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Bernardo Vasquez is the chair of Sweetwater Union High School District’s Proposition O Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee. The all-volunteer committee with rotating membership has been attempting to keep track of the district’s 644 million proposition dollars and building projects since 2006. Seville Construction Group, Inc, the company that was the program manager for Proposition O, was suspended in January.

The bond committee, which Vasquez likens to a dog that has no bite but a loud bark, met February 11 and formulated suggestions that Vasquez will present at the next Sweetwater board meeting, February 22.

In a recent interview, Vasquez said he plans to call on the district to impose a 30- to 90-day moratorium on Prop O projects. He and the members of the bond committee who attended the last meeting believe that before the district moves forward it needs to have a full understanding of what bond monies remain.

The committee also believes the district needs to prioritize the remaining projects and calculate the projected costs.

Vasquez also wants the oversight committee to receive a more transparent accounting of the bond expenditures. Previously, they were given pages of material “with left and right columns that did not add up.” He believes the material should be made more accessible for the committee and the general public.

The committee is also calling for the district to conduct a forensic audit that will “follow the money,” rather than a performance audit, which looks at systematic processes.

When asked about the district’s proposal to spend bond money to buy each incoming seventh-grade student an iPad, Vasquez said that the concerns pertinent to the committee were whether or not the proposition language allows the purchase and whether or not the district had a “well-thought-out plan.”

While he believes the bond language may allow for the purchase of the technology, Vasquez said he wasn’t certain the district had “a sustainable plan.”

From where will the money come for the next round of seventh graders? Where will the money come for updates or software? What about students whose families cannot afford internet connections? These were some of the questions the committee considered.

Vasquez also expressed concern that before purchasing the iPads for an estimated $4 million to $5 million, all of the district projects should be prioritized.

The district is at an important turning point, Vasquez said, and if they don’t exercise responsibility, “there is a strong likelihood the community will never support another bond measure.”

Image from macstories.net

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anniej Feb. 15, 2012 @ 10:55 p.m.

the forensic audit MUST be done - however, it should NOT be done by any one other than the company that did the southwestern forensic audit. the community no longer trusts the interim superintendent brand, and have lost all faith in the majority members of the board. with mccann, cartmill, and quinones facing recall and quinones and ricasa facing felony charges there is little doubt that the only board member who has a chance after the next election is board member bertha lopez. a review of past board meetings clearly shows she has consistently spoken out in favor of the students and against all that was going on. it was board member lopez who demanded to know about the vega report, it was board member lopez who asked the tough questions regarding the missing second opinion that mr. mccann had allegedly kept from the other board members, it was board member lopez who spoke out against bonny garcia, it was board member lopez who began to listen to community members concerns regarding prop o - and on and on and on. historically she was out voted, with absolutely no discussion on the other board members parts - it was as though their votes were pre cast before the board meeting - not that i am implying that any member of our board would ever, ever, ever commit a brown act violation (giggle). now i am sure that mccann just hates these facts - if only, little johnny boy mccann would have lived up to his promises to the voters. (have you seen utube in which a member of the community calls mccann out for filming members of the community who dared to speak out against him - i think the gentleman asked him "are you just stupid"? Oh, it was a moment!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

for those who have not read the documents on the vega report i would highly enourage you to do so. i found the fact that mr. mccann met with alvey to discuss national city issues on our districts dime VERY INTERESTING. you see national city was one of the sites that the district was looking to build a new district office on. also of interesting note is the fact that it appears that 'the gandara' and bonny garcia sought out a candidate for the board - hmmmmmm, and look who popped out of the gandara/garcia hat but johnny boy - again, hmmmmmmm. none of the other three met with alvey, now don't you find that more than interesting?

the ipad issue, a clear attempt by the district to lure parents away from the charter schools. charter schools which apparently are doing a far superior job than sweetwater - but then again, those board members are not using their position but are rather serving in their position.

