Sweetwater boardmember Bertha Lopez took the microphone and challenged Brand for bringing forward the iPad proposition without a thoughtful implementation plan.
  • Sweetwater boardmember Bertha Lopez took the microphone and challenged Brand for bringing forward the iPad proposition without a thoughtful implementation plan.
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Concerned Sweetwater Union High School District parents and residents lined up to ask superintendent Ed Brand questions at a November 8 meeting. They wanted an accounting of the money they have paid into the 17 Mello-Roos special tax assessment districts. They also wanted to know why Brand authorized so many student transfers that resulted in overcrowded schools.

Dissatisfaction with Mello-Roos taxes has been chronic in the state of California since the districts were created by law in 1982. Recently, one school board in Hesperia, California, reduced Mello-Roos fees by 75 percent due to resident protests.

At the Sweetwater forum, residents from the Mello-Roos districts asked why the district increased their fees this year by 2 percent (increase is optional) and what the money is being spent on.

Residents stressed that Chula Vista's east-side schools are aging and the Mello-Roos taxes need to be reinvested in them. Residents also expressed concern that the money they have already paid will be used for future facilities rather than for the needs of existing schools. The district envisions, among other things, a $129-million high school.  

Sweetwater's chief financial officer, Rick Knott, was asked in a November 13 email exchange: "Will the money already accumulated in the Mello-Ross funds be used toward the new high school or future facilities?"

Knott's reply was ambiguous: "Short answer is that some will likely be used in the way. As was mentioned at the meeting on Thursday, the district is starting the update of its Master Plan for Facilities. In that process we'll include the best information we have at this time for the need for a new high school or other facilities, along with the needs of the entire district related to facilities."

Although, Sweetwater provided a panel of experts, many residents felt they went home without specific answers.

Parent Maty Adato said she still has no understanding of why the district needed to increase the taxes and believes the district could refund excess Mello-Roos taxes but “prefers to have a huge accessible reserve to borrow from.”

(The district borrows from Mello-Roos funds and, as deferred state funding becomes available, the district repays the account with interest.)

A fiery moment in the meeting occurred when recently reelected Sweetwater boardmember Bertha Lopez took the microphone and challenged Brand for bringing forward the iPad proposition without a thoughtful implementation plan. The district's $4.3 million purchase of iPads was funded in part by Mello-Roos taxes.

Although the meeting was also scheduled to tackle the problem of east-side overcrowding, most of the evening was spent addressing Mello-Roos. Residents said that the teacher-pupil ratio at Eastlake High School is too high and that some students do not have desks. The problem, they believe, stems from Brand’s decision to “open boundaries,” allowing students to voluntarily transfer to the school of their choice.

Bernardo Vasquez, one of the organizers of the meeting, said in a November 13 email:

“We demand transparency, responsibility and honesty from our district leadership, and we don’t believe we are getting that from the Superintendent’s office. As far as our goals, on the Mello-Roos, in light of the district’s past practice of using money from other funds and not repaying it as required (Prop O Bond money), we would like to see some oversight by the community on how the school district spends and manages this money….

“As far as the open-boundary policy change, we would like to see a more planned and thoughtful approach…that considers impacts to student services, class sizes, traffic, transportation, and overcrowding.”

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montana64 Nov. 14, 2012 @ 4:05 p.m.

iPads are a mess! Unanswered questions but we digress... Election's over and two more years-- Of muddy confusion --dang nothing's clear. Charter schools & lawyerly babble Board meeting shell games, & hoop-jumping rabble.


Bob_Castaneda Nov. 14, 2012 @ 4:07 p.m.

I attended this meeting with my significant other; she pays a herrendous amount of both property, Prop "O" and Miller Roos -- thus her and my attendance. This story is accurate and necessary for those that "pay the freight" to better understand how their hard earned dollars are being spent. I can say that we were impressed and grateful to Berta Lopez for her courage and leadership at that meeting in pointing out who was responsible and where both the problem and solution lies. McCann, Cartmill and Ricasa enabled the genesis of the problem [Superintendant Ed Brand] with an aye vote to extend his exhorbitant contract with the District while both Lopez and Quinones voted NAY!


eastlaker Nov. 14, 2012 @ 4:09 p.m.

What the public is asking for is only what an honorable group would have already provided: but we know that Brand, Cartmill, McCann and Ricasa are not honorable. (Quinones is struggling hard to stay afloat, so she may feel some obligation to do just enough to teeter toward what the public wants, for now anyway.) Thank goodness Lopez is still trying to get somewhere in terms of getting this board to act responsibly and with at least a shred of decency. But is anyone listening?

Brand and his majority board are playing fast and loose with public funds, with money that is supposed to be for the education of the young people in this district. As we, the public, never get to see what happens with these funds, and as Brand is so determined to leave us in the dark, the only possible deduction is that there is malfeasance going on.

While one question may be "On what scale?", the bigger question is, why we haven't been able to get that forensic audit going back several years, as we know that salaries have been paid from Mello-Roos funds since about 2007 (editorial in the Eastlake Highschool newspaper of that time, which means that it was going on for a while before that).

So there is quite a bit of baggage from Brand's first time around. Which of course begs another question we have long been asking, "Why would anyone want to bring Brand back?"

