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El Rancho Recall of Jose Lara and Leanne Ibarra Will Go Forward

BY BRIAN HEWS

The El Rancho Unified School District (ERUSD) recall, a recall started after HMG-LCCN published a series of investigative articles that revealed graft and corruption at the highest levels of the school board, will go forward.

The recall targets are long-time board member Jose Lara and newcomer Leanne Ibarra, both elected in 2018, who, along with VP Gabriel Orosco, rule the board and conduct meetings that routinely ignore the concerns of teachers, staff, and parents of the ERUSD.

The board members have kicked people out of meetings for their criticism during public comment while inviting non-residents from their radical organization Union del Barrio to intimidate them. 

And just recently, in an attempt to bring their philosophy into the ERUSD, they fired several long-time principals, including one from El Rancho High, and demoted others, while installing their own cronies to do their bidding.

An eleven page Unfair Practice Charge filed against ERUSD, exclusively obtained by HMG-LCCN in August of this year, portrayed Lara, VP Orosco, and Ibarra as an extremely malicious group, pitting administrators and teachers against each other, fabricating reasons to terminate administrators, demoting and dismissing ERUSD personnel without evaluations, and harassing parents who spoke at Board meetings, all in an effort take over the ERUSD, hand their own friends a job, and install their radical left-wing communist ethnic studies curriculum into the district.

The scheme started after Ibarra was elected in 2018,  giving Lara a majority on the Board. By March 2019, the Group issued twenty-three layoff notices for nearly all ERUSD Administrators. 

The layoffs were targets of the Group, meant to decimate the entire El Rancho Administrators and Supervisors Association Union’s Bargaining Unit, threatening them with imminent unemployment. 

Targeted were former ERASA President Sam Genis, and ERASA members David Sermeno, Hector Vasquez, and Rosalio Medrano; El Rancho Federation of Teachers members included Todd Zola, Pedro Canizales, and Natalie Valdiviez.

The Group’s plan was to pit administrators against teachers and fabricate discipline issues so they could be fired, forcing administrators to violate the protected rights of subordinates while prohibiting “protected activities” on their school sites.

The Charge alleged that Lara and Orosco personally threatened many administrators, who will testify if there is a hearing, with termination if they did not retaliate and falsify records against certain ERFT members.

Another stain on the board, along with the harassment and firing of teachers, was Lara re-hiring a corrupt contractor that was fired in 2018 using his new-found majority and Ibarra’s vote.

The recipient of Lara and Company’s actions was Jaime Ortiz, a good friend of Lara and Orosco’s, and owner of High Performance Learning Environments, Inc., which was incorporated only five years ago as a two-person company.

In a blatant pay to play scheme, Ortiz had donated $10,000 to Ibarra’s 2018 campaign.

Like many of Lara’s friends, Ortiz had an extremely checkered past, including a stint as senior manager at the Seville Group (SGI), a construction company that managed school bond programs.

SGI was involved in the Sweetwater Unified High School District (Sweetwater) corruption and bribery scandal related to the district’s massive $600 million bond, the largest corruption scheme in San Diego history.

According to reports by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ortiz was given protection from prosecution under a plea deal involving his boss, SGI owner Rene Flores

Yet Lara, Orosco, and Ibarra rehired HPLE and Ortiz and paid him $50,000, along with handing Ortiz the lucrative bond contract. 

They began a wide-ranging scheme, exclusively uncovered by HMG-LCCN, involving over $212 million in school bond funds with the three engaging in pay-to-play politics, financial cover-up, blatant conflicts of interests, and willful violations of California’s Education Code.

The malfeasance was of such magnitude that it surpassed what HMG-LCCN uncovered inside Montebello Unified, when the LA County Office of Education and the Financial Crisis Management Team (FCMAT) were called in to investigate and audit the district, with the Securities and Exchange Commission filing for documents soon thereafter.

FCMAT called for an audit of ERUSD that remains ongoing.

