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Guest Opinion: Where Does ABCUSD Go Now?


By Gavin Riley

Whenever prospective home buyers are looking, their checklist of most important considerations, located somewhere between square footage and kitchen amenities, is the local school system.

For years realtors have loved to promote the ABC School District where the quality of education in its renowned schools drives up home prices 5 to 10 percent.  Led by bell weather Whitney High, which every year ranks among the best in the country and the only five time national Blue Ribbon school, along with overall academic excellence, ABC is a source of community pride.

One would think this pride, coupled with the perfect environment of historically low interest rates and the need to bring schools all at least forty years old into the 21st century, was the ideal moment to pass a school bond measure.

Over a hundred other school districts agreed and 80% of them passed bonds including all of the districts around ABC.  Shockingly, the bond measure here did not pass or even come close.

Everyone agrees that the schools need major upgrading but the big question is, “What does the district do in this aftermath?”

There is no shortage of explanations about why the bond failed in a place where the schools are revered.

It was apathy, as the 31% turnout showed.

It was complacency, including a city council member saying test scores were high already and upgrading wasn’t needed.

It was misinformation, with a former school board member declaring in an op-ed that employees received an average of $30,000 each in pay raises over the last two years.

It was the aging population on fixed income whose children had already gone thru school and did not feel obligated.

It was the general dislike for taxation… and many more.

Add to this fact free websites and you have the recipe for the outcome.  This does not explain how other districts facing the same headwinds were successful or how this reality will be addressed in any future bond measure.

Other solutions besides a bond have come forward but all of them amount to educational quackery.

A suggestion to close schools and sell the land in some of the other six cities served by ABC doesn’t raise much money, is a long drawn out process, and has a NIMBY tinge to it.

Throwing inter-district students out is both illegal and immoral to say nothing of costing far more in state student revenue than could be saved.

Cutting salaries (beyond the phantom $30,000) in a district that already struggles to remain competitive salary wise is an open invitation to a mass exodus of the talented staff achieving all that academic success.

Merging ABC with one of the surrounding school districts is as dopey as it sounds, although ironically since they all passed bond issues our community would assume their bond obligation as the price to be adopted.

Sadly, in the absence of any useful ideas the finger pointing has begun in earnest.

One local website that opposed the bond published a “hit list” of supporters they intend to get even with.

The School Board majority bypassed a leadership position for the one board member who opposed the bond figuring that having dished the advice of the district management, how could that person be effective in leading and being its public face.

Wolfing about who was tearing down yard signs during the election is the only dialogue going on.

Meanwhile, the future of 21,000 students is ignored.

The simple truth is, ABC must go after a school facilities bond again in 2016, the next time it is possible.  There is no “Plan B” or one would be implemented somewhere by now.  The state already pays 85% of the cost of educating ABC students under Proposition 98 and Governor Brown has stated clearly that state matching funds to fix schools as was done in ABC in 1997 after a much smaller bond was passed is not an option any longer.

The local public needs to understand that a valuable asset like a local school district needs constant upgrading or it becomes a liability.  The language of education which once was calculators and textbooks has been replaced by bandwidth, networks and chrome books, all more expensive and ever changing.

Gavin Riley is chief negotiator for the California Federation of Teachers and a retired ABC Unified School District teacher.

  • FLFF says:

    One of the BIGGEST reasons I voted NO was that as usual, there was NO guarantee the money would be used where it was supposed to be used! As we have found with most liberal democrat politicians LIKE moonbat Brown with his Prop 30! Life was gonna end if it was NOT passed and it was! So now life will end again if we don’t have more and more tax money to fix aging infrastructure and pay HUGE salaries for LAZY incompetent school officials AND finance the teacher unions and their corrupt officials! If any bond measure is put out for us I will AGAIN VOTE NO! Find the money someplace else and LIVE within your means LIKE THE REST OF US HAVE to do! GET a life and smell the coffee!

  • School Bonds | Mello Roos Tax Bait. says:

    School Bonds | Mello Roos Tax Bait.

