tessier with the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

While charters may offer the A through G classes in middle school, those classes cannot be approved by University of California or California State University systems.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Cafeteria boss leaving Chula Vista schools

Cafeteria boss leaving Chula Vista schools
Ashly McGlone
Oct. 7, 2011

CHULA VISTA — The food service manager at the Chula Vista Elementary School District will leave the district next month.

Dan Slavin, who earns $84,000 annually, joined the district in 2007. Slavin has been on a paid leave of absence in recent weeks and will remain on the payroll until Nov. 4, district officials said.

The departure comes after the district was hit with a $57,300 penalty by the state, reported by The Watchdog in August, for serving meals that did not meal U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition targets, to qualify for reimbursement of free and reduced-price meals.

Among the findings: breakfast meals contained 31 percent fewer calories and 30 percent less vitamin A than they should have had, and lunches contained 17 percent less iron than required.

A state audit on July 28 also found the district had not completed a nutritional analysis for the district’s summer food program. As a result, the district was recently informed it will lose an additional $9,668, spokesman Anthony Millican said.

“This issue arose from our good intention in making our meals healthier for our students,” Millican said. “We removed chocolate chip muffins from the breakfast menu. We reduced caloric intake specifically to address well documented high obesity rates among our youth. Apparently no good deed goes unpunished and in fact, it seems counterintuitive that the state would ask us to add more calories to the menu at a time when juvenile diabetes and obesity are skyrocketing, yet here we are, adding string cheese to the menu so kids will consume more calories.”

The child nutrition services department underwent a restructuring in early July, with food service supervisors no longer reporting to Slavin. Millican said the restructuring had nothing to do with the meal deficiencies and he could not comment on the reasons for Slavin’s departure.

Slavin did not return multiple calls for a comment.

The district, which serves some 27,400 students in Chula Vista, has since switched to a more user-friendly menu planning program as directed by state auditors, district officials said. Some 1.4 million free meals and 406,000 reduced-price meals are served annually in the district, for $5.2 million in combined state and federal funding.

Chula Vista teacher charged with child porn

Chula Vista teacher charged with child porn
By Kristina Davis
October 7, 2011

CHULA VISTA — A Chula Vista elementary school teacher was arrested Friday morning on suspicion of possessing child pornography, according to the FBI

Gary Delaney Phillips, 54, who teaches sixth grade at Clear View Elementary School, was taken away in handcuffs from his College Area home at 8:30 a.m.

According to the federal complaint, an FBI agent investigating traders of child pornography discovered emails from Phillips that expressed a sexual interest in children and indicated that he owned images of child pornography.

Investigators conducted a search warrant at his San Diego home Friday and seized images depicting children engaging in sexually explicit conduct, said FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth.

Phillips was booked into the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego and is scheduled to appear in federal court on Tuesday.

Police officers from Chula Vista and San Diego and agents from the U.S. Naval Criminal Intelligence Service aided in the investigation.

Phillips has taught in the Chula Vista Elementary School District for more than 20 years on at least three campuses during his tenure. He has been placed on paid administrative leave, said district spokesman Anthony Millican.

“We have been informed that the charges he is facing relate to conduct outside the workplace,” said Millican. “We have no reports of anything remotely like this at any point during his tenure in CVESD.”
Chula Vista teacher charged with child porn

By Kristina Davis, Reporter - Public safety

Friday, October 7, 2011 at 6:08 p.m.

CHULA VISTA — A Chula Vista elementary school teacher was arrested Friday morning on suspicion of possessing child pornography, according to the FBI.

Gary Delaney Phillips, 54, who teaches sixth grade at Clear View Elementary School, was taken away in handcuffs from his College Area home at 8:30 a.m.

According to the federal complaint, an FBI agent investigating traders of child pornography discovered emails from Phillips that expressed a sexual interest in children and indicated that he owned images of child pornography.

Investigators conducted a search warrant at his San Diego home Friday and seized images depicting children engaging in sexually explicit conduct, said FBI Special Agent Darrell Foxworth.

Phillips was booked into the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego and is scheduled to appear in federal court on Tuesday.

Police officers from Chula Vista and San Diego and agents from the U.S. Naval Criminal Intelligence Service aided in the investigation.

Phillips has taught in the Chula Vista Elementary School District for more than 20 years on at least three campuses during his tenure. He has been placed on paid administrative leave, said district spokesman Anthony Millican.

“We have been informed that the charges he is facing relate to conduct outside the workplace,” said Millican. “We have no reports of anything remotely like this at any point during his tenure in CVESD.”

Friday, August 12, 2011

School meals fell short, report says; Chula Vista Elementary School District faces $56,000 penalty

School meals fell short, report says
Chula Vista Elementary School District faces $56,000 penalty
by Ashly McGlone
Aug. 11, 2011

Meals served by the Chula Vista Elementary School District over 10 days in June and July lacked critical nutrients, such as vitamin A and calories, mandated by state and federal law, a state audit concluded.

As a result, the district is facing a $56,000 penalty, according to district estimates.

Auditors with the California Department of Education visited the district unannounced July 28 after receiving an anonymous complaint about the oversight. A summary of the visit was provided to the district last week.

Among the findings:

• Breakfast meals contained 31 percent fewer calories than they should have.

• Breakfast meals contained 30 percent less vitamin A than they should have.

• Lunches contained 17 percent less iron than they should have.

According to state and federal law, school districts are expected to meet 14 U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrient targets, including 100 percent of the calorie, vitamin A and iron targets. Districts must also meet the USDA nutrient standards to qualify for reimbursement of free and reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program.

In the Chula Vista Elementary School District, some 1.4 million free meals and 406,000 reduced-price meals are served annually, for $5.2 million in combined state and federal funding.

Since the district was directed to correct similar nutrient deficiencies in 2009 and “did not implement its corrective action,” the district will not be reimbursed for the breakfasts served during the 10 days of school, the report states, amounting to about $56,000 in lost funding.

Last spring, the district overhauled its menu to provide more healthy options, district spokesman Anthony Millican said.

