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Sweetwater Union High School District had unhappy parents lined up out the transportation-services door on August 6. The district is facing a $27 million budget shortfall. As a result, last March the board voted to cut 13 school-bus drivers and increase the distance that students walk to school. The cut saved $800,000 — but created a lot of anger.

Kelly Luna waited in the district board room for hours to get her chance to possibly buy bus passes for her children. Passes are available on a first come, first served basis.

Luna believes that this is a public-safety issue and that “the board will begin to pay attention when someone gets seriously injured.” Luna said her husband has been deployed to Kuwait and that she works full time and it is impossible for her to provide transportation both ways to school for her children.

The district increased walking distance by a half-mile. High-school students are now required to walk seven miles round-trip, while middle-school students walk a total of six miles to and from school.

Many parents complained that the students are carrying heavy backpacks and some are carrying musical instruments; safety, however, was the number-one concern. NBC reported on July 31 that an Otay Ranch High School student was robbed at knife-point on his way home from school.

Norene Andersen, parent of an Eastlake High School student, said, “The board is out of touch with reality.” She said the walking route suggested for her child — the one used to calculate the distance — is unsafe because of traffic.

Andersen also said she is upset with communication from the district on this issue.

“They tout having sent out robocalls and emails, but many of us in this room did not receive them.”

Another parent from Olympic View High School said she happened to be driving her daughter to school on the first day of class and saw 20 kids lined up waiting for the bus — “obviously they hadn’t got the calls.”

Speaking for the district, Manuel Rubio said, “We did make 25,000 robocalls explaining to parents about the half-mile increase. We also had a web page survey on the district website and a blog where parents could comment.”

Rubio pointed out that the state no longer mandates student transportation except for special-education students or students who attend schools that are on the needs- improvement list and therefore are eligible for intra-district transfers.

Prior to the vote, the union representing the bus drivers made a presentation to the board regarding the potential route cuts. Using a white board, the representative presented the number of known predators who live in the areas where the bus routes were going to be suspended and discussed the lack of sidewalks in a San Ysidro district.

Ultimately, the board voted 3-2. Boardmembers John McCann, Jim Cartmill, and Arlie Ricasa voted for the cuts; boardmembers Pearl Quiñones and Bertha Lopez were opposed.

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GOYAgoya Aug. 7, 2012 @ 5:48 a.m.

Surprise, surprise. Bertha Lopez voted against laying off staff. She is a high ranking union member in her district. She seems to be getting a pass on everything.

Why? She is a terrible leader, and an even worse person. She retaliates against those that she doesn't like, and everyone is afraid of her.

Why do nearly all that have worked with her dislike her? Her cronies need to open their eyes


eastlaker Aug. 7, 2012 @ 7:18 a.m.

Well, the Bertha-bashing has begun!

If you weren't so laughably wrong in targeting Ms. Lopez, I might worry. However, she is the one member of the board who has consistently had a conscience and has represented the students, brought up the points that the other members and Brand would rather sweep under the rug--in short, she is the only functional member of the board. The rest are lackeys to whatever Brand tells them to do. Or maybe, what Brand his friends tell them to do.

Bertha is a gentle, kind soul, and what you say against her is nothing but a vicious pack of lies. But one expects that from those that align themselves with Brand and his ilk. It is still sad to see in print, however.

GOYAoya, I wish you enlightenment and peace.


Jmbrickley Aug. 7, 2012 @ 8:53 a.m.

Mostly, all you provide is biased inuendo. The only real fact you present is her teacher's association (not a union) association. Yet, even there you stretch the truth. She is a site rep. Site reps are not a "high ranking union member."

She gets a well deserved pass because she is a responsible board member. The situation reminds me of that children's song "One of These Things (Is Not Like The Others)" Words and Music by Joe Raposo and Jon Stone. In this case Bertha Lopez is not like the other board members. The other board members are all alike. And, their similarities are not good for the public.


anniej Aug. 8, 2012 @ 1:11 p.m.