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anniej Feb. 15, 2012 @ 11:06 p.m.

forgot to mention, stories are rampant that ricasa's camp is promising that Ms. Bonnie Dumanis will be apologizing for the charges her office brought against her. now while i do not have attorney at law after my name - i can read - and those words that arlie ricasa typed, while on the job at southwestern, the ones indicating she wanted money for her daughters scholarship and beauty pageant, well it appears they were a big NO NO. those forms acknowledging those dinners and gifts that were not filled out - another BIG NO NO. perhaps someone should advise the ricasa camp that it is not a good idea to poke the tiger (da's office), she should rather take ownership and resign her board seat.

the RECALL movement is in full swing from what i am hearing. we will all need to volunteer to help obtain the needed signatures. it is imperative that we vote new members onto the board, persons who will focus on the job at hand - doing what is best for the students - vs doing what is in their best interest. in RECALLING the 3 we will be sending a clear message that we NEVER, EVER want to see any of their names on another ballot - no, not even johnny boy mccann's.

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Susan Luzzaro Feb. 16, 2012 @ 8:03 a.m.

*Please note*Sweetwater Board meeting in Tuesday, February 21.

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erupting Feb. 16, 2012 @ 9:22 a.m.

I like this Vasquez gentleman. I hope Brand doesn't try to put pressure on him to get rid of him. His common sense approach will not be accepted by this district you can bet on that. A definite yes for a forensic audit. It would certainly go a long way to still the anger and doubt in this community. Keep up the good work Me. Vasquez.

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joepublic Feb. 16, 2012 @ 10:10 a.m.

Thank you Mr. Vasquez for asking the questions that are on the minds of many. Weren't bond monies supposed to be for long term infrastructural purposes only? At least that's what the public was told before we voted approval of Prop O. The moratorium is an excellent idea that should have strong public support on the 21st. Keep up the good work.

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eastlaker Feb. 16, 2012 @ 10:38 a.m.

The citizens are doing what they can to get to the bottom of the mess, and to ensure that from here on, there will be straightforwardness in Sweetwater.

Wouldn't it be great if the Board of Trustees realized en mass that the old regime is done for?

Really, iPads for all 7th graders, when a substantial subset are still struggling to fill out planners--or were, until the board no longer FUNDED $5.00 planners for the students, because of the budget problems? Oh yes, that makes sense. So the question then becomes, who is the supplier for the iPads, and just what is involved with that deal. Because with this bunch, there always seems to be a quid pro quo.

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anniej Feb. 17, 2012 @ 12:52 p.m.

another futile attempt to keep parents from enrolling their children in charter schools. smaller class sizes, true partnerships between the district, teachers, and parents is what is driving the success of the elementary charter schools.

what is it going to take for the sweetwater district to wake up to what works. obviously what they are doing does not.

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cvres Feb. 16, 2012 @ 10:46 a.m.

I agree with the bond committee's suggestions. Let's have a full acccounting of bond funds and clarification of proposed projects before we go forward...a temporary halt to Prop O spending till we see what's what. And...I mean really, suddenly the district can propose ipads as a bond expenditure...what will they decide to use the money for next?

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anniej Feb. 16, 2012 @ 7:37 p.m.

Mr. Vasquez, is indeed a good man, he is trying to not only look out for the kids but look out for the taxpayers hard earned dollars.

It is important that those members of the Bond Oversight Committee who chose to speak up be respected for doing so - after all it is their names, not ours, that are attached to how the monies were managed.

What few in the public are aware of is the following, CURRENTLY, the Committee has no real power. They are informed of votes after the fact. They have no say on how the monies are being spent.

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Susan Luzzaro Feb. 16, 2012 @ 8:23 p.m.

Worth mentioning: there was a recent Title IX ruling against Sweetwater. Facilities for female athletes were inferior to those provided for male athletes at one school. Mr. Vasquez discussed during the interview the possibility that Prop O funds might be appropriate for addressing this inequity.

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anniej Feb. 17, 2012 @ 12:39 p.m.

now let me guess who is the brainiac attorney who chose to fight this in court vs simply build the darn concrete dugout and match field for field.

why it was none other than BONNY GARCIA, CORRUPTOR AT LAW. so tell me sweetwater district just how much did that cost us? how many educational dollars were spent in court?

and here is the $64.00 dollar question, who was the principle in charge at castle park when the educator who chose to take a stand for what was right was punished? and where is that person now? what decisions is he/she making now that are costing our children?

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Visduh Feb. 17, 2012 @ 9:28 a.m.

A key leg under the stool set up to assure voters that bond issue monies would be properly spent was this oversight committee. When the California voters bought the concept that school district bond issues no longer should require a 2/3 approval in a special election, "safeguards" were put in place. One was that the board had to have a supermajority of at least 4 of the 5 board members in favor, and that an oversight committee be appointed. What I am getting from this story and other observations is that these committees are really toothless tigers, unable to block waste and fraud. Oh, they can nag and go public, but that's about all. In a "normal" school district, that may be enough to fulfill the role, but in a deeply corrupt one such as this, there may be little or no control that the committee can exert. Furthermore, if the board is corrupt, the members it selects for the committee are unlikely to act as watchdogs; lapdogs would be more like it.

You can see how a construction bond issue can become perverted when there's a proposal to spend the funds on iPads. What in the world are they thinking? Well, if you can blow the money on those, and they do get obsolete or broken or worn out, then you can say you spent all the money and now need more. And while buying them, a number of people can extort kickbacks and/or illegal or immoral campaign contributions.

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anniej Feb. 17, 2012 @ 12:34 p.m.

Visduh:

while i find the majority of your posts to be informative, enlightening, and fuel for thought i must respectfully disagree. the majority of folks on the current bond oversight committee are citizens like you and i. looking to serve and pay it forward. oversight committee members - Mr. Vasquez, Mr Butler and another gentleman (can't recall his name at this moment) are as outraged as you and i.

true they have little control over what is decided but they are trying to change that - they do not want to be used a pawns - they want to oversee what is going on.

for a very long time the committee saw those members of the public that kept coming forward as whiners antagonists - i mean after all they were being served the same song as the entire community. they believed the numbers. it wasn't until the indictments, the copies of campaign donations, the truth was served up did they realize they had been used in the most corrupt way as had ALL OF THE VOTERS/TAXPAYERS.

how many will turn out to voice their opinions at tuesdays meeting? hopefully as many as turned out the night the board voted down the defense funds.

this community needs a real wake up call. until and unless the house is cleaned and new are brought in the hidden bodies of corruption will remain hidden.

RECALL of the three board members (see OCCUPY SWEETWATER FACEBOOK PAGE)

SEARCH for a new superintendent - why not hire the person who served as the interim at southwestern?

volunteers are needed to obtain the signatures needed for the RECALL of MCCANN, CARTMILL, AND RICASA. we simply can not wait until ricasa is found guilty or until cartmill and mccann are voted down. time is of the essence.

johnny boy mcann doing the best he can to deflect the RECALL issue - attempting to make it out as if it is a union thing. IT IS NOT. the RECALL issue was brought up the day after MCCANN, CARTMILL, and RICASA were elected. hopefully all of you have gone to the registrar of voters website and read for yourselves the thousands of dollars that were poured into cartmill and mccann's campaign coffers. while the donations were not illegal what those dollars bought were their votes.

Visduh, hope to see you at the board meeting, hope even more that you will speak.

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Visduh Feb. 18, 2012 @ 3:57 p.m.

Point well taken, Annie. I do think that regardless of how public-spirited these committee members may be, they can be no more effective than the board will allow them to be. If they complain and the board ignores them, what recourse do they really have? Can they stop construction, can they prevent contracts from being signed, can they decide that a contractor is unsuitable?

My final comment was intended more as a general comment than an indictment of those members. If you say they are honest, outraged and trying to stop the wrongdoing, I'll accept your word.

As a north county resident of long standing, and a voter in my own dysfunctional city and school district, I am really a spectator when it comes to south county matters. While I can have my opinion, especially where it involves the odious Brand, I have no dog in the fight, and probably will attend school board meetings in my own backyard only.

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anniej Feb. 17, 2012 @ 12:54 p.m.

FORENSIC AUDIT PERFORMED BY THE SAME FOLKS THAT WERE HIRED BY SOUTHWESTERN. THEN AND ONLY THEN WILL THE PUBLICS OUTCRY BE SILENCED!!!!!!!!

