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$635 Million ABCUSD Faciltiy Master Plan Wins Narrow Passage

CONTROVERSIAL CERRITOS MAYOR PRO-TEM CAROL CHEN TOLD TO “SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP” BY COMMUNITY MEMBERS AFTER DELIVERING A NEARLY SEVEN MINUTE RAMBLING SPEECH.

By Brian Hews

The ABC Unified School District Board of Education approved a new $635 Million Facilities Master Plan early Wednesday morning in a meeting that literally lasted eight hours spanning two days and attracting nearly 300 vocal residents, teachers, politicians, union leaders, and taxpayers who all had strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

The final vote to approve the plan was 4 to 3 with Members Maynard Law, Armin Reyes, Celia Spitzer, and Olympia Chen supporting the plan and President Sophia Tse, Vice President Lynda Johnson and Member Soo Yoo vocally opposing the plan.

Cerritos Mayor Pro-Tem sits inside the ABC School Board Hearing Room after being told to "sit down and shut up" after delivering a rambling talk to school board members. Randy Economy Photo

Cerritos Mayor Pro-Tem sits inside the ABC School Board Hearing Room after being told to “sit down and shut up” after delivering a rambling talk to school board members. Randy Economy Photo

Yoo and Johnson had attended a private meeting organized by Cerritos Mayor pro tem Carol Chen last week. HMG-CN learned from two sources that the meeting was held to craft a strategy to defeat the Master Plan and the Bond Measure.

The board also began the formal process of having a $265 Million General Improvement Bond Measure placed on the upcoming November 4th General Election Ballot. Specific details about the bond will be on the next agenda of the ABC School Board on July 15 beginning at 7 p.m. at the District Headquarters at the corner of 166th Street and Norwalk Boulevard.

Superintendent Dr. Mary Sieu and Chief Financial Officer Toan Nguyen, as well as a cadre of consultants, touted the plan as a “working roadmap” that will help future district officials develop a long-term modernization plan at more than 30 campuses and other aged facilities that have not seen significant improvements in decades.

“In order to maintain outstanding student achievement and enhance the quality of education for all students, and to prepare students for the competitive collegiate and career markets of the 21st Century, the District must maintain, repair, upgrade, expand, and improve its educational facilities,” Nguyen told the board and audience.  “The Facility Master Plan is a long range planning tool to address the District’s facility’s needs, nothing more, nothing less, and can be changed, revised or altered at any time, by any future school board,” Nguyen said.

Dejected ABC School Board Member Soo Yoo during Tuesday's ABC School Board Meeting.  Randy Economy Photo

Dejected ABC School Board Member Soo Yoo during Tuesday’s ABC School Board Meeting. Randy Economy Photo

“The mission of ABC Unified School District is to develop a great community of life long learners, creative thinkers, and responsible individuals by providing innovative and high quality educational programs in a safe and supportive environment. As a District we need to go from great to exceptional,” Nguyen added during his comments.

Nearly 70 people testified before the board about the plan and many of them mirrored the position of Melissa Peterson, a resident of Cerritos, and who is an employee of ABC School District:  “Tonight I speak in support of this plan.  As a teacher, you feel valued here, but you can only do with have you have to deal with to help teach our kids in class.  As a resident and taxpayer, this is going to affect me and my property taxes, but I totally support both the plan and the bond to pay for it.”

Ben Ao, a longtime resident of Cerritos and critic of the ABC School Board said he was concerned that residents and voters were not properly informed about the plan or the details of the upcoming bond measure. “I was informed of this plan through private channels; sure better schools make better communities, but I want to caution the school board about transparency, and not doing anything behind closed doors,” Ao said.

Cerritos resident Chung Fu said that the community was not properly informed about the Master Plan.  “Look, 98% of the community doesn’t know what’s going on. You guys decided to put this master plan, before even informing the community.  If we were at the World Cup you would get a Yellow Card and someone would be placed on a time out,” Fu said. His comments got many chuckles around the crowded district office.

Cerritos Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Chen generated cackles from the audience during her series of comments that she made throughout the night.

It was exclusively reported last week in HMG-CN that Chen led a private meeting in her real estate office to prepare a specific strategy on how to defeat the Facility Master Plan. When it was Chen’s turn to speak, she seemed unprepared and rambled past the allotted time, speaking nearly  seven minutes.

Board Clerk Maynard Law admonished her for not following board hearing rules. When Chen continued, members of the ABC Federations of Teachers who were seated in the front row  told Chen to “sit down and shut up.”

Chen handed out a list of “concerns” and “suggestion” about the plan that HMG-CN confirmed was drafted after input with former Cerritos Mayor and relator Grace Hu, current Cerritos Councilman Bruce Barrows, and former controversial ABC School Board members Cecy Groom and Dixie Primosch and Matt Kauble who is a local Republican Party activist.

One Artesia resident who did not want to be identified said, “that list that Chen handed out was nothing more than talking points from the local Republican party leaders, every speaker who came up against the measure basically said what Chen handed out.”

Also speaking in favor of the Master Plan was incoming Gahr High School Student Body President Lani LaCroix.

“Our classrooms are too cramped, and we don’t have modern equipment at Gahr so it is hard for our students to show our true potential. I am going to be ASB President and I am here to support the Master Plan and to make sure that all of our students excel. Sometimes we need to shut off our air conditioning because we don’t have enough electrical power to run our lights at the same time, this needs to resolve once and for all,” said LaCroix.

ABC School Board Vice President Lynda Johnson spoke for more than 40 minutes during the heated meeting on Tuesday night.  Randy Economy Photo

ABC School Board Vice President Lynda Johnson spoke for more than 40 minutes during the heated meeting on Tuesday night. Randy Economy Photo

Johnson Lashes Out

It was past 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning, ABC School Members were still meeting, and tempers were flaring.

However, several hours earlier, Board Vice President Johnson took nearly 40 minutes to pepper questions to school administrators and consultants about the plan that she ultimately voted against.

Johnson told HMG-CN on Wednesday afternoon that she “had a lot of questions about cost expenses, and other concerns, and yes it was a very long night.”

Johnson said that she was “not happy” with the district “for not being transparent with the community” about the details of the master plan.

“We needed to reach out to the community and public better,” Johnson said.

“Look,  we have architects looking into the matter and planners and engineers and when you don’t get community support for a master plan you won’t get support for the bond,” Johnson said.

Johnson also defended her participation with Chen, Hu, Groom, Primosch, and Yoo at a private meeting where details of the master plan were openly discussed using paperwork that was not public records at the time.

“We all have the right to do what we believe is the best in being able to represent the community and to hear different points of view, and this particular meeting was no exception,” Johnson said.

Johnson did not indicate if she would be supporting or opposing the bond.   “We all need to hear from the community about the bond, and everyone needs to be heard,” she concluded.

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