JmBrickley: lies and a smear campaign will not be successful in bringing Ms. Lopez down. Her records speaks for itself.


anniej Aug. 8, 2012 @ 1:08 p.m.


it is obvious that you have not attended any of the sweetwater board meeting. it is obvious that you have not read any of the indictments regarding the upcoming trials of the sweetwater 4 ('the gandara', arlie ricasa, pearl quinones, or greg sandoval) showing she herself went to the da regarding the alleged corruption in the district. it is obvious that you have not taken the time to research Ms. Lopez's voting record - since NOTHING OF WHAT YOU SPEAK IS TRUE.

could you be a minion of 'the little man who wants to be king'? doing all he can to run from his own failings. or perhaps you are a friend of the 'light is on but noone is home board president' who has to be led thru each board meeting br brand.


bvagency Aug. 7, 2012 @ 7:26 a.m.

Susan if you could please look into the open boundaries decision made by Dr. Brand. This has not only impacted the transportation issue as you report, but is causing massive overcrowding at numerous schools. It appears no impact studies were done, no assessments of how traffic, safety, class size, food services, transportation, etc would be affected. Also, many residents are not aware that the Board elected to increase the mello Roos tax by 2% in all CFDs. These are the same mello Roos that dr. Brand has publicly said he will use to pay for district operating expenses, which is contrary to what the law says they can be used for. There are a large block of parents upset about this issue that are banding together and will likely be addressing the district. Let me know if you would like more info on this.


Susan Luzzaro Aug. 7, 2012 @ 7:46 a.m.

bvagency, I wasn't aware of the Mello Roos increase. This is becoming an important issue for all local school districts.

I did speak with Mr. Rubio about open enrollment. He told me that when Brand made the agreement it was on the condition that the parents of the transfer student would get them to the school they were going to. I have heard a little about the adjustment difficulties. Would like to know more about both.

just click on my icon and we can begin a conversation, Susan


erupting Aug. 7, 2012 @ 8:09 a.m.

If the entire Board said no to the Charter School ( Lopez said no). If the entire Board said no it's not time for IPADS the safety of our children comes first (Lopez said no) we would not be I this situation. Why did the board vote to raise the Melloroos at the last board mtg.(except Lopez)? I hope that the parents are aware of these facts and continue to fight for their kids. I hear McCann got caught by the parents in one of his infamous lies. He was pretending to support them and they found out he voted for the mileage increase. Business as usual at Sweetwater.


Jmbrickley Aug. 7, 2012 @ 9:03 a.m.

erupting... you forget, John McCann also voted no on the raising of mello-roos taxes. Wasn't he a good fiscal conservative with that vote?

Oh, wait! I forgot he voted to spend all those mello-roos monies on track serfaces, iPads, an unwanted amphitheater, a telescope at a school that no longer teaches astronomy, and a whole list of things those monies are being wasted on. Yessir! Good ol' Johnny McCann doesn't want his taxes to go up, but he sure like spending that same pile of money on useless things.

Fiscal conservative my...


GOYAgoya Aug. 12, 2012 @ 3:49 p.m.

Lopez voted no on raising a tax to help the schools?

Wow! Wow! That is REAL good for the kids.

...and you all still bow down to her?


anniej Aug. 17, 2012 @ 11:20 p.m.

now friend of pearl's please, it is not Ms. Lopez's fault that she has integrity and is not facing how many felony indictments as is pearl.


erupting Aug. 7, 2012 @ 8:11 a.m.

Thanks Reader for printing the truth about the Boars vote one the transportation issue,it opened the eyes of many people.


Jmbrickley Aug. 7, 2012 @ 9:26 a.m.

"Rubio pointed out that the state no longer mandates student transportation except for special-education students or students who attend schools that are on the needs- improvement list and therefore are eligible for intra-district transfers."