Following a survey indicating 50 percent of sixth-graders in the district are overweight and 25 percent are obese, the district revamped its menu and decreased calories with the help of a chef from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

The district must now add calories back into the menu, Millican said.

Auditors also found that no nutrient analysis was completed for food served through the district’s Seamless Summer Feeding Option, which provides meals to children in poor communities during the summer months without requiring paperwork. Auditors also noted that portions of fruits and grains served as a snack were insufficient. It is still unclear if the $16,000 in funding for that program will be affected, state officials said.

“We appreciate the thorough, professional review of our school menus, labels, and monthly nutrient analysis report. You will see findings that indicate instances where our monthly summaries did not match with what we served on a given day,” Millican said. “Human error will be corrected.”

The surprise visit came three years before the next scheduled state audit of the district’s child nutrition department. No routine internal audits are conducted, district officials said.

The district’s child nutrition services department underwent a restructuring last month, with supervisors no longer reporting to child nutrition program manager Dan Slavin. Millican said those changes are unrelated to concerns raised in the report.

Child Nutrition Services Supervisor Lillian Garcia, who routinely conducts the nutritional analysis and did not conduct July’s analysis, maintained the district meals served were healthy.

“We are offering good meals out there,” she said.

The district, which serves some 27,400 students in Chula Vista, was also directed to transition to a more user-friendly menu planning program by Sept. 1.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jesus Gandara of Sweetwater High School District fired

See Jesus Gandara posts.
See attorney Bonifacio "Bonny" Garcia posts.

Gandara’s ouster deal solidifies pension
Sweetwater contract calls for 18 months severance; superintendent wasn’t fired for cause
By Ashly McGlone
June 21, 2011

The terms of Superintendent Jesus Gandara’s severance from the Sweetwater Union High School District on will allow him to vest in his pension, a benefit he would not have received had he been fired outright.

Gandara, 54, will use accumulated sick and vacation days, plus administrative leave, to keep him on the payroll through Sept. 1, when he will achieve five years of service with the district.

He will also receive 18 months of severance pay, an amount district officials placed at $376,380, plus $40,295 in vacation and sick-leave payout -- for a total of $416,675.

Gandara’s $750-a-month auto allowance and his $800-a-month district expense allowance will halt immediately, according to a news release.

The district’s contract with Gandara says he can be fired for cause for “any act of dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation, or other acts of moral turpitude.”

Instead of invoking that clause, the school board early Tuesday morning terminated him “at will,” a process that requires the 18 months pay by contract.

The district’s outside lawyer, Bonifacio Garcia, said, “The separation is effective Sept. 1. He is going to be using up his vacation pay and he will be on administrative leave until Sept. 1 to the extent that he is entitled under his current contract. The current agreement is 18 months plus whatever his vacation pay is, and the net effect is he gets the same even though his employment will terminate on Sept. 1.”

The value of Gandara’s health benefits will be deducted from his severance pay, according to the news release.

Details of Gandara’s pension were not immediately available. However, previous reporting by The Watchdog indicates that a pension for a five-year employee leaving at age 55 would be 7 percent of salary.

The Watchdog has contacted district officials and the California State Teachers Retirement System to seek a more solid number.

In response to the deal, teacher’s union president Alex Anguiano said, “I do believe that it was time for him to go. What it appears was that the district was moving to ensure he was vested in STRS. At that point in time he will be vested and he will be receiving a retirement package that really in my opinion was undeserved. He has really only been our state four and a half years. It essentially amounts to the plundering of our retirement system.

“I do think it is time to move forward and at the same time I think is it time for a good house cleaning.”

Gandara's 18-month severance will be calculated based on his $250,000 salary, spokeswoman Lillian Leopold said. He was paid $245,000 in the current fiscal year, because of furloughs. But, Leopold said, "There are no furloughs for management" in the fiscal year that starts July 1, so his severance will be calculated based on the higher amount.

Gandara was fired by a 5-0 vote of the school board early Tuesday morning.

Gandara came under fire after a series of Watchdog reports in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The newspaper revealed Gandara’s charging of hundreds of meals to a district credit card, even though he is paid the $800 a month allowance for such expenses. The credit card was canceled in response to the report.

Another report revealed that Gandara invited district contractors and employees to his daughter’s bridal shower, complete with a “money tree” for contributions. He defended the invitations as evidence of his personal management style.

Discrepancies involving a public-relations firm, also exposed by the newspaper, are being investigated by the District Attorney’s Office. The P.R. professional, Scott Alevy, says that people disputing the bills he submitted to the district had to deny the meetings happened because of confidentiality concerns, a claim they deny.

The Watchdog also reported that the district’s plan to borrow $58 million against bond money, for operating expenses, was a possible violation of the state Constitution, which requires bonds to be spent for the purposes voters approve. The borrowing was canceled.

More recently, the paper revealed issues with grade changing and alleged forgery by principals who have been promoted to be top administrators at the district. The district says the alleged forgery was a simple mistake in using a boilerplate letter, and the grade changes were a matter of using the wrong form to record credit-recovery classes.

Last week, the newspaper reported that the district’s food-service director markets brands from her outside company at campus food courts. The administrator, Nancy Stewart, said she takes no money for the district’s use of the brands.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Chula Vista teacher layoff notices being rescinded

Chula Vista teacher layoff notices being rescinded
By Ashly McGlone
May 26, 2011

Hundreds of layoff notices issued to teachers in the Chula Vista Elementary School District are being rescinded.

The district issued notices to about 300 of the district’s 1,400 teachers and other certificated staff, including psychologists and vice principals, in March.

District officials said the move to rescind those notices comes in the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revision, which maintained school funding at current levels — pending voter of approval extending certain tax hikes.

“It was unfortunate we had to go through the noticing process yet again. However, our teachers have been terrific in keeping the focus on the students and not getting caught up in what could have been a major distraction,” Superintendent Francisco Escobedo said in a statement. “Our goal has always been to keep teaching teams together and keep any cuts as far from the classroom as possible. We are very pleased to be able to bring back our tenured classroom teachers.”

Chula Vista teachers’ union President Peg Myers said the move relieves stress for educators.