Well, those quiet deals on the side must have been very compelling. Are the deal-makers feeling good about all that now?

I'd sure like to know that the money that has been earmarked for structural items and items which will last at least five years, is actually going to benefit the schools and the students and the teachers. The administrators have, for the most part, been taking care of themselves quite well enough already.

Here's a job for someone: open up the books, all of them. Perhaps even find the second set. But make sure you know where everyone is, first.


Visduh Nov. 14, 2012 @ 4:34 p.m.

Any hope for a real shakeup went out the window when the indicted board member (Quinones) was reelected. The lack of a primary election and a four-person field didn't help at all, but how many So Bay voters still have their heads up their (ahem) and know nothing of this long-running scandal? "Oh, I've seen her name before and she's an incumbent, so I'll vote for her." This election didn't change a thing, so don't expect things to change. When the crooks go to trial--or more likely, make plea bargains with the DA--there may be changes to the make-up of the board, and Brandara might get scared straight. This will come to a head, more or less, fairly soon. If you hoped to see the bums thrown out, it didn't happen.


eastlaker Nov. 14, 2012 @ 4:54 p.m.

What you say is the absolute truth, but as Brand and this majority board continue to flout all the conventional ideas of what a good board of trustees would do (not to mention flouting actual laws from time to time), I will join in "showing the love" as one commenter put it.

Brand always seems to come up with friends when he needs them. Or when they need a favor or a job. Not even FDR got to pack the Supreme Court the way he wanted, surely Ed Brand will find himself coming up short some day soon.


anniej Nov. 14, 2012 @ 5:51 p.m.

eastlaker: no doubt you are aware that MORE MONEY FOR IPADS was voted in last night.


anniej Nov. 14, 2012 @ 5:19 p.m.

Visduh: brand will not be scared straight. no doubt early next year we will see him departing - who knows the reason, who cares?

the fact that quinones was re elected boggles the mind. perhaps what we need down here is a proctologist?


Visduh Nov. 14, 2012 @ 7:29 p.m.

If he departs early next year, that will probably be accompanied by a half-million dollar buyout, such as he has scored before. He belongs in front of a judge, not in front of a bank deposit window. This is so bad that I am wondering if I've entered a parallel universe.


anniej Nov. 14, 2012 @ 4:52 p.m.

one would think that if three board members (john mccann, jim cartmill, arlie ricasa) are willing to pay a man one of the richest salaries in the area that they would be responsible enough get what they are paying for - not this group! in my opinion there is an under current, there is a reason, a personal/political motivation to the madness of these three.

there they stood, all of the men that report to brand - hands tied as to what they could say. why does brand continue to duck and cover - why doesn't he simply open up the windows and air it all out? why the continuous cover ups? what is REALLY GOING ON?

the ipads, a knee jerk expense that had no plan. 1,000 charges - lasting for six years? not even if these 7th graders ONLY used them for academics would they last for that length of time. and we all KNOW that these students are using them for everything under the sun - wouldn't you? students, in class, on facebook - students, in class, listening to their music downloads. yet the district had told us that the student would have no such abilities. at first, the covers were included in the price; then months later an agenda item pop up for the covers? according to the district they were working with apple and would be training students on repairing cracked screen - should i refer to that as a fib or a lie?

what was interesting about the meeting is that neither john mccann or jim cartmill were there - hmmmm, one would have thought that mccann would have jumped in his little golf cart and been there to greet his fellow eastlake neighbors - but alas, he slipped in at the end - standing in the back RIGHT NEXT TO THE DOOR. cartmill, being cartmill, wants NO PART OF CONTROVERSY - the fact that he voted for the ipads - well he would prefer that would be kept a secret.

so folks, this should be number one on our list of reasons to NOT VOTE FOR JOHN MCCANN or JIM CARTMILL in 2014. these two spend the monies of the hard working taxpayers of the south bay based on ?. then when the community wants answers they go into hiding using the excuse of quorum? P L E A S E! do not insult our intelligence.

sweetwater is broken - currently we have lopez - the super glue that is attempting to be all things to the taxpayers since none of the other board members seem able or willing to lead or serve as their office dictates. come january quinones - long hair and all will face the judge - ricasa, will find herself find herself standing along side. hmm wonder if good old bob filner will be in the rear of the courtroom with his pom poms chanting "pearl - you can do it, you can do it, you can, you can - serve your time, yes you can, yes you can" - but how bob filner, how? they don't sell hairspray in prison?

on a serious note both will probably end up making a deal - can you imagine either one of them in the pen?

it is time south bay, NO, it is long overdue - we MUST TAKE OUR DISTRICT BACK - for our children.


montana64 Nov. 14, 2012 @ 7:19 p.m.

Question: or suggestion... Bumbling board member boggles mind with straw pulling/cointossing decisin making maneuver necessitating night time phone call to lawyer. Ricasa recusal riddles while abstention dissension debate determines an aye! An aye for an aye but please explain who is hassey & what hat does he wear? Readers of the reader I seek to understand Tuesday November 13. Twas a surreal dream scheme.


Susan Luzzaro Nov. 14, 2012 @ 8:34 p.m.

Regrettably montana, I wasn't able to attend the November 13 board meeting. I'm not sure what you are referring to though I am catching up on the meeting by listening to the tapes posