Monday, January 14, 2013

South Bay Diners' Club: Is SDCOE any less corrupt than indicted board members?

I suggest that the Reader be more vigilant about nasty personal comments. And I agree with the commenters who say, "Welcome back, Susan Luzzaro!"

See comments below with my notes attached.

Documents hint at Sweetwater board’s diners’ club
High school student investigated 10 years ago
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
Jan. 11, 2013

The latest round of indictments handed down by San Diego’s criminal grand jury is so extensive, people wonder if corruption is just another name for South Bay. Fifteen defendants from three separate South Bay school districts, a construction company CEO, and a bond financier face 256 charges.

In the case of the Sweetwater Union High School District board, four current trustees — James Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl QuiƱones, Arlie Ricasa, and former trustee Gregorio Sandoval — will be arraigned on charges on January 30. The district’s former superintendent Jesus Gandara will also be arraigned on that day.

By now many people have read about the lavish meals South Bay trustees and school administrators enjoyed at the contractor’s expense. Given what we know about Sweetwater in particular, maybe it’s time to ask if dining out is endemic to the district culture.

Document--Ed Brand’s calendar, January 29, 2001–February 2, 2002
Document--Ed Brand’s district credit-card receipts, July 2000–October 2003

Well before he was indicted, the U-T was reporting on former superintendent Gandara’s dining habits. According to a May 2011 article, Gandara, before having his district credit card yanked, “had charged more than 300 meals to taxpayers over three years, even though his contract paid him $800 a month for expenses.”

The same article tells us: “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 QuiƱones 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 justified his use of the credit card by saying that without it “community members would have to come to the district office for coffee or water instead of being treated to restaurants.”

Many people in the South Bay wonder why taxpayers pay for administrative offices that are not the setting for business meetings — whether with trustees or contractors.

But Gandara did not invent the fine art of dining out.

In 2002, a Sweetwater student began investigating the district. Gordon Siu was a reporter for his Bonita Vista High School paper. In a January 9 interview, Siu, a 2010 Yale graduate, said he began to get a sense that the district administration “was doing things the wrong way.” It appeared to Siu that “the trend was that these officials were more concerned with making themselves look good than they were with education.”

Before Siu graduated from Bonita Vista in ’06, he put in two public record requests: one for then-superintendent Ed Brand’s calendar and the other for Brand’s credit card receipts spanning 2000–2003. (Brand was superintendent of Sweetwater from 1995–2005. He returned to Sweetwater on the heels of Gandara’s buyout in June 2011.)

When he received the record, Siu was taken aback when he saw that Brand ate out almost every day and sometimes twice a day. Siu wondered: “When did he have time for students and teachers?”

Looking at the South Bay scandal today, Siu commented, “I tried to tell everyone years ago what was going on.”

[Maura Larkins comment: I hear you, Gordon. I tried, too.]


...oskidoll Jan. 11, 2013 @ 3 p.m.

Perhaps NOW the County Board/Office of Education might pay attention? 15 indictments, including at least 3 for extortion, should certainly bring the South County education establishment messes to the attention of the body that is supposed to oversee operations, especially fiscal matters, of the school districts in their jurisdiction. The next meeting of the [SD]COE will feature the seating of the new representative from District 2, Lyn Nealon. It will be Wednesday, January 23 at 6 p.m. Perhaps she will be more responsive to matters in South County than the prior representative.

By the way, I see an interesting entry in Brand's old calendar: a meeting with Sandoval and Rudy Castruita, the former CEO of the CBOE [also known as SDCOE]. Castruita now pulls down a handsome STRS pension in his retirement, perhaps the highest in the entire county. Seems that Dr. Granger Ward [correction: Randolph Ward], his successor, should be doing something for his pay.

[Maura Larkins note: SDCOE has some issues of its own. Rodger Hartnett's lawsuit included information about the SDCOE Diners Club at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. Many people are alarmed by the actions of Dan Puplava and Diane Crosier. Randy Ward and the SDCOE board allow Crosier to conceal the gifts she receives.]

timtim Jan. 11, 2013 @ 5:49 p.m.

Wow Bertha Lopez indited on 19 counts and Susan writes about Ed Brands lunch schedule from 10 years ago? I smell a Pulitzer for this Hack

angrybirds Jan. 14, 2013 @ 10:25 a.m.

...Hey wow, I think this timtim sounds like McCann or Grossman two Republicans pouting because they didn't get their way in the elections.

[Maura Larkins note: Many Democrats disapprove of corruption on the part of Democrats. I have said for years that Bertha Lopez is corrupt, but I believe that the small-time skimming of these defendants is not the worst kind of corruption in our schools. I would have voted for Lopez if I lived in her district because I think she was the lesser evil.

As for serious corruption, I believe that SDCOE corrupted Lopez (and almost all board members in the county) more than any contractor did.

Guess who helped direct Bertha Lopez' actions when she first became a board member of CVESD?

None other than former and current SUHSD Superintendent ED BRAND!!!

He was on SDCOE's Legal Services Council and was also a regional chair of ACSA, so he is doubly responsible for travesties like the Mary Ann Weegar case in Sweetwater and is also partially responsible for my case at CVESD. I was fired, in part, for filing grievances and a lawsuit. The other part was that I refused to come to work until an investigation was done. Here's how my case started. The "investigation" was never completed.

Why not, Bertha Lopez?

For some reason, the teachers union doesn't like to talk about my case, and, perhaps as a result of that, the Reader won't write about it. The teachers union clearly didn't want an investigation in my case because it would have exposed crimes by Robin Donlan, a friend of CVE President Gina Boyd.

SDCOE's JPA sent instructions to school boards through representatives. One of the instructions is "Deny all claims." Patrick Judd was SDCOE's representative at CVESD when Bertha arrived. Judd, Larry Cunningham and Pamela Smith had control of the board, and Bertha went along with them. Also, CVESD Superintendent Lowell Billings was on the Superintendents' committee that directed how lawsuits would be handled.

White Chalk Crime is the term coined by Karen Horwitz for what is going on in many schools and county boards of education. It seems to be thriving here in Enron by the Sea.]


[Maura Larkins note: Why does the Reader publish comments attacking a person's height and weight and calling names??? Is anyone at the Reader actually reading the comments?

I am not happy to see teachers and other adults ridiculing a student (timtim) and commenting on his chances of academic success. Why not say something to reach out to him and offer a bit of information that he can absorb with his current mind set? That's what a good teacher would do.

I am appalled that an adult would make fun of a person's size and a teacher would resort to name-calling of students. Appalled, but not at all surprised. It's what I heard in the teachers lounge for decades. Often, these same teachers punish children for bullying behavior. But students report that this bullying by teachers takes place inside classrooms, too. What are kids supposed to take away from such mixed messages?]

Here is a separate Reader article in which supporters of teacher/board member Bertha Lopez verbally attack a young person who wants to be a teacher.

Some of the comments are included here:

timtim Jan. 11, 2013 @ 5:52 p.m.

It was pretty simple....sorry it sailed over your head,and no I am not a learning center packet checker wanna be teacher like the rest of you

Visduh Jan. 11, 2013 @ 9:05 p.m.

Eastlaker, I was waiting for someone to take timtim to task for his poor spelling, poor grammar, lack of punctuation, and generally not knowing the conventions of typing, such as a space after the comma and . . . In a couple previous go-rounds our pal anniej would do that, but you've done it well. If I can get past all the language challenges, timtim seems to be saying...

And, timtim, I'm not a wanna-be teacher (note punctuation), I am a teacher with a heck of a lot better language skills than you will ever have, even it you live a century.

eastlaker Jan. 11, 2013 @ 10:36 p.m. [In the comments in the "Diners Club" article at the top of this post, eastlaker also makes fun of Ed Brand's former girth.]

I guess we will have to add unfamiliarity with the correct use of tense. As in present, past, future, etc.

Pretty sure timtim wouldn't be able to pass the high school exit exam if this is all s/he is capable of.

Visduh Jan. 13, 2013 @ 9:01 p.m.

If timtim doesn't want to take hits for grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and a host of other language skills, then he should clean up his act and make his message clear. It isn't just his sloppy typing that misses the mark, it is that his comments seem all but incomprehensible.

jibaro Jan. 14, 2013 @ 4:10 a.m.

Visduh, I think you were my 10th grade English teacher ! :} :} :}

[Visduh has indeed mentioned being a teacher. Jibaro seems to be a subtle, humorous person.]

anniej Jan. 11, 2013 @ 10:24 p.m.

Tim Tim: according to one of your high school teachers you were a puts as a teenager, and have grown up to be an older, even though not bigger putts. Could it be that the net has not been pulled all of the way in? Might there be more fish? Hmmmmmmmmm

[Maura Larkins note: I think it's spelled "putz". I'm not a stickler for precise spelling, but I thought you'd like to know. It's Yiddish.]

jibaro Jan. 12, 2013 @ 4:39 a.m.

Sorry to see Tim Tim taking hits for grammar, spell, etc. Open season for his positions. That having been said, I will note that Dr. Brand does what the majority of the Board allows him to do. Three votes, they all understand three votes on a five member board.


anniej Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:20 p.m.

Ms. LUZZARRO: When the South Bay thinks of reporting the news The Reader and you are what we think of. Not sure where you went, hopefully you were having fun, but hip hip hooray YOU ARE BACK!!!!!!!

Visduh Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:01 p.m.

Susan, we have missed you. When one round of new indictments was announced, I expected a report and there was none. Then the following day five more were indicted, and I was sure you would report. Hope you are back and on the job doing what you do so well, keeping us up to date on this ongoing scandal.

VigilantinCV Jan. 12, 2013 @ 11:28 a.m.

OMG! So glad you are back, Susan Luzzaro. Your voice in the South Bay is invaluable to those of us who want to know the hard facts. Thank you, Susan and The READER.

dbdriver Jan. 11, 2013 @ 8 p.m.

By the way, thank you Susan, for once again bringing such information to light.

erupting Jan. 11, 2013 @ 2:51 p.m.

Out of the mouth of babes as the saying goes. Here is a past student that was aware of the culture of Sweetwater way before any of us. Wow this article is a real eye opener. Brand was feeding at the trough long before Gandara came and longer. Someone told me that he also bought his rental car that we supplied him for the time he was with us at a generous discount. Does anyone know about this? Glad to hear from you Susan Luzzaro.

jibaro Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:15 p.m.

Susan, great to have you back!

anniej Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:30 p.m.

Jlbaro: Off topic, but in Ms. Luzzaro's absence I was trolling thru some of her old articles and found I had missed a reply you made to me regarding one of the board members. PLEASE KNOW, my comments were not aimed at you. I was speaking of someone else.

susan Jan. 12, 2013 @ 12:57 p.m.

Gordon Siu, we must admit, was a remarkable student and journalist and continues to contribute to the community. He has his own website which contains other pieces of journalism related to the school district which may interest those who follow the subject. Thanks for your work, Gordon.

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