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By Brian Hews
ABC Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Sieu has denounced public comments made last week by embattled Cerritos Mayor-Pro Tem Carol Chen after Chen orchestrated a private strategy meeting with top real estate executives and other current and past elected officials to construct a plan to derail a pending $235 million dollar school improvement bond.
HMG-CN spoke to at least two people who were inside the private meeting held by Chen and they confirmed that it was the intent of those attending to “kill the bond, period.”
Last week Chen went on a near 7-minute public diatribe at a packed ABC School Board Meeting where she questioned the merits of a $600 million dollar Facility Master Plan that was crafted with the input of more than 300 local parents and residents who live within the ABCUSD.
Hews Media Group-Community Newspaper reported the details of a secret meeting that Chen coordinated and held in her private real estate office in Cerritos just days before the July 4th holiday.
During that meeting, Chen was joined by ABC School Board Members Soo Yoo and Lynda Johnson, along with current Cerritos Councilman Bruce Barrows, former ABC School Board members Dixie Primosch, Cecy Groom, political consultant Matt Kauble, and former Cerritos Mayor Grace Hu as well as a host of other key professional real estate executives.
Sieu, along with Assistant Superintendent Toan Nguyen, told HMG-CN in a one-hour interview on Monday that Chen was “factually incorrect” in “several key points” regarding statements Chen was distributing to members of the community.
“We want to publicly correct the statements that are being made (by Carol Chen) and to set the record straight about the entire planning process of both the FMP and the possible $235 Million General Improvement Bond,” an indignant Dr. Sieu said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Chen handed a six-page document of notes to current Board President Sophia Tse and other members of the school board during last week’s marathon meeting that was titled “Carol Chen’s Suggestions.”
Chen refused to give a copy to HMG-CN, but the newspaper was provided a copy by ABC School District officials.
In Chen’s written document, HMG-CN found more than one dozen misstatements.
Sieu said that the “miscommunication” that was being sent to community members as a result of the meeting from Chen, Yoo, Johnson, Barrows, Groom, Hu, and Primosch was “astonishing.”
Chen misstated the amount of money ABC School District receives annually from state and federal government officials as it relation to Average Daily Attendance also known as “ADA.” Chen said that ABCUSD garners $15,000 annually per student on ADA funding, but both Sieu and Nguyen said the figure is closer to $7,500 per student.
Chen also said $128,000 has been spent on the bond feasibility study. In fact, no money will be spent unless the bond passes.
Another misstatement was that the bond would cause property taxes to “increase dramatically,” Chen using actual value of homes and not the assessed value for her calculation.
“The average assessed value of a home in the ABCUSD in approximately $300,000,” said Nguyen, “so the average tax increase will be $180 per year. I am not discounting that it might be a lot of money to some, but I wanted to clarify Chen’s misstatement.”
Chen had stated that property taxes would increase $400-$500 per year.
Mysteriously left out of her Chen’s suggestions was that ABC has the lowest bond authorization amount per Student in the County and has the second lowest Tax Rate per $100,000 in the County. “For her to omit that in her comments was reprehensible,” said Sieu.
“We worked very hard to make certain everyone understood the bond measure,” said Sieu. We met with every school and over 300 parents going over every detail to make certain the FMP was comprehensive.”
Indeed, the process started with an open meeting Jan 15, 2014 where they talked about the potential bond measure. The entire board approved that the ABCUSD move forward.
The board then approved a contract with Dale Scott & Company to provide survey research services. The survey of residents in the district, equally weighted by city, asked if they would approve the bond, 72% said yes. “The voters in the district indicated strong support for a local school improvement bond program,” said Dr. Sieu.
But once the bond measure came close to the vote to place it on the November ballot, Chen and her friends sprung into action to try and derail the FMP and the bond in a series of blatant misstatements.
Chen also convinced Board Member Soo Yoo, who received large donations from Chen during her successful election, and Board Member Lynda Johnson to vote no last week.
A defiant Sieu said at the end of the meeting, “We have a responsibility to the community, taxpayers and voters. When statements are made in public that are totally false, we have the obligation to set the record straight, and that is why we are concerned with the wrong facts being distributed.”
Calls into Chen for comment went unreturned.
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