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cvres Feb. 17, 2012 @ 3:12 p.m.

Visduh, good point about "a normal school district"--this is a highly abnormal situation--so it needs supra-normal oversight. What do we have--an indicted superintendent, two board members and a former board member, ongoing DA investigation into other layers of corruption, suspended bond program manager and questionable use of bond funds, two PR firms, Alevy & Focuscom that did who knows what for the suspended attorney firm GCR, the Vega report which indicates a level of election tampering that should be further investigated, etc It's exhausting just listing it--o yes, and no search committee in sight for a new superintendent.

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anniej Feb. 17, 2012 @ 10:45 p.m.

Cvres: the search for a new superintendent MUST be pushed forward. at this point it appears that the board has no intention of beginning the search. they are comfortable with the status quo - we, however ARE NOT.

perhaps southwesterns' interim would be interested in a permanent position as our super - we need that kind of integrity in our leadership.

many are needed to attend board meeting tuesday evening.

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joepublic Feb. 17, 2012 @ 5:16 p.m.

Visduh: Interesting comment about construction bond issues becoming perverted when there's a proposal to fund iPads. Doesn't construction mean building something, doing seismic retrofitting, resodding a playing field, resurfacing a worn playground, etc.,etc.? Where's the justification for funding iPads? Beyond it seeming to be out of bounds for CONSTRUCTION funds, I don't see any empirical data to justify them as beneficial educational tools, and I mean years of study including a control group. This IS our money! This is probably illegal and at best just another educational knee-jerk innovation that somebody's making a quick buck on. I hope the public comes out to support Mr. Vasquez on the 21st when he asks for a moratorium until everything is sorted out.

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anniej Feb. 17, 2012 @ 10:48 p.m.

Joepublic: 'control group' - now one would think that a group of intellectuals would understand the need for a pilot program aka control group. but then nothing about sweetwaters leadership is as it should be.

a large turnout at the meeting on the 21st is a must. the board is hoping for a small turnout, but as you stated "THIS IS OUR MONEY".

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Visduh Feb. 18, 2012 @ 4:13 p.m.

You mention the need for a search committee to find a new "supe", assuming that Brand doesn't have it all locked up. Here in Vista the board has had since last spring to get moving on finding a new "supe", since the current one announced her "retirement" to be effective at the end of this school year. They got this one after a "national search", using a search firm, and she turned out to be a total clinker. She was hired at a salary that, as I recall, made her the second-highest paid "supe" in the county, yet had no plan for boosting test scores other than spending millions on Lindamood-Bell remedial reading. She seems to have no notion of how to run high schools, so they more or less run themselves.

Finally last week the VUSD board selected a search "consultant" to assist in the search, and the person from that firm who will head it up is Ken Noonan, formerly the "supe" of the Oceanside district. He has the distinction of having managed to pull the wool over the eyes of all five board members there, and keep it in place for ten years! While doing so, he so burnished his undeserved reputation that Ahnold appointed him chair of the state board of education. The guy told everyone who would listen that he'd "turned the district around", and plenty believed him. Problem is that the district, with all its unique challenges, is no better off than when he arrived. I am more suspicious of him that I ever would be of Brand.

So, what qualifies him as a search consultant? I have no idea. but just what sort of finalists do you think he will bring to the board? Charlatans just like himself, or fools who will owe him favors. The more things change, the more they remain the same. I weep.

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anniej Feb. 23, 2012 @ 11:23 a.m.

if Southwestern can manage to find a new Superintendent with integrity then surely Sweetwater could do the same. we could always ask the person who was Southwesterns' interim super to apply, after all they were the person who 'chose' to provide the truth vs. bury it. now the new 'super' at Southwestern is continuing on the path of honesty by coming forward with the focuscom billing being funneled thru seville. remember alvey and focuscom were funneling their bills thru bonny garcia, corruptor at law, vs submitting them to the district. ask yourselves WHY WAS THERE A NEED TO BURY THE PR BILLS THRU GARCIA? what were they attempting to hide?