“Dr. Escobedo has been very cognizant of what this does to teachers and he has worked with me the entire time,” Myers said. “It means they can leave school and not have to worry about filing for unemployment.”

As of May 20, 160 notices had been rescinded, according to Myers. That number is expected to reach 300, a district spokesman said.

The district estimated that it would face a $14 million deficit in its $193 million budget under a worst-case funding scenario. Under a best-case scenario, the district would face a $6 million shortfall, a deficit it could cover with its $32 million reserve account.

Meanwhile, at least 70 layoff notices issued to nonteaching employees have been rescinded, a union official said. More rescinded notices are expected.

In April, 300 of the district’s 1,100 nonteaching employees, including librarians, custodians and instructional assistants, received notice that their jobs are not guaranteed next year. An additional 11 nonteaching employees were given pink slip notices in May.

The new school year begins July 20.

Chula Vista Elementary School District is the largest elementary district in the state and serves 27,400 K-8 students and 840 preschool students on 45 campuses.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Citizens Denied Attendance to Sweetwater Union High Meeting

Citizens Denied Attendance to Sweetwater Union High Meeting
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
May 20, 2011

On the evening of May 17, 40 minutes before a Sweetwater Union High School board meeting was scheduled to begin, John Brickley and Fran Brinkman attempted to enter the board room. According to Brinkman, a number of parents and teachers had come to ask the South Bay school-board members to dismiss the superintendent.

Superintendent Jesus Gandara has made a number of Union-Tribune headlines of late. An article on Gandara’s daughter’s wedding highlighted his financial ties to Proposition O contractors; another article questioned his use of a district credit card (the account was subsequently canceled).

Brinkman said that as she and Brickley approached the board room, they could see people sitting inside; however, they were prevented from entering by a district representative who told them the empty seats were saved for administrators and presenters. They put in a call to the district attorney’s office and were advised that they were within their rights to go into the meeting. Brickley and Brinkman then went around the district employee who had tried to block their entrance, and they took a seat.

Shortly thereafter, a 911 call brought a Chula Vista police officer to the scene. “It was a little scary, but we knew we hadn’t done anything wrong,” Brinkman said. She told the officer, “We’re not causing a disturbance,” and they were allowed to stay.

Another attendee interviewed for this story, Maty Adano, corroborated Brinkman’s account of the events and said she didn’t understand why there often were either Harbor Police or Chula Vista police at the Sweetwater meetings.

Superintendent Gandara and board member Bertha Lopez were not available for comment...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sweetwater vendors invited to 'money tree' event

See all Jesus Gandara posts.

Sweetwater vendors invited to 'money tree' event
Contractors and employees celebrate bridal shower for Gandara's daughter
By Tanya Sierra
March 23, 2011

Sweetwater Superintendent Jesus Gandara hosted a bridal shower for his daughter at a Bonita restaurant this month, inviting contractors who stood to benefit from his decision-making on district business.

The invitation, which indicated a money tree would be available, was also extended to employees who work for Gandara.

Gandara, along with three Sweetwater Union High School District board members who attended the March 5 event, said they saw nothing wrong with inviting district contractors to such an occasion.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Nonprofit chairman billed Sweetwater taxpayers for his work

Nonprofit chairman billed Sweetwater taxpayers for his work
Head of scholarship foundation says board members aren’t supposed to be paid
By Wendy Fry and Ashly McGlone
May 19, 2011

Charges to the district by public-relations consultant Scott Alevy involving his unpaid work as chairman of the Sweetwater Education Foundation:

June 23: Extensive discussion with Ed Lopez, Sweetwater Education Foundation, on potential and methods of community outreach using Compact for Success and foundation scholarships for more positive community and student perception: $187.50

June 24: Discussion with (district lawyer) Bonny Garcia on Compact/Foundation discussion and impacts of budget and issues on other districts in region: $125

June 30: Discussion with several district parents about perceptions of district, administration, curriculum, Compact for Success and facilities: $437.50

July 20: Discussion with Bonny Garcia on public perceptions, issues and potential for additional outreach with SDSU and the Compact for Success to highlight a more positive community and student perception: $187.50

July 24: Discussion with several current and former district teachers and administrators and parents about perceptions of district, including thoughts on the administration, curriculum, Compact for Success and facilities: $437.50

Oct. 12: Discussions with Ed Lopez/Sweetwater Education Foundation and Jeff Marston on scripting and issues for foundation dinner. Discussion with Juan Garcia/Chevron about district issues and support for projects: $250

Oct. 20: Sweetwater Education Foundation annual dinner. Discussions with district leadership and board plus educators and business leaders about district issues. Public presentation to 300 as chair of event: $750

Jan. 31: Lunch meeting with Ed Lopez, Executive Director of the Sweetwater Education foundation. Discussed Compact for Success scholarship levels, responses from contacts for funding on perceptions of the district and strategic input: $375

Total: $2,750

Source: Alevy’s invoices

Sweetwater P.R. bills don’t match memories

Sweetwater president seeks P.R. audit

Sweetwater hires former U.S. attorney for probe

Two golfers offer views on P.R. contract

Journalism that upholds the public trust, regularly


Call 619-293-2275. Fax 619-260-5094.


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* Nonprofit chairman billed Sweetwater taxpayers for his work
* Sweetwater hires former U.S. attorney for probe
* Company Issa founded underpaid tariffs
* Schools miss out on field fees, report says
* Savings on sea urchin committee may be elusive

CHULA VISTA — When 300 people attended the fifth annual Sweetwater Education Foundation gala in October at the San Diego Hilton Bayfront, they ate a steak dinner and heard a performance by Bonita Vista High’s show choir.

The host was Scott Alevy, a former Chula Vista councilman who serves as chairman of the foundation.

What most people in attendance didn’t know was this: While they each paid $250 to attend in support of scholarships, Alevy charged the school district for his attendance. The bill? $750 (plus $18.70 for mileage).

Alevy is a public-relations person for the Sweetwater Union High School District’s contracted law firm, but that role was not well-known. Although his hourly rate of $250 is paid by district taxpayers, the arrangement was not approved at a public school board meeting.