Then don't you think it's time to stop building these super sized schools that draw from an ever increasing distance in the school's attendance boundaries?

Here's an idea, why not build ONE super-super sized school in the middle of Chula Vista and have all the students in the city go there. A school built to hold 10,000 students and then squeeze in say 20,000+, and make them all walk to school. Why, the walk will only be about 12 miles for some. No problem. Think of the administrative costs you would save.

If I remember right, Eastlake High School was built to hold about 2,100-2,200 students as built. In 2002 Dr. Brand authorized the enrollment to approach 3,400, because the administration hadn't planned for the rapid growth in Eastlake, and hadn't started on plans for Otay Ranch HS. At that time, Eastlake's attendance boundary included homes on Main Street and near the 805. Think about that for a minute. A mandatory attendance boundary that far away and Manuel Rubio wants to remind us that they have no obligation to provide transportation.

Does it help matters that Eastlake HS starts school at about 7:15 in the morning? Not hardly. All the students who live at the extreme edge of the boundary have to be walking to school by 6:00 in the morning.

Thanks Dr. Brand for yet another non-brilliant idea.

Meanwhile, CV Elementary planned for the growth, brought online a new school in the area every 18-24 months; kept the schools small and closer together and kept the walking distances down.


joepublic Aug. 7, 2012 @ 12:44 p.m.

A budget should be built based on priorities. In the case of a school district, top priority should be students' needs and services. Getting to school safely certainly should be somewhere at the top of the list. Spending $20,000 a month on an interim/substitute superintendent isn't. Sweetwater budget practices and priorities are upside down. They should be struggling to find ways to finance their beauracracy, not the needs of students.


tomjohnston Aug. 7, 2012 @ 2:56 p.m.

Perhaps the Sweetwater board should think about giving the folks at Poway a call and talk to them about their "creative" financing last year.


eastlaker Aug. 7, 2012 @ 3:27 p.m.

Here's the problem with that idea: it is probable that Sweetwater has already been doing that very thing. A sum of approx. $50 million was listed as debt servicing/interest--and that was for one year.

Which is why we would like a forensic audit of Sweetwater's books for the past --, oh, say 10 years.

We have seen bad decision upon horrific decision upon ludicrous decision upon moronic decision for far too long.

The County Board of Education, nominally in charge of Sweetwater's finances, and partially (at the very least) responsible for the organized payout of bond funds from SD County COULD step up and provide all sorts of financial info. But they are not.

Hmm. Why would that be? Why is it so difficult to obtain information?

Could it be because no one (of the ruling bureaucracy/administration) will emerge smelling like a rose, once all the information has been made public? Maybe they will all smell just like that big pile of toxic dirt, which is, by the way, almost as large as the pack of lies they continue to produce.


Jmbrickley Aug. 7, 2012 @ 3:44 p.m.

"Here's the problem with that idea: it is probable that Sweetwater has already been doing that very thing. A sum of approx. $50 million was listed as debt servicing/interest--and that was for one year."

and that was only for the State Matching Funds Fund.

Last January Dr. Brand said $80 million was the figure.


eastlaker Aug. 8, 2012 @ 7:30 a.m.

Wht is your best guess on the amount of additional funding Sweetwater will get as a result of the increase of Mello-Roos fees by their maximum 2%? Do you know when that increase becomes effective? ~Does it take more lead time than what is needed to prepare the assessments for the 2012-2013 property tax bill?

What if everyone/many people were to file for a reduction in their property taxes, so that there would be net loss for Brand instead of a net gain?

Just trying to think about how to counteract Brand's vast and ego-driven idiocy.


Lambdadelta Aug. 7, 2012 @ 4:15 p.m.

Wow, are you people serious? This is high school we are talking about, Kids have to learn their own responsibilities and start walking to school instead of depending on mommy and daddy to do everything for them. "Someone could get seriously injured?" Please, the lady is really stupid. Danger can be everywhere, what if the bus gets into a traffic accident? Anything can happen. I treat my kids as adults, My son is 14 and he walks from Otay Ranch High School to the Rancho Del Rey area where the house is. Kids who have to depend on their parents for a ride will never grow up. Busses are expensive as well, they need to stop pacifying the kids, they are not going to be 10 forever. I liked the idea of all the kids walking. Unless they live in a place like San Ysidro like my son's friend, they don't need a ride.


Jmbrickley Aug. 7, 2012 @ 11:22 p.m.

Wow! This is not only high school. It is middle school as well. And, as to your own son, you only mention he walk home. You say nothing about how he gets to school in the morning. Mayhaps, mommy gives him a ride?

Your comment about danger being everywhere is true, but there is no need to add to the danger by putting our younger students on the streets at 6:00 AM. You sir, are an insensitive and irresponsible parent.


Lambdadelta Aug. 9, 2012 @ 1 a.m.

He walks to and from school every day. Same goes for my 13 year old nephew who attends Rancho Del Rey Middle School. I am not irresponsible, I don't treat my kids like babies like the lady in this article did.


anniej Aug. 8, 2012 @ 1:16 p.m.

Lamdadelta: I too treat my children as adultls, that however, does NOT include introducing them to situations where they are placed in danger.

I have raised very successful children - Looks like all of the driving to school I did didn't seem to hurt them any - and i live about 1 mile from the furthest community school.


Visduh Aug. 7, 2012 @ 5:03 p.m.

Here in No County the school districts have been abandoning their buses as fast as they were permitted to do that by state law. 25 years ago VUSD bused all grade levels from the area we live in. Then in the 90's they dropped high school busing altogether, and started to nibble away at the middle schools. Then finally, all middle school busing was cut. I don't know what may have happened with the elementary school busing in our neighborhood, although I do see buses carrying he younger ones.

If the real motivation for all this is educational, doesn't getting a kid to school on time have some educational value? Expecting even high schoolers to walk as much as seven miles a day in a semi-rural area is really out of line. The time that takes means a very early start and late finish, even if the kid participates in no activities or sports. Too much time and energy to really allow for study time at home.

Yes, transportation should be a high priority for these districts, and it is/was one of the first things cut. Cut "Brandara's" monthly fee to $10,000 and put that other ten grand into bus driver salaries, and it could make a big difference. Cut the salary of every principal to no more than the highest paid teacher in the district, and that would free up hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Cut something else first, not the buses!


Susan Luzzaro Aug. 7, 2012 @ 5:16 p.m.

Thanks to tomjohnston for referring readers to the VOSD article on Poway's borrowing. It's a good article and food for thought. A few months back Sweetwater borrowed from the county. I recall Brand said it was a very low interest rate, but the amount was unspecified. Some people wondered why the district would be borrowing when Prop O money or state matching funds are presumably available.


Susan Luzzaro Aug. 7, 2012 @ 5:22 p.m.

Mr. Brickley, your idea about building one big school in the middle of the city -- it's so good it's patentable.

Otay has 3,000 students and the traffic and the end of the school day is a sight to behold.


eastlaker Aug. 7, 2012 @ 5:50 p.m.

What would make it even better would be if it could be a K - 16, just like Ed Brand wants. ALL the students at one campus. Maybe the whole thing could be a charter school! iPads for everyone! But no buses...

I would have to think that Brand and the rest of his admin team would want to be on site as well, so there could be beautiful new facilities for all the bureaucrats!

We could call it Brand U!


Susan Luzzaro Aug. 7, 2012 @ 6:47 p.m.

Visduh, The odd thing is that many parents in Sweetwater buy a bus pass. I don't know how it was in the north county, but the bus passes were not cheap. I wondered why the district didn't try increasing the bus pass price slightly before cutting...


jibaro Aug. 8, 2012 @ 12:06 p.m.

Susan..I have found that people under stress for prolonged periods of time tend to make poor decisions....kind of "saps" their intelligence and common sense.


VigilantinCV Aug. 7, 2012 @ 10:16 p.m.

We spent a week in the northern part of the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, on the Utah border. This was WAY out in the middle of nowhere. The main occupation is raising sheep, so the homes are way, way apart. We were staying right near the Navajo high school -- the only one within miles and miles. So at 5 and 6 in the morning, when it was still dark in the fall, we could see the school busses rounding up kids from far and wide. As far as we could tell NO KID lived walking distance, or at least within half a day of walking. So kids in Chula Vista are just too soft!!


bvagency Aug. 8, 2012 @ 10:52 a.m.

Susan thanks for reminding about the Districts deal with the SD County Board of Ed. If I recall, they were borrowing money from the County and not having to pay it back for many years - eerily similar to the VOSD story. CBOC needs to look into the details of that deal. Transportation is certainly an important issue, but we also need to look at the Districts 'open boundary' decision and how that is impacting transportation, school services, traffic, etc. it appears no planning or studies done before this decision was made - sound familiar? Also, you gotta listen to the tape on Board Docs on the decision to increase the mello Roos tax by 2%. One question asked by Lopez (it appears she didn't understand what mello Roos where), a very vague answer by Brand. No discussion or questions by other trustees. And just like that, 26% of residents within the district get hit for an additional 2% tax. For what? Well according to district senior leadership, at least part of that will go to operating costs cause they can't borrow from PropO!!


eastlaker Aug. 8, 2012 @ 11:36 a.m.

Every time I read more about the SUHS Board of Trustees and Brand, I think, "They've really done it this time. They can't be any more inept, uncaring, corrupt, self-serving (pick an adjective with a negative connotation, just about anything might work) or generally disinterested in doing their job(s)." Now I read this.

What can we do to send the message that what the taxpayers and parents want is responsible leadership, not crazed scheming?


anniej Aug. 8, 2012 @ 1:25 p.m.

Bvagency: open boundaries is indeed a problem. for a variety of reasons. this the 3rd week since they started back, and many of the campuses are still running crazy attempting to secure classes for the students.

parents wanting little johnny who they believe in the next football phenom pouring their sons into a school whose teams number over 100, way over 100. what sense does this make? how much playing time will the athlete truly get. yet the district is skipping along as if all is well.

parents, wake up - you own the district, time for all of you to make the time to attend the board meetings and truly communicate what you expect.

WARNING: you will be allowed 1 minute, if you are lucky during public comment, at the end of the board meeting.

which reminds me - - - - time to take our rights back - and so it will begin at the next meeting - hope to see you all there!!!!!!!!!!!!


Jmbrickley Aug. 9, 2012 @ 11:31 a.m.

Open boundaries is just another Dr. Brand boondoggle to encourage the parents that send their children to charter schools to return to the SUHSD fold. Some parents put their children in charters or private schools because they think the resident school isn't good enought. But, if there is a chance to have their children attend one of the higher performing schools then they will go for it. Too bad the number of students who will be able to transfer is not what the public has been led to believe. So, the parents enroll the children in their home school, apply for the transfer, only to find out that their choice has been closed due to overcrowding. Did I say boondoggle?

If there was even a reasonable effort put forth to help raise the skills of the lower performing students at ALL schools, the district would see greater gains. But, NO! Dr. Brand is always about the money. He is always looking for a new way for the district to make money. Always. Offer iPads and they will return (at a cost in the millions), create a new and exciting charter and they will return (at the cost of millions), create open attendance boundaries and they will return (at the cost of student safety and overcrowded schools). How about creating an environment that encourages them to return because there is something worthwhile to return to.

Dr. Brand is the wrong person to be leading Sweetwater. He has brough back his old methods of leadership, and even though they are different than the leadership of Dr. Gandara, the end results are pretty much the same.