at the board meeting the other evening the union President stated that he had received copies of sweetwaters billings from focuscom, BUT THEY HAD ALL BEEN REDACTED, why???????? is brand attempting to cover something up.

brand is what he is a master manipulator, unfortunately the taxpaying community of the south bay has a board that has failed them. rather than acting in a responsible manner, they have chosen to USE their positions for self promotion and financial gain.

the pepsi contract of years back, the funds for education that we are still hearing about (meth manufactures being a part of it) all wreak a smell of rotting mess - all led by brand.

and here is another tidbit, seville had also negotiated with yet a 3rd PR firm for the Prop O issue, we paid them $500.000.00 and for what???????? and here is the kicker, the board never voted for the contract to be issued or the funds to be paid. yes folks only at sweetwater.

brand has chosen to keep quiet the ills that have befallen sweetwater vs unearth them, deal with them judiciously and bring about change. the community no longer trusts brand, and it appears some of the board members are worried about his decision making as well.

so, yes when i and others call for a superintendent search to begin, the above is but a small part of my reasoning. just my humble opinons.

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eastlaker Feb. 19, 2012 @ 6:06 p.m.

I would like to suggest John DeVore, formerly the principal at Olympian H.S., be appointed superintendent of Sweetwater. His reputation is spotless, he is a dedicated educator, and has always worked to bring out the best in students, teachers and staff.

We need a change for the better, and fast.

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anniej Feb. 23, 2012 @ 11:30 a.m.

Mr. DeVore is a GOOD man, who has done many good things!

personally speaking - the fact that he worked with 'the gandara' and brand would unfortunately leave me suspicious, now keep in mind, i have been affected by all that has gone in the last several years so my view is more than a bit jaded.

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anniej Feb. 23, 2012 @ 11:58 a.m.

is there someone that has been fired that has not only the qualifications but also the integrity that would serve as a good candidate? hmmmmmmm, lets think about that - who did 'the gandara' feel threatened by? who has integrity? who believes in transparency? who has the intelligence? who knows and loves the district?

but most importantly, WHO COULD NOT BE BOUGHT???????

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eastlaker Feb. 23, 2012 @ 4:37 p.m.

What are the results of the recent board meeting, aside from the supposed fact that all incoming 7th graders will be receiving iPads? (Can anyone imagine the loss problems this will engender? When backpacks get picked over on a regular basis as it is?)

Seems like a good smoke screen issue--get everyone all excited over the iPads, and maybe they will forget about all the other issues and problems that are conveniently hidden behind the smoke??

When will transparency come to Sweetwater?--I hope it isn't going to resemble "Waiting for Godot" but instead something with a bit more resolution. When the water runs sweet and clear, the Board members remember why they are in their positions, the superintendent upholds the will of the consituency for honorable work---then we can be proud of Sweetwater. But not now, not by a long shot.

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anniej Feb. 23, 2012 @ 6:10 p.m.

well lets see i will attempt to give my impression of a few of the agenda items:

the board voted in the ipads??????? brand was there cheering the proposal on - while the bond oversight committee, and community were against.

the board voted in the charter school??????? the are putting these very young children in a basketball gym???????????

the board voted on the expenditure of over $40,000.00 for several of its schools to host their graduation ceremonies at crickett amphitheater - concern over parking, concern over football fields hosting them.

the board discussed the laying off of over 20 bus drivers - do not seem to be concerned with the students having 1/2 mile added on to their journeys each way to school. i am sorry they are worried about the parents having to walk too far ONE DAY and are willing to pay over $40,000.00 but not so much for the added mile for the students????????

all of this money being spent??????????? i thought we were broke?????????? not to worry, when they run out of money in one area they simply borrow from another. that is what is CURRENTLY keeping sweetwater afloat.

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eastlaker Feb. 23, 2012 @ 7:29 p.m.

Ok, then. I think it is safe to say Brand is on a roll of a sort--creating more chaos as a distraction from the concurrent morass surrounding Sweetwater. Looks to me as though it could turn into quicksand. Why not head for the high ground, come clean, so that we can all work on eradicating the corruption? We aren't happy with Mello Roos funds being used for things they were not intended, and indeed, for schools that are not part of the Mello Roos areas.

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