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.”...