After the bond scandal and the firing of teachers, ERUSD residents took action and began the recall.

In typical fashion, Lara and Ibarra, along with Orosco, used Trump-style politics in an attempt to divide the ERUSD.

One attempt was a  two page political flyer, attacking proponents of the current recall, sent out by a questionable association called the Pico Rivera Parent Teacher Student Association.

HMG-LCCN could not find any information on the internet with the name Pico Rivera Parent Teacher Student Association (Association).

Residents told HMG-LCCN that the flyer was delivered in north Pico Rivera,  by “walking man” delivery, which is much cheaper than a USPS mailing and does not require identifying paperwork.

A walking man delivery company is independently owned and virtually untraceable, using several employees to walk streets who place flyers on a home’s front door or a perimeter fence.

Under California Fair Political Practices Commission rules, any political communications must have a disclaimer that identifies the person or entity who paid for the communication and their corresponding FPPC identification number, otherwise known as the “paid for by” disclaimer.

The Association’s flyer had no such disclaimer, a blatant violation of FPPC rules, which carry heavy fines if the person or organization is identified.

Lately, Orosco has claimed he started the PTSA but has offered no proof.

Los Angeles County officials validated over 7,600 signatures for each official exceeding the 6,509 needed to force the election which, according to recall proponents, will occur in May of next year.

The successful recall is a product of a diverse group of residents who were fed up over the corruption and intimidation tactics that enveloped the board since 2018.

The diversity was apparent when HMG-LCCN informed everyone involved that an article about the recall was going to be published.


Lilia Carreon President of the ERUSD Federation of Teachers told HMG-LCCN, “We are pleased that our district will be holding  a special election to give the community the opportunity to vote for the removal of Jose Lara and Leanne Ibarra from the ERUSD school board. Our community has been silenced by the board majority and not included in the decision making process. The silver lining  of the recall has been the uniting of different groups within our community to protect the interests of our students. Our community is the voice of our students and we will continue to fight for them.”

Andrew Lara (no relation), who is also a Board member on the Pico Water District said, “This recall represents an awakening and a rejection of “pay to play” politics. That’s the obvious. The not so obvious, is that this recall effort energized a silent majority by empowered everyday citizens to speak up and take action! New networks were created, past grievances were set aside and we came together for agreed upon principles, honesty, decency, and transparency. I have made new life-long friends and it was an honor to work alongside all of those who sacrificed their time to make this recall happen. I look forward to carry this work into the recall election.” 

Durfee teacher and vocal board opponent Mikki Sethman told HMG-LCCN, “the reason I became so involved in this recall was because I could not believe what our board majority did to our beloved principals. They pink slipped every one of them in February, then demoted and fired six of them in March, it was quite a shock especially when no reasons were ever given. We tried to protest peacefully speaking at board meetings. Their unjust actions have united this community into seeking justice.”

Jennifer Baul, one of the parent leaders of the recall, told HMG-LCCN, “Our Pico Rivera residents continue to move forward with the recall as the board majority refuses to listen to the community.  We are for the rebuild of the high school and not complete demolishment, academics should be priority and the voices of our students should be heard instead of ignored.  We conquered and made this recall happen. This movement has made our community stronger and united. Our students and teachers matter, but more importantly, their education.”

Former ERUSD Board President Dr. Aurora Villon, who is constantly blamed by Lara, Orosco and Ibarra for the very problems the three caused at ERUSD, told HMG-LCCN, “Pico Rivera is a proud and honorable community rooted in rich values and traditions.  We love God, family, and country.  The well-being and education of our children is a top priority and we will do everything we can to protect that.  Beautiful things happen when residents, parents, educators, and support staff stand up to do the right thing…when they are focused, determined, and intentional about protecting  the right  students and staff have of learning and teaching in a stress-free, safe, and nurturing environment.  I am proud of our beautiful Pico Rivera.”

As of now, the recall group counts parent and community activist Esther Mejia as a replacement candidate, but Villon indicated other strong candidates have come forward.

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