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Chula Vista teacher layoff notices being rescinded

Chula Vista teacher layoff notices being rescinded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Hundreds of layoff notices issued to teachers in the Chula Vista Elementary School District are being rescinded.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As of May 20, 160 notices had been rescinded, according to Myers.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Meanwhile, at least 70 layoff notices issued to nonteaching employees have been rescinded, a union official said. More rescinded notices are expected.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


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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...