Susan Luzzaro Aug. 8, 2012 @ 12:31 p.m.

bvagency, I responded to you yesterday but my response bounced back this morning. Will try again.

I just got off the phone with someone very concerned about Eastlake and overcrowding.

And you're right, the Mello Roos condition is crying out for clarity.


bvagency Aug. 8, 2012 @ 2:50 p.m.

Susan call me if you like. Can update you on a few fronts. We've spoken before.


bvagency Aug. 8, 2012 @ 5:54 p.m.

Anniej you are right on point. I know San Ysidro High is still scrambling to find teachers for classes, students in the cafeteria during 4th period with no class or teacher, their bus situation and starting time and traffic a mess. Our kids in Eastlake with some similar issues, extremely crowded lunch lines, not enough food, not enough time to use the restroom during breaks, some lockers with no doors, traffic a mess, mello Roos increased by 2%. I'm curious to hear from parents at other schools.


anniej Aug. 8, 2012 @ 9:47 p.m.

i am no stranger to all that is wrong with sweetwater. i have been commenting on it for a couple of years now. we must however never loose sight of the excellent educators and administrators who find themselves in the cross hairs of the dysfunction of the district under the leadership of brand and the board. the ONLY representative that sits up there at that table who acts in the best interest of the students and taxpayers is bertha lopez.

it would take a mini novel to list the areas of sweetwater needs when it comes to integrity and transparency. having said that it is important that all of us take part ownership in this fiasco of a district. many of us never took notice, because the issue did not pertain to us. take the bus transportation issue for example. the last board meeting proved to be enlightening to all of those parents who attended last months meeting - they were there to have the voices heard - they were met with disrespect, smoke and mirrors.

perhaps, just perhaps IF we the community did not wait until transportation was voted down by john mccann, jim cartmill and arlie ricasa, perhaps IF we the community did not wait until brand removed the home school requirement which resulted is mass chaos, perhaps IF we the community did not wait until the DA filed alleged corruption charges, just perhaps if we would have all marched on the district in objection to the k-3 charter schools, or stood up to our tax dollars being used for IPADS for 7 graders - just perhaps WE WOULD BE DEALING WITH WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSE TO BE DEALING WITH - educational issues.

until and unless WE THE COMMUNITY OF THE SOUTH BAY unite and stand shoulder to shoulder with our HELL NO, WE WONT GO until we are heard mantra. until and unless WE THE COMMUNITY OF THE SOUTH BAY unite as neighbors with the common goal of the education of our students and fiduciary responsibility regarding our tax dollars - UNTIL AND UNLESS we will remain complicit in the mess of sweetwater.

we know better and therefore we should demand better, and not just when it pertains to our personal issue.

leadership comes from the top, currently we are lacking a superintendent who had the ability to lead. somewhere along the line he began confusing intimidation and tyranny with leadership.

hey we can come to comment boards like this til the cows come home or we can begin to put some verbs in those sentences of ours. verbs like fire, remove, RECALL, vote out, demand, and change//////////////////


jibaro Aug. 10, 2012 @ 1:49 p.m.

George Cameron represents hope for that change,a courageous community member who will represent the interest of the children of this community


bvagency Aug. 9, 2012 @ 12:07 p.m.

Anniej, very well put. I don't disagree with you one bit. I am very familiar with your passion on this issue. With that being said, most folks won't get involved until they are directly impacted. The rest is just politics, which most people despise. So, open boundaries and an increase by 2% in our mello roos tax are now directly affecting most current students in the eastern part of the district. Now these families are being directly impacted. Now there is a reason to get involved, and during this process all of the other stuff will be seen. Let's just hope it's enough to outrage them as it has some of us.


anniej Aug. 9, 2012 @ 5:52 p.m.

Bvagency: it is a sad day when we as a people are best described as:


we know better, and should do better - hopefully the sleeping tiger named apathy has been awakened.


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