The stated purpose of his P.R. work is to support labor negotiations, which is not part of the mission of the nonprofit foundation he chairs.

When Alevy was originally interviewed April 11 about his P.R. work, he said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with my work on the Sweetwater Education Foundation. My work for the district is completely separate.”

The Watchdog has since obtained documents showing the foundation work on his district invoices. Alevy billed the district for six line items involving foundation issues and discussions, totaling $2,750...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Schools chief charges meals despite allowance; Meals went mostly to Sweetwater school board

Jesus M. Gandara

Over three years, Gandara billed $11,500 to his district credit card for 303 meals...Sweetwater cut $11 million from its budget this year and is facing a $25 million deficit next year.

Schools chief charges meals despite allowance
Gandara gets $800 a month for expenses, but still uses district credit card to eat out
By Tanya Sierra and Ashly McGlone
April 4, 2011

South County schools Superintendent Jesus Gandara receives an $800-a-month allowance for expenses in addition to his $250,000 salary, but has charged hundreds of meals on top of that on a district credit card.

Over three years, Gandara billed $11,500 to his district credit card for 303 meals, according to documents obtained under the California Public Records Act...

“It is my duty to make myself available to the community,” Gandara said in a statement. “These meetings are held with board members, community members and parents, and I make myself available on their schedules. Oftentimes that is before and after work hours, and during meal times.”

Since business is discussed, he charges the meals to the public agency, Gandara said.

...Gandara’s contract to run the Chula Vista-based district with 41,454 students and 5,257 employees grants him a $750 a month auto allowance and $800 a month for other expenses.

...San Diego Unified’s Bill Kowba brings his lunch to work almost every day, a district spokesman said, and has billed no meals in the past six months.

The same holds true at the Grossmont Union School District in East County. Superintendent Ralf Swenson charged fewer than five meals in the eight months he has been with the district, spokeswoman Catherine Martin said.

In Poway, Superintendent John Collins expensed fewer than five meals since arriving in the district in July, schools spokeswoman Sharon Raffer said...

Sweetwater cut $11 million from its budget this year and is facing a $25 million deficit next year. In recent years officials threatened to lay off teachers, expanded class sizes and cut a number of programs to make up for cash shortfalls. No teachers were laid off this year; last year, six teachers were let go.

Sweetwater board president John McCann, a former Chula Vista councilman who is expected to run for mayor, would not talk about Gandara’s expenses.

“We have found $33 million in budget savings which has enabled us to not layoff any teachers and are still scrutinizing every budget item to find additional savings,” McCann wrote.

Board members Arlie Ricasa, Jim Cartmill and Pearl Quinones did not respond to requests for an interview. Board member Bertha Lopez, who has been a frequent critic of Gandara, did agree to discuss the matter.

“I didn’t know he was doing this,” she said. “I knew he had an $800 expense account. That’s where I would expect the money for the meals to come from.”

In addition to the meals, Gandara spent $5,730 on airline tickets, $4,745 in hotel charges and $7,360 for conferences and other expenses between November 2007 and December 2010, the review of his bills shows.

Seated: Arlie Ricasa, Pearl Quinones, Bertha Lopez; standing: unknown individual (even the district website does not identify him), John McCann, Jesus Gandara (superintendent), Jim Cartmill
Meals went mostly to Sweetwater school board
Superintendent had cited community outreach when credit card issue arose
By Ashly McGlone
May 13, 2011

...Some $12,560 was charged to Gandara’s district credit card for 366 meals from November 2007 to March 16, when he stopped using it.

The most common meal partners for Gandara were members of the school board, who took part in 238 of the meals.

Trustee Arlie Ricasa dined with the superintendent 92 times, followed by trustee Pearl Quinones at 49 times. Former trustee Greg Sandoval met with Gandara 41 times, according to the records, while trustee Jim Cartmill met with him 38 times and Bertha Lopez met with him 11 times.

Newly appointed board member John McCann appears seven times, including once as a Chula Vista councilman before his job on the school board.

Gandara’s credit card paid for 27 meals for staff members, ten for union representatives and six for superintendents from other school districts.

Twenty-five meals totaling $863 were missing documentation to indicate who Gandara ate with, if anyone. Another 25 meals were purchased for Gandara with no indication that anyone accompanied him.

The remaining 35 meals were purchased for community members including parents, area city council members or chamber of commerce leaders, among others...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sweetwater district employee who lost in court files for bankruptcy

The district's consulting firm found no evidence that Bertha Lopez "acted inappropriately." But Bertha Lopez was indicted in December 2011 for other illegal actions at Sweetwater Union High School District. Perhaps Lemons-Shivers allowed herself a small smile when that happened, but it can't have made Dan Shinoff very happy.

Sweetwater district employee who lost in court files for bankruptcy
By Ashly McGlone
April 23, 2011

CHULA VISTA — Following a loss in court against the Sweetwater Union High School District and a trustee, district administrator Charlene Lemons-Shivers has filed for bankruptcy.

A 16-year district employee and Del Mar resident, Lemons-Shivers claimed $562,800 in assets and $873,300 in liabilities to 18 creditors, including attorney Dan Shinoff, who represented the district and trustee Bertha Lopez as defendants in the lawsuit.

Shinoff was seeking $21,000 in attorney fees and some $5,000 is owed to Lemon-Shivers’ attorney, Josh Gruenberg, according to the filing.

A judgment in the lawsuit was issued in January in favor of the district and Lopez. Lemons-Shivers filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy March 19.

While serving as director of alternate education, Lemons-Shivers filed the lawsuit July 8 alleging she suffered retaliation, civil harassment and emotional distress after reporting a subordinate was working unapproved overtime. Lemons-Shivers alleged Lopez was a friend of the employee and retaliated against her by visiting the alternative education department unannounced and asking pointed questions. Lopez said she was doing her job as a board member.

More than $83,000 was spent by the district on the case, with $40,000 spent on a consultant for an investigation and report on the matter. The report, by Puente Consulting, concluded there was no evidence Lopez acted inappropriately or that she knew the employee in question. It also said Lopez asked questions about the alternative education program months before the overtime issue arose.