    Dear ABC Neighbor:

    In the spirit of this wonderful holiday season, the United Homeowners Alliance would like to wish you a very merry Christmas and a very happy New Year. We wish you and your family good health and much happiness in the coming year. We would also like to share with you an excellent website set up by our friends in the Orange County Taxpayers Association at


    We support their position and criteria on school bonds, and we would like to add that under no circumstances should a school bond or any portion of it be financed as a capital appreciation bond. ABC School District is talking about doing the bond again in 2016. While we support their effort to improve our school facilities, we must demand that they show some respect for voters and taxpayers and abide by the aforementioned criteria.
    United Homeowners Alliance | A Community Organization

    REPLY: Mr. Gavin Riley:

    Voters said no. Voters did their homework. Examine present data, district is still in post recession era:

    1. Los Cerritos Mall sales continued to drop.
    2. http://cerritos.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=15&clip_id=3358
    3. Cerritos Auto Mall sales still have not equaled 2000-2005.
    4. Real Estate MLS is advertising surge in the Shadow Inventory, so horrific uprising in Short Sales and Foreclosures.
    5. Only city advertising low unemployment is Brea, at 3%.
    6. City of Cerritos continues on hiring freeze.
    7. Increase number of vacancies in Towne Center.
    8. Voters in Cypress, Orange, Hermosa Beach, said no to School Bonds.
    9. Roughly only 75% state voters passed School Bonds.
    10. CCPA sales are still in red ink.
    11. https://www.facebook.com/CerritosLosesMoney
    12. Recent Closure: Big Lots, Sam Ash Music, TV Store, Sport Bars, all during Holiday Seasons.
    13. Vacant Mulikan Museum Pad for almost 2 decades.
    14. Vacant 166th St Corporate Holding for more then decade.
    15. Increase of ABC students leaving for: Oxford Academy, Valley Christian and Los Alamitos USD.
    16. Whitney HS only graduating 191 Students / 2014, why keep this expensive campus open for small graduating class?
    17. Still empty commercial pad at Potential Goodwill pad.
    18. Non sold out new homes on Pioneer.
    19. Vacant stores along Carson St, HG.
    20. Vacant new commercial pads on Del Amo for more then yr.
    21. Cocos Restaurant Vacant Bus stores.
    22. Vacant Studebaker Hotel Pad.
    23. Vacant stores in Lincoln Center.
    24. 50% Vacancies in Carrow’s Mall.
    25. Vacant Auto Broker at former Pontiac Dealership.
    26. Numerous vacant Gasoline Station pads in all 7 ABCUSD areas.


  • Gavin Riley says:

    California Education Code Sections 46600-46607 cover this. Once a permit has been granted it can only be revoked if the student violates the terms and conditions of the permit(E.C. 46600). If a permit is denied for a future student, parents or the legal guardian have the right to a hearing on why it was denied(E.C.46601). Since California is paying most of the cost of educating students in the state(85% in ABC) there is little chance of “to save money” being an acceptable reason.
    Beyond the legal reasons the bigger question is the moral one of why anyone would want to deny the best possible education to every child in the state.

  • arthur says:

    Thanks to Mr. Riley for continuing this most important discussion. It was Mr. Riley that stood before the ABCUSD BOE the night after Measure AA’s defeat and proposed collaboration among the community to provide ABCUSD students and professional educators the facilities needed to achieve greater success.

    With nearly 60 days behind the election where 10,000 voters expressed apprehension with Measure AA, it is a good time to begin anew a legitimate collaborative process that invites input from all members of the community, not just the “Educrat Machine.”

    Measure AA was about kids and money. It was political–with a group of winners, and a group of losers. The District didn’t promote a sensible financial plan, nor a comprehensive priority list, PRIOR to placing Measure AA on the ballot.

    ABCUSD elected officials may want to consider discontinuing its relationship with the financial advisor/political consultant. Most certainly this firm was the biggest loser, not the kids. But let’s wait until the financial advisor/political consultant provides a full, public, debriefing on his thoughts of why Measure AA failed so poorly when survey data was the main reason the BOE resolutioned a November 2014 election. Don’t forget that taxpayer dollars were used to pay for the financial advisor/political consultant’s advice and survey. He certainly gave public testimony when the survey results were delivered last spring. It is always enlightening to hear a political consultant spin defeat. It is an art for sure.

