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ABC School Board Green Lights Public Vote on $195 Million School Improvement Bond

ABC School Board Member Celia Spitzer during Tuesday's heated meeting.  Randy Economy Photo

ABC School Board Member Celia Spitzer during Tuesday’s heated meeting. Randy Economy Photo

By Brian Hews
In an emotionally charged meeting, the ABC Unified School District Board of Education voted to place a $195 million General Improvement Bond measure on the upcoming November 4 election ballot.

The meeting became so heated that the board president began sobbing while two Latina Hawaiian Gardens community leaders called another board member a racist.

With a midnight deadline looming, the seven-member board voted 6-1 to send a scaled down version of a general improvement bond that was originally valued at $235 million to voters in the fall.

The lone no vote came from Vice President Lynda Johnson who was frequently targeted by residents during the meeting for her attending a secret closed door meeting with Cerritos Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Chen, and fellow board member Soo Yoo that was intended to create a strategy to kill the bond proposal altogether.

More than 50 speakers took turns before President Sophia Tse and other board members voicing their support for the bond proposal.

Members Celia Spitzer, Armin Reyes, Maynard Law and Olympia Chen were unwavering in the “united support for the children” and all vocally spoke in favor of the proposal.

ABC School Board Members Soo Yoo and Olympia Chen.  Randy Economy Photo

ABC School Board Members Soo Yoo and Olympia Chen. Randy Economy Photo

Voters who reside in the district will have to approve the bond by at least a vote of 55% in November.

Tse told attendees that she “needed a clear picture of what this bond is going to cover” before she would support placing the bond before voters.

“We are facing a tough decision tonight. Not everyone will agree about our decision. We are not voting on the decision of the bond, we are voting to give the voters the right to decide the outcome on the bond,” Tse said at the beginning of the meeting.

By the end of the meeting, Tse was in tears.

Tse had difficulty projecting her comments to fellow board members and had to be corrected by District officials as well as legal advisors about how to navigate the meetings proceedings.

Olga Rios and her sister Hawaiian Gardens City Councilwoman Mariana Rios blasted Johnson for past controversial comments she made at a public meeting held just one week earlier when she expressed her opposition to the district’s $600 million plus Facilities Master Plan.

“Last week board member Lynda Johnson suggested that closing a school like Hawaiian Elementary or Ferguson Elementary was a better alternative that to renovate it,” Olga Rios said from her written notes.

Olga Rios during the ABC Unified School District meeting on Tuesday night.  Randy Economy Photo

Olga Rios during the ABC Unified School District meeting on Tuesday night. Randy Economy Photo

“How disturbing it was to hear this coming from someone entrusted with the educational future of our communities. How easy it was for her (Johnson) to throw these kids (from Hawaiian Gardens) away. Would she dare to make such a suggestion about any school in Cerritos? Probably not,” Olga Rios said.

The Harvard educated Rios continued denouncing Johnson by saying, “Closing a school in a poor community is not good for kids. What that is an attack against poor children, the most vulnerable members of our society. It is an attack against minority children; children who need empathy not contempt. Such a person is not fit to hold public office,” she said about Johnson.

Councilwoman Rios also denounced Johnson during her three minute allotted address. “I am here unfortunately to address school board member Lynda Johnson comments. I will give her political courtesy that she made a mistake in suggesting that she would propose that one of our Hawaiian Gardens schools be closed, I expected her to acknowledge our achievements and to support our schools. I guess I was wrong about where Ms. Johnson is coming from,” Councilwoman Rios said.

Also supporting the bond was Cynthia Corrales a resident of Lakewood. “Our students have been asked to step up and deal with Common Core. We need this bond. This bond will help bring smart boards to our classrooms. It will bring new aquatics facilities to Artesia High School. We cannot buy votes, but we have the power of the voices. We will keep the ABC School District on the forefront of school success,” Corrales said.

She also urged the board to “overlook the petty politics, and to allow the people to determine if we want this bond.”

George Shy a resident of Cerritos stood in opposition to placing the bond on the ballot. “I am opposing this bond issue. This is a controversial decision. I am talking as a homeowner. We need to find another source of funding. We cannot afford a tax increase. I hope the Board does not submit this as a bond measure in November. Many are thinking this is only a homeowner’s tax. I do not want this on the November ballot, period,” Shy said.

Artesia Mayor Pro Tem Miguel Canales, who is a teacher at Gahr High School, said he supported the board and that the bond is needed. “We need to reach every student who has diverse and unique needs. The homeowners of Artesia benefit from the success of our schools here at ABC School District.”

Bob Hughlett, a former ABC School Board member reminded the Board, “You are here for the kids.” Hughlett denounced “the rumors that were going around the about the bond,” and encouraged to allow “the people and community to be able to support or oppose the bond.”

Jerry Jensen a 43-year resident of Cerritos posed several direct questions regarding specific details about how the bond would be financed, including who would be serving as the underwriter. “We need more specifics, and less of the political speak, and who will be able to float the bond,” Jensen said.

Tom Tracey, Principal at Stowers Elementary, was also direct in his support for the bond. “We are here to support our children, and we need to keep them focused on the process. We need teamwork. We need to make our children better than us when they get to our age. We all want the best for our students; we need all of us to work together. Our teachers are responsible for educating our future. We need to be held accountable and give me the means to make this happen,” he stressed.

Gavin Riley, a Cerritos homeowner and longtime member of the ABC Federation of Teachers said, “We have gone down this road before. If this doesn’t pass, maybe real estate agents shouldn’t be passing out flyers telling us that we need to move into Cerritos because of the quality of the ABC School District.”

Sal Flores, a resident of Norwalk, and parent of students attending ABC School said, “Our schools are run down, and I know this bond issue will help. This bond may not be a Cadillac but what is wrong with this being a Ford. We need to keep educating our residents about this bond and I want you to think about the kids.”

Louise Dodson, a resident of Lakewood and a former member of the ABC School Board reminded the board, “This bond is bigger than you. You need to turn this over to the people. This is about all of our cities, all of our cities. ABC is about everyone. When you make your decisions, you need to make this for the people.”

Board member Celia Spitzer said, “As a board member it is incumbent for me to support putting this measure on the November ballot. Supporting this bond is one of the easiest decisions I have ever made. It is my duty to allow the residents of ABC Unified School District to choose to tax themselves on a school bond issue. This tax would cost me one cup of Starbuck Mocha Latte’ a week. It would cost me around $150 per year based upon the assessed value of my home.”

Board member Maynard Law said, “The voters of the school district should be able to vote this issue up or down. This should not be decided by a minority of three school board members (Johnson, Yoo and Tse), but the voters need to have the say so on this issue.”

Law also said, “There has been an active campaign of misinformation that has been generated and communicated for the past number of weeks. I am going to lose a half a bag of French Fries a day if this bond passes. I want the voters to speak at the ballot box. I can’t believe that any member of this board of education could actually not support this measure.”

Board Member Armin Reyes was also direct in his thoughts about the bond. “I want to put this into the hands of the residents. Who uses our facilities? Its religious groups, youth groups, community groups and good honest people use our campuses. We need to let the people decide. We can never have enough meetings to communicate with every voter. I will not impede any voter from to having the opportunity. Let democracy move forward.

Board member Yoo caught many off guard when she announced that she would support placing the bond before the voters after leading a private effort to have the issue derailed.

Yoo said that she wanted to “have the bond issue put off till 2016.” “We should wait,” Yoo said.

The first term school board member then shocked many in the audience when she said that Whitney High School in Cerritos was a “school in decline” and said that Oxford Academy and Troy High School in Orange County were now the “areas premier high schools, not Whitney.”

Board member Olympia Chen said, “It is critical to provide correct information about this bond. There is an underground effort to misinform the community about this issue and what this bond will be able to do to improve our schools.”

“The responsibility of this board is to allowing the community to decide this issue. Better schools make better communities. Kids’ education cannot wait. Let’s put this on the ballot,” Chen said.

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