According to the bankruptcy filing, Lemons-Shivers listed a leased 2008 Mercedez Benz CLK currently worth a reported $21,255 as both an asset and a liability. The monthly payment is $477.

Her largest monthly expenditure is $3,577 for the mortgage on a rental home in Chula Vista valued at $600,000, followed by the cost of her son’s private school.

Her expenditures reportedly exceed her income by $2,000 a month.

She claimed $127,600 in annual earnings in her current post as director of education technology supervising seven people...

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Some 300 nonteaching employees in Chula Vista schools will get layoff notices

Some 300 nonteaching employees in Chula Vista schools will get layoff notices
By Ashly McGlone
April 6, 2011

About 70 nonteaching staff in the Chula Vista Elementary School District rallied outside of the district office before Tuesday night's board meeting. Trustees voted unanimously to issue 300 layoff notices to nonteaching employees later that night.

CHULA VISTA — More than a quarter of the nonteaching staff in the Chula Vista Elementary School District will soon receive layoff notices.

Citing state budget problems, trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to issue about 300 layoff notices to nonteaching employees in the district.

Some 1,100 bus drivers, instructional assistants, custodians, librarians and other nonteaching workers are represented by the Chula Vista Classified Employees Organization. About 70 rallied outside of the district offices before Tuesday night’s meeting wearing shirts that read, “Classified Cuts Hurt Kids Too!”

Among the hardest hit were support services to special-needs students and the district’s state-run preschool program.

More than 170 special needs-related positions will receive layoff notices, including about 45 special education instructional assistants, 96 bus attendants, who accompany students with severe disabilities on their way to and from school, and 30 student attendants who work with special needs students.

More than 34 preschool instructional assistants also will receive notices, putting the programs in jeopardy, according to Sandra Villegas-Zuniga, assistant superintendent of human resources.

At least 12 English-language learner instructional assistants also will receive notices.

“It’s a blow for all of us and it will affect the services we give for our kids at the school site as well as the district office because cuts were from every level in this organization so it’s hard,” Superintendent Francisco Escobedo said.

“There will be less support for (English-language learners and special-needs students) and those specific target groups so we will have to figure out ways to enhance our efficiencies, but it becomes very difficult to do that with less people.”

The three-year contract for nonteaching staff expires this year, but the parties have yet to meet at the bargaining table to negotiate a new contract.

“The unanimous vote was no surprise and now we wait for negotiations and sit down and negotiate the effects of the layoffs,” said Ernie Gutierrez, president of the Chula Vista Classified Employees Organization.

The district estimates that it would face a $14 million deficit in its $193 million budget under the worst-case funding scenario. Under a best-case scenario, the district would face a $6 million shortfall, a deficit it could cover with its $31 million reserve account. It did not offer specifics on how much money the layoffs would save.

Nonteaching staff must be notified of potential layoffs 45 days before beginning the next school year, according to district spokesman Anthony Millican.

School ends June 2. The new school year begins July 20. Some 300 teachers of the district’s 1,400 teachers received layoff notices in March.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sweetwater UHSD's Jesus Gandara strikes again: inviting contractors to bring cash to bridal shower

Bridal Showers and Choosing Companies in Sweetwater
March 24, 2011
by Emily Alpert

The Sweetwater Union High School District superintendent invited construction contractors who might benefit from his decisions to a bridal shower for his daughter that mentioned a money tree on the invitation, the Union-Tribune reported today.

Arguing that there was nothing wrong with inviting them, Superintendent Jesus Gandara told the Union-Tribune that he doesn't have final say over which companies are chosen for school district projects; the school board does. The U-T reported:

According to district policy, the superintendent and his staff have the ability to reject contract bids and to accept them, subject to board approval. He is also required to "provide guidance to the board to assist in decision-making."

As part of guiding the school board, Gandara has made his preferences for construction companies known in the past. A few years ago, we reported that Sweetwater had repeatedly chosen companies that weren't ranked highest by their own staff. Twice Gandara had weighed in, once pushing for an architect that built schools he liked, once on which program manager to pick:

Nick Marinovich, a community member who sat on the oversight committee for an earlier school construction bond, complained about the process for picking the new program manager, Gilbane/Seville Group Inc., which had ranked lower than another company.

"The superintendent steered it the way he wanted it to go. It was bogus," said Marinovich, who has worked for more than a dozen years as a project manager with the county of San Diego and briefly for the losing company. ...

Gandara said Sweetwater had good reasons for weighing other factors besides Harris Gafcon's ranking. He was displeased with renovations done under the last bond at Sweetwater High School. Stucco around new windows didn't match the surrounding building. Rain gutters on the buildings were twisted.

So while the school board does make the final decision, the superintendent can influence that decision — and in the past his input has been important in deciding companies' fates.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Teacher layoffs in Chula Vista stir debate over value of public input

Shame on CVESD for not evaluating teachers effectively, and laying off the incompetent teachers.

Teacher layoffs in Chula Vista stir debate over value of public input
San Diego Union-Tribune
By Ashly McGlone
March 22, 2011

Following a wave of teacher pink slips in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, members of the district’s budget advisory committee wonder if their input was lost in the debate over spending.

The Board of Education authorized layoff notices for about 350 teachers, or nearly 30 percent, of its 1,200-teacher workforce Feb. 15; the advisory committee favored other cuts and recommended only 60 teacher notices based on proposed class size increases in the earlier grades.

The 53-person committee, which met four times since January to analyze and prioritize cuts, comprises 44 school site representatives, three administrators, three teachers union representatives and three representatives from the union representing nonteaching employees.

Zaneta Encarnacion, a committee representative for Wolf Canyon Elementary School, was surprised to find out the district approved the notices weeks before the budget committee finalized its recommendations on March 2.

“The biggest concern is as a parent who cares about the school budget, and is willing to take time away from my work and my family to look at the school budget, when the effort you put into it appears to be in vain if nobody is going to be looking at it,” she said. “As far as the whole public process, it leaves little to be desired.”

Committee members were tasked with identifying $8 million in potential budget cuts in next year’s $193 million budget.

