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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.

  • former ABC student says:

    I’m sure there are going to be campaigns for and against the bond, now that is going on the ballot. Board Members, like Lynda Johnson, are being slammed for “opposing” the bond, but she is just doing her due diligence to provide the community with all potential sources of revenue before voting on a multi-million dollar bond that will affect homeowners in all ABC cities, not just Cerritos residents, for 30 years. The Rios sisters were way out of line and could have expressed their opinions without being so rude; they, like everyone else in ABC, need to keep open minds and not just assume what they are told. Voters need to do their own research, but the District needs to make that research available.
    Every one wants to save money, even if it is just a dollar a day. The District put this to the Board on June 24, with limited information, and expected them to vote by July 8 and July 15. The District has been unable to provide the cost list from the 1997 bond that was passed to see where the money really all went. There are also strategies to pushing people to vote for the bond, as there are to push people against he bond. The district will run a “stealth” election, “communicating only with administrators, the local teachers union, the PTA, and parents who have children in school” and convince people that the bond is only $1 a day. However, no one pays property taxes a day at a time, they will being the lump sum all at once. Also, regardless of it’s $1/day, voters would still like to know where that money is going, and the District, not the Board, has not been transparent.
    However, on the other side, the schools obviously need money! Schools are falling a part! It does not seem that the redevelopment funds that were supposed to be redistributed by the state and county back to the districts where the money came from have actually been redistributed. So to the District: Why that certain amount? Where is that money going? Will money be shifted around to give teachers raises? Will the money be shifted around to hire 2 full-time positions to fill the position of the one person who left? Do elementary schools really need rubberized tracks? Probably not.
    No one hates schools or children, and it might be fair to assume that voters in ABC want to keep ABC as one of the best school districts in California. However, in order to persuade voters who are on the fence, the District needs to stop hiding the facts.

    • Council of Thieves says:

      Don’t be fooled, Johnson did NOT do her due diligence. To suggest that is utterly foolish and naive.

      The facts are clear. This bond issue has been before the board since December 2013. Johnson and her allies have had nearly 7 full months to complete due diligence.

      Had the phony Johnson faithfully attempted due diligence she would have presented any potential sources of revenue — especially at the last two meetings.

      It is clear, Johnson has no plan to go after funding. Johnson showed no desire to find potential sources of revenue.

      Johnson attempted to create a circus of confusion and anyone watching the meeting saw right though her.

  • M c M a h o n says:


    Bizarre ending to proposed ABCUSD –Mello Roos bond school meeting. Controversial resolution past in the 2399 hr.


    The public at large, needs to be able to ask questions at upcoming, round table meetings on the bond. Way toooooo many issues about the Master Plan, and more importantly the construction and implementation of the Mello Roos Bond for schools. Calif has one of the worst educational systems in the NATION; why should property owners bail out our local educational systems, when the problem is larger then the state.

    • Public needs to know the deposition of the 97 Mello Roos SCHOOL Bond and allocations to all sites.

    • Public needs to know the salaries schedules from ’97 – forward, as feel lot of the 97’ Mello Roos incomes was used for site improvements, hence the state allocated site facilities improvements funds were transferred, so were spent on wages instead of ongoing deferred maintenance.

    Bottom line, with this Mello Roos Bond and all other bonds, bond money will force retirees to leave the city and state, as will not be able to finance the worlds of bonds.

    The schools are not the only thing falling apart. Look at the public works in Cerritos, millions of dollars needed to fix this /that.

    Pray the taxpayers in the state stop all bonds, measures and propositions which have financial impact to the taxpayers and property owners.

    Almost as crazy as the whole debates were over last few months, the ghostly Bond took quick turn. 10 minutes before closing the meeting, a quick motion on the floor made by crying-shacking ABC president, reduced the proposed $235M Mello Roos bond downward to $190M and some ridiculous change. Unknown to the public, where the figures were pulled out of the hat from.

    Seated president called this a compromise figures of $190M Mello Roos. Compromise had never been introduced on the floor, nor debated. There was no debate allowed by the Trustees for this last minute vote. Resolution won by 6 to 1. The president was so upset; many leaders, teachers, school families and the inner circle of Teacher Unions employees, in the School district, challenge her mental capability and are stating, was president Tse even mentally sound in bringing this motion to the floor & entering in to contract for the trustees to vote………..My question, what kind of back door shenanigans have taken place, to plant the seed to produce the strange $190M Mello Roos figure. Mrs. Tse lost so much composure, almost resembled like she had been forced by some unknown threats!!!!

    Seems very very odd. This very controversial Bond, which has a magnitude of aprox $650M, was presented to the board and debated at $235M, and this last minute resolution was passed at $190M without public debate. Is this $190M just a mere placeholder for more Mello Roos to come forward in nearby decade?

    Manure smelling Closure of this resolution, speaks louder than words, as this bond which is not needed nor recognize by the Trustees; will never be approved by the public for the school district. Creditabilty of compromising this bond, for downward spin of (+-)$45M really advertises to the district voters, this elected Trustees, have not done due diligence in engineering both the Master Plan, or the Bond Economics.

    Now the board will orchestrate more wasteful PR $$$$ for advertising this painful Mello Roos Bond, to proposed tune of est. $50K. fees, which could be better spent on technology for the district at large. The $150K spent for R&D of this pseudo Mello Roos School Bond, could have been spent more frugal.

    My opine, trustees have taken the district to the cleaners, wasted valuable time and exposed the demons/ dunce hat mentality of the ABCUSD. Furthermore, feel the teachers which reside outside of the district have a conflict of interest, as they are trying to bathe their jobsites in gold n diamonds, create larger payroll budgets, so the state allocated annual funds for facilities, can land directly for salaries. My home is built in 60’70’s and needs improvements too, but lets face it, we are rising from the 2nd greatest recession in 100 yrs. Where are the jobs, good jobs to afford
    Homes and Mello Roos Bonds? Digestion of S.T.E.M.education is not RX to this post recession.

    God Bless.

  • arthur says:

    Thank you board member Johnson for your courage and clear thinking. The out of state bankers and SF financial advisors will reap millions of dollars. How is it that the financial advisors providing the district with advice, suggested it would be good to run a bond campaign now? Oh, yah, the financial advisors are also getting paid to be the political consultant on the election. Can you say, “Conflict of interest”?

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