    Next, gather the community stakeholders: business, taxpayers, teachers, administrators, homeowners, elected officials for honest dialogue. There’s plenty of time to do this before 2016. This is a strong community, we can do this sensibly.

    Those with long-range views understand that a separate strategy is necessary to decide if a June or November 2016 election is best. The November ballot will be cluttered with statewide propositions from the legalization of recreational cannabis, to the renewal of the Prop. 30 tax measure, to single-use plastic bag bans. A June election may be the appropriate timing. Reliable data demonstrates that the voting base for school bonds is mainly comprised of Democrats. With a contested presidential primary on the ballot, many in this base that did not cast a ballot in November 2014 would likely cast a ballot in June 2016.

    As to the allegation of some sort of “Hit List” mentioned by Mr. Riley… it is not likely this exists in reality. The time to take a “victory lap” has expired. If there is a small faction in the community that insists in taking an extended “victory lap”, those people may want to look up the word “Hubris” in a dictionary.

    The new year springs forth renewal. Let’s take advantage of this.

  • Death Meas AA says:

    Corrupt Cerritos politicians, have kept Cerritos annual budget in red ink for the past decade. Additionally, ABC will be run by districts, instead of mainly trustees born out of Cerritos. Both school district and Cerritos city council, need fresh new blood, and end the recycling of politicians from 90703!

    Biggest conflict of interest displayed in the Meas. AA fiasco, when Dr. Mary Sieu threw in $500 to aid Meas AA, when she lives in Fullerton Hills; mite as well sleep with your brothers and cousins! Most of the demonstrators pro Meas. AA, conceived from within the classroom employees.

  • Trustee | L Johnson | Real Winner's Circle says:

    ABC Board Member Lynda Johnson
    Is Still the Heroine
    Dan E. Nino, December 25, 2014

    The recent reorganization of the ABC School Board was a tense night to say the least. Some ABC School Board members went to electing their officers fraught with vindictiveness and anger.

    There was civility in public but you could sense in their demeanor that four board members were hell bent on preventing Vice President Lynda Johnson from becoming the Board president.

    Johnson was poised to be elevated to the presidency, but fate eluded her. Her Achilles’ heel was her opposition to the Bond Measure AA to upgrade the facilities of the school district to the tune of $195 million at the expense of residents.

    If it were approved, the property tax bill would have increased beyond the financial capacity of most homeowners.

    From the onset of the collegial body’s election of officers, the electoral exercise was stacked against Lynda Johnson.

    After the opening speech of ABC President Sophia Tse, she immediately nominated Lynda Johnson. She cited Johnson’s “role as board member walking the extra mile, visiting school sites regularly, despite her opposition on the Bond Measure, upholding the principle of democracy she put the best interest of the school district first.”

    Thereafter, Board Member Olympia Chen nominated Maynard Law. This spelled doom for Johnson’s quest for the presidency. Chen said Mr. Law always put the best interest of the children first. She said he is a team player and is active in community events. “The Superintendent and Board president should work hand in hand.,” said Chen. “He was a special education teacher with good labor and management collaboration. He represented the district very well.”

    Maynard Law himself, Celia Spitzer, Olympia Chen and Armin Reyes voted yes for Law.

    Johnson was nominated again as vice president but Celia Spitzer torpedoed her nomination. She cited an old rule that a nominee could not be nominated for the same position she had just held.

    I have to see this provision if it’s still existing. Obviously, there was indeed intransigence and concerted effort to derail Johnson’s selection as president.

    Tse, Johnson’s ally, nominated Johnson again for the clerk’s position, but Armin Reyes was also nominated.

    It was obvious that the “gang of four” did their best to block Johnson from any position.

    At this juncture. My neighbor in the audience mumbled, “This is ridiculous.”

    It was apparent that Johnson fell out of favor because of her opposition to the Bond Measure AA. It did not sit well with the “gang of four.”

    Be that as it may, Johnson was a heroine to the 9,679 voters of the school district.

    The “gang of four” should not blame Lynda Johnson. She only had one vote against the measure despite the well-funded campaign of the pro-Bond Measure AA. She stood to her principles and conviction. She did not waiver nor flip flop despite her lone voice in the wilderness.

    She stood her ground. She should not be punished for standing up to her principles albeit unpopular to the minority. The majority of the community members had expressed this sentiment through the ballots. Democracy was alive. Majority rules yet the minority’s voice was respected.

    Despite this setback, Johnson put up a cheery disposition and maintained her composure. She put up a brave face. But you could see through her misty eyes and deep in her persona that she was punished. She was targeted. The Labor Union, teachers and parents gave her the cold-shoulder.

    During the break, she mingled with the community. She was engaging. Her integrity was never diminished, no matter how unpopular her stand among her ABC Board colleagues.

    The electorate who voted against the measure is what really matters, not the “gang of four” who voted against her.

    In fact, a community leader commented, “If one door closes, a bigger door will open for her someday. Lynda can even run for Cerritos City Council in the future. She’s principled. That’s what we need.”

    By all accounts, her chances were doomed. The wild card was her friend and colleague Armin Reyes. According to political pundits, Reyes filed his candidacy for the Cerritos College Board too late. Johnson together with the six board members had already endorsed Shin Liu.

    This added, perhaps, to the consternation of Armin Reyes. Such is a folly in politics. Anything can happen. Not everything is fair in politics as in love.

    Soo Yoo, another board supporter of Johnson, said, “Thank you Lynda for your involvement. You set aside personal feelings. Lynda is passionate. We had our differences, but we shared our passion to serve and researched the issues. It’s time to move on, to address issues in our community.”

    Lynda, you are not alone. You were supported by 9,679 voters against the Bond Measure.

    School Board members serve the people, not the superintendent or their colleagues on the Board.

  • Gavin Riley says:

    I never comment or even read postings from people who do not have the courage to include their name(They must be too embarrassed of what they are writing), but the posting from UHA or someone posing as their spokesman is noteworthy. I wonder how much support exists for closing Whitney High School(#16 on the list). Maybe someone else from the UHA would like to expand on the thinking here or reject it out of hand. Due to the collapse of housing values that closing the school would trigger, I will add this to the list of dopey ideas for right now.

    • A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste says:

      Mr. Gavin Riley >

      You wrote, “I never comment or even read postings from people who do not have the courage to include their name(They must be too embarrassed of what they are writing), …”

      A quick history lesson. Our Founding Father used false or assumed names in many articles published for public consumption. Surly, you are not implying these great men or courage and sacrifice were too embarrassed to promote and defend liberty under their real names.

      On a less grand scale are the great American writings of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. You may know him by his assumed name Mark Twain.

      Next time think before you make such a blanket statement. United HOA position isn’t really in the best interest of the residents or the students so, don’t make them look smarter and less greedy than they are.

  • AndyAmerican says:

    I was a student of the ABCUSD back in 1997 during the mentioned “passed bond measure”. What glorious days those were… I remember it all so vividly! During the rainy season we were asked by our teachers to monitor the overflowing trash cans we used to collect the rain water that leaked / poured through our classroom from the ceiling. The SAME ceilings that were “improved” with the funds. Ask me what I learned during my fast times at Gahr High…. I won’t reciete Edgar Allan Poe, nor recall what emotions I grasped while reading Animal Farm- NO, no! This wayward student walked swiftly past the upgraded school library the bond money purchased us; which was filled with dusty books, plenty of space for teachers to exchange gripes about students and a handful of computers that were labeled as “state of the art”; but this gamer knew by the next year, they would be considered a fossil. Or as the young AndyAmerican would have phrased it: “who chose these computers, Matlock??!!”
    By the way, students NEVER utilized the library. Many of us didn’t know it existed. Those of us that did know of its whereabouts were members of the Breakfast Club, aka detentionee’s.
    In summary, if you truly want to improve schools, start with the teachers. Make them accountable! I understand it isn’t an easy job, however; there is no such thing as a bad student only a bad teacher. Each child is different; find the proper way to reach them!
    Then give them classrooms that are up to code. DO NOT focus on technology! It moves way too fast for any school system to keep up! Focus on the basic skills and teach these kids some life skills… Kids today can’t remember to turn off the lights!!!

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