The district estimates that it would face a $14 million shortfall if a measure seeking a proposed tax extension is not placed on the ballot and approved by voters in June. Under a best-case scenario, the district will face a $6 million shortfall, a deficit it could cover with its $32.5 million reserve account.

The committee identified $6.5 million in cuts, and suggested the school board kick in more money from the reserve to fill the remaining gap. It also suggested the district look for additional federal dollars and cuts in areas that were not offered for consideration.

In an item on the school board’s March 8 agenda, the district said it was collaborating with the budget advisory committee and offered four basic areas of cuts totaling $8 million. Those included up to $3 million in maintenance and technology; the committee recommended $1 million in cuts “due to school maintenance requirements and technology licensing requirements.”

The district said an additional $2 million could be cut from money it gives to individual schools to use as they desire; the committee suggested only $1 million and ranked the item the lowest among their eight priority cuts.

Increasing class size in the earlier grades by two students could save $1 million annually, while an increase of four students could save $2 million, according to the district. The committee recommended the former option, which would raise classes from 20 to 22 students in kindergarten through third grade.

Both parties suggested the elimination of five vice principals, saving $450,000, and $1 million in cuts from the Educational Services and Support Center.

The committee also recommended eliminating school resource officers, saving $350,000; the after-school program at 24 schools, saving $650,000; and reduced clerical, custodial, and library staff hours, for $1 million in savings.

Jason Holleron, a committee member representing Juarez-Lincoln Elementary School, recognized that the district’s hand was forced by state deadlines, but said, “I think the plan was in place regardless of what the advisory committee may have suggested. They had an idea of what they were already going to do.”

He doesn’t believe the district will actually lay off 350 teachers. Some 310 notices were sent to teachers, psychologists, vice principals.

Pat Miller, vice president of the union representing nonteaching employees, has been a member of the committee for several years and says that the district’s action was expected. She said there is no reason for concern.

“People have to remember the committee is an advisory committee,” she said. “They have to look at the worst-case scenario. They (issue notices) to cover themselves by law.”

District officials stand by the timeline and the move to notice hundreds of employees. State law requires layoff notices be sent by March 15...

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Massive teacher layoffs possible in Chula Vista

Massive teacher layoffs possible in Chula Vista
By Ashly McGlone
March 3, 2011

The Chula Vista Elementary School District is in the process of issuing potential layoff notices to hundreds of teachers and other credentialed staff.

Among the possible cuts are some 300 teachers, vice principals and psychologists. The district employs some 1,400 teachers.

The district estimates that it would face a $14 million deficit in its $193 million budget if the governor’s proposed tax extension is not placed on the ballot and approved by voters in June. Under a best-case scenario, the district would face a $6 million shortfall, a deficit it could cover with its $31 million reserve account.

Principals have been encouraged to hold one-on-one meetings with potentially affected staff, and larger meetings were held throughout the week with district staff. Employees were also provided information on how to file for unemployment.

The purpose of the meetings?

To “put a human perspective on a very challenging budget issue,” district spokesman Anthony Millican said. “Our district is looking at draconian cuts if the tax extensions are not approved by voters.”

The impact of the cuts would be absorbed through larger class sizes and staffing shifts, Millican said.

Decisions have not been made regarding secretaries, janitors and other nonteaching staff.

“In the past we have been able to withdraw the pink slips not long after the March 15 deadline as more concrete information became available. This year it seems to be a lot more challenging in obtaining the crystal ball,” Millican said.

School ends June 2. The new school year begins July 20.

Chula Vista Elementary School District is the largest elementary district in the state and serves 27,400 students on 45 campuses.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Sweetwater UHSD out of compliance regarding 3 special education issues

State clears Sweetwater on special ed
Regulators find the district’s diplomas aren’t unequal
By Tanya Sierra
San Diego Union Tribune
March 2, 2011

A state investigation into whether the Sweetwater school district gave substandard diplomas to certain students and did not provide them readily available college preparatory classes has found the district to be in compliance.

Officials in the Sweetwater Union High School District noted the findings this week, including three lesser issues in which they were found to be out of compliance.

“When someone throws a black cloud over the hard work of the district, it’s really unfair,” Superintendent Jesus Gandara said.

In October, two retired special education teachers filed a complaint with the State Department of Education claiming parents were never informed that diplomas offered by newly created Bounce Back Independent Study High School are considered of a lower tier by the military because it is not a traditional high school.

They also said special education students did not have access to the complete sequence of college prep courses necessary to get into college. That coursework includes foreign language, lab sciences and finite math.

State representatives met with Sweetwater teachers, counselors, students and administrators over two days in November. They returned in January.

Through various interviews and reviews, the state found Sweetwater offers standard diplomas for all students.

The state did find Sweetwater out of compliance in three areas.

They include not having a consistent process in place at all independent study high schools to allow students access to the general orcollege preparatory curriculum; not filling out the proper paperwork for student program changes and not including parents or other required attendees in meetings about student’s individual education plans.

Fran Brinkman, one of the retired teachers who filed the complaint, said she sees the state report as a victory.

“The district was found in noncompliance, and that speaks for itself,” she said. “We pointed these issues out and they didn’t want to deal with them, that’s why we filed a complaint.”...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bejarano settles with partner in his security firm

See all David Bejarano posts.

Chief, ex-partner settle differences

Allison K. Sampite
Oct 07 2010

Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano and former business partner Art Moreno reached a settlement agreement in their dispute over the operation of a security firm.

"He (Art) bought out my share of the business the first week of August," Bejarano said.

The two were co-owners of Presidential Security Services Inc., located in Chula Vista.

Earlier this year Moreno accused Bejarano of writing fraudulent checks on the company's account.

Bejarano countered by threatening to pursue a defamation lawsuit against Moreno.

In 2008, Bejarano was appointed president of PSSI through a shareholder's agreement and was issued 49 percent of stock shares in the corporation.

He resigned after being sworn in as Chula Vista's police chief in August 2009.

City policy prohibits officers from working for or owning a private security firm in Chula Vista.

When Moreno became president of the company after Bejarano resigned, he took steps to deny Bejarano access to corporate bank accounts. According to a complaint he filed with the city, Moreno said Bejarano continued to write checks from the company's account.

"This is simply a civil suit between two business partners, for whatever reason he's bitter and disgruntled," Bejarano said at the time...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sweetwater UHSD has given almost $2 million to lawyers to fight athletic fields for girls

See more articles about this case and the lawyers involved.

No wonder teachers are getting pink slips. The tax dollars are going to lawyers instead of teachers.

Gender-equality lawsuit costly for Sweetwater

By Ashly McGlone
February 23, 2011

Sweetwater Union High School District has boosted its legal services budget by $800,000.

Superintendent Jesus Gandara asked trustees last week to approve an $800,000 increase to the legal services budget from the district’s reserve as the South County school system is looking to close a $24 million shortfall in next year’s budget.

The rationale for the increase was tied to gender-equality litigation the district is working to resolve.

The district’s insurance policy on the case covered up to $850,000 in attorneys fees, a limit which already has been exceeded by $300,000. A measure asking for the increase stated the money would have gone into the legal services fund to “replenish the legal services account and accommodate future invoices.”

That wasn’t specific enough for trustees, who called for an amendment to the item specifying that the money be expended solely on the Title IX case. No part of the money may be used toward other legal fees or firms.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

There are occasions when people ought to be fired

To me, this sounds typical of just about any human enterprise, and precisely reminiscent of some of CVESD's actions. Who's in charge at CVESD, at the CIA and elsewhere? Very likely NOT the best person for the job.

CIA Officers Made Grave Mistakes, Then Got Promoted
Feb 9, 2011
Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo

In December 2003, security forces boarded a bus in Macedonia and snatched a German citizen named Khaled el-Masri. For the next five months, el-Masri was a ghost. Only a select group of CIA officers knew he had been whisked to a secret prison for interrogation in Afghanistan.

But he was the wrong guy.

A hard-charging CIA analyst had pushed the agency into one of the biggest diplomatic embarrassments of the U.S. war on terrorism. Yet despite recommendations by an internal review, the analyst was never punished. In fact, she has risen to one of the premier jobs in the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, helping lead President Barack Obama's efforts to disrupt al-Qaida.

In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officers who committed serious mistakes that left people wrongly imprisoned or even dead have received only minor admonishments or no punishment at all, an Associated Press investigation has revealed. The botched el-Masri case is but one example of a CIA accountability process that even some within the agency say is unpredictable and inconsistent.

Though Obama has sought to put the CIA's interrogation program behind him, the result of a decade of haphazard accountability is that many officers who made significant missteps are now the senior managers fighting the president's spy wars.

The AP investigation of the CIA's actions revealed a disciplinary system that takes years to make decisions, hands down reprimands inconsistently and is viewed inside the agency as prone to favoritism and manipulation. When people are disciplined, the punishment seems to roll downhill, sparing senior managers even when they were directly involved in operations that go awry.

Two officers involved in the death of a prisoner in Afghanistan, for instance, received no discipline and have advanced into Middle East leadership positions. Other officers were punished after participating in a mock execution in Poland and playing a role in the death of a prisoner in Iraq. Those officers retired, then rejoined the intelligence community as contractors.

Some lawmakers were so concerned about the lack of accountability that last year they created a new inspector general position with broad authority to investigate missteps in the CIA or anywhere else in the intelligence community.

"There are occasions when people ought to be fired," former Sen. Kit Bond said in November as he completed his tenure as the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Someone who made a huge error ought not to be working at the agency. We've seen instance after instance where there hasn't been accountability."...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Instead of reappointing Padilla, the City Council appointed Ann Moore without following the same public process

Chula Vista Port moves at odds with past process
By Tanya Sierra
January 18, 2011

The last time Chula Vista appointed someone to the port commission it accepted applications for a month, narrowed the field to three finalists and conducted public interviews.

Last week it allowed its commissioner to be sworn-in as vice chairman in front of key political players across the county at the annual Port luncheon and then hours later voted him off the commission without so much as a word of warning.

Although no city policy was violated, questions about open government have been raised.

Steve Padilla, who had been filling a vacancy for just over a year on the Port District’s board of directors, was expecting to be reappointed to a four-year term as were his Port colleagues. He said he had no indication from any members on the Chula Vista City Council, that he did not have support to continue representing the South Bay city.

Instead of reappointing Padilla, the City Council appointed Ann Moore without following the same public process they went through the year before when selecting Padilla...

Comparing the Port Commissioners

Steve Padilla

•Mayor of Chula Vista from 2002 to 2006
•Chula Vista City Councilman from 1994 to 2002
•California Coastal Commissioner from from 2005 to 2007

Ann Moore

•Chula Vista City Attorney from 1995 to 2008
•Experience in land-use, redevelopment and environmental law
•Senior partner in the law firm Norton Moore and Adams

National City Elementary Teachers Cautiously Optimistic About Jan. 25 Return to Bargaining Table

National City Elementary Teachers Cautiously Optimistic About Jan. 25 Return to Bargaining Table
Jan 21, 2011
Strike Plans Proceed Until Fair Contract Achieved

“National City’s teachers welcome the opportunity to return to the bargaining table with the district on Tuesday, Jan. 25” said National City Elementary Teachers Association (NCETA) President Linda Cartwright. “We’re hopeful that the school board is willing to bargain a fair contract now, which will include restoration of the five student instruction days so important to our students’ learning. But NCETA’s strike plans proceed, pending the achievement of a fair contract.”

NCETA members will picket in support of a fair contract at their individual school sites Tuesday morning from 7:30 to 8:00 a.m., with California Teachers Association President David A. Sanchez and CTA Board of Directors member Jim Groth joining the teachers at two nearby schools, Rancho de la Nación, 1830 E. Division Street and El Toyon, 2000 E. Division Street in National City.

Contract talks that began in National City last February broke down in July after the district refused to follow suit with the teachers in accepting a neutral fact finder’s settlement recommendations. The school board then cut five student instruction days and enacted an additional six days of pay cuts for teachers pleading fiscal necessity as justification.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Googins, Faigin battle for first city attorney in Chula Vista

Googins, Faigin face tough battle for first city attorney
By Khari Johnson, SDNN
June 8, 2010

Up to now, the city attorney in Chula Vista was appointed by the city council but Proposition Q — a 2008 ballot measure — changed city charter to make it an elected position and Chula Vistans will go to the polls Tuesday to choose between Glen Googins and Robert Faigin as their first elected city attorney.

With a salary of more than $200,000, the city attorney will be the highest paid position in Chula Vista city government.

Both Googins and Faigin promise to follow the rule of law, claim to be independent and accuse his opponent of being beholden to special interests trying to influence City Hall.

They see the position as an advisor, not policy maker, and share concerns expressed by members of the City Council and Proposition Q opponents that the office has the potential to become politicized and impact legal advice offered to the council and city departments.

But that’s also why both claim he should be elected, not his opponent.

“Obviously, now theoretically they’re more responsible to the people than the city council members,” said current City Attorney Bart Miesfeld, “but day to day responsibilities won’t change,” said

Faigin, a resident of Lakeside, has been the county sheriff’s chief counsel since 2002 and decided to run after members of the South County sheriff’s office told him no qualified candidates sought the position.

Googins opened his private practice handling real estate and development issues in 2004 after 11 years of similar work in the city attorney’s office. Disagreements with then City Attorney Ann Moore led Googins to resign, in the process receiving a $175,000 severance package.

Joseph Casas, the candidate endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party, dropped out of the race in March and is currently representing Police Chief David Bejarano against accusations of fraud by a former business partner.

“The downside to turning it into an elected position is that instantly the developers, Corky McMillan, all of those people start pumping money into campaigns because they want to influence city politics,” Faigin said.

By the May 27 financial filing deadline, Googins had raised $33,000 from 100 donors, including teachers, border patrol agents and city residents, but also several lawyers, real estate developers. In addition he raised nearly $1,000 from executives from The Corky McMillin Companies, including company president and CEO Mark McMillin.

Googins endorsers include the Chula Vista Police Officer and Firefighter Associations, former City Attorney John Kaheny, state assemblymember Mary Salas, County Supervisor Greg Cox and The Republican Party of San Diego County, though it is a non-partisan race.

About one-third of donors to Googin’s campaign are Chula Vista residents.

“I’m not promising anyone anything,” Googins said. “Just because I’ve represented developers doesn’t mean I’m going to favor any developers. When I’m with the city, the city’s my client.”...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tentative Agreement Could Avert Chula Vista Police Cuts

Obstacles to negotiations over the last four months were reported to include officers’ fears of having cuts forced on them if they agreed to open their contract with the city, and concerns about the attorney negotiating for Chula Vista

Tentative Agreement Could Avert Chula Vista Police Cuts
By Kyla Calvert
January 14, 2011

Chula Vista leaders and representatives of the city’s Police Officers’ Association have reached a tentative agreement that could avert pending officer layoffs, according to an officers’ association announcement.

Members of the officers’ association are expected to vote on the agreement Jan. 20. If a majority of the officers support it, the agreement would then need city council approval.

“The Chula Vista Police Officers’ Association and the City of Chula Vista have really found some common ground here,” said Lt. Phil Collum, director of communications for the officers’ association. “This isn’t a win for anybody, except – hopefully – the community of Chula Vista.”

Not all specifics of the agreement have been made public. One term of the agreement, however, is that officers will join the rest of the city's employees in paying their full pension contributions.

"Within six months, all of our employees and (elected officials) are going to pay their pension investments, and not have the taxpayers pay them," said Mayor Cheryl Cox. Chula Vista will be among the first cities in California to adopt this pension policy, she added.

In December a study funded by the officers’ association suggested Chula Vista officials dip into reserves to avoid the cuts, while the city has suggested the police contribute 9 percent toward their pension plans and agree to pay freezes.

About 20 positions are on the line. Those layoffs were originally scheduled to take place Jan. 7. They were first postponed this week and are now on hold until Jan. 24.

Thirty-two officers received layoff notices in October when the city officials first announced plans to plug a $18.5 million hole in the city budget. Since then the police department has made arrangements with the Chula Vista Elementary School District, the Sweetwater Union High School District and grantmakers to preserve about 10 positions on it’s its own, Collum said.

Obstacles to negotiations over the last four months were reported to include officers’ fears of having cuts forced on them if they agreed to open their contract with the city, and concerns about the attorney negotiating for Chula Vista...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Castle Park teachers felt that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.

Peg Myers has a hard time grasping the idea that someone can have a different opinion from her without being crazy.

A challenge to Chula Vista Educators president Peg Myers: let's have a public debate

Dear Ms. Myers:
I am writing to challenge you to a public debate about what happened at Castle Park Elementary and how you used the destruction of the school as a springboard to power in CTA/NEA. For ten years, you've been making statements about me that you refused to make under oath. How about you make your allegations in public?
Maura Larkins

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Feb. 15, 2011 board meeting will mark 10 years since Chula Vista teacher was removed on suspicion she would "come to school and shoot everybody"

Photo: Clowns came to Castle Park Elementary to protest bizarre events at the school

Feb. 15, 2011 board meeting will mark 10 years since Chula Vista teacher was removed on suspicion she would "come to school and shoot everybody." The district asked the teacher to return without doing any investigation. Then the whole scenario repeated itself. The second time the teacher refused to return without an investigation.

Any day now the board should begin its investigation into Castle Park Elementary teachers and their remarkable claims. Two current board members, Pamela Smith and Larry Cunningham, have presided over the bizarre sequence of events that has brought Castle Park Elementary to near ruin over the past ten years.

The accusers, several of whom became widely known in the media as members or supporters of "The Castle Park Five," refused to answer questions at their depositions in the lawsuit of the teacher who was removed. (The teacher who was removed is the author of this blog.)

See Peg Myers deposition.
See Gina Boyd depostion.

But the district itself has never done an investigation to find out the truth. It has instead spent $100,000s of tax dollars covering up the facts. Bate-stamped documents are still missing, even though a related case is now in the California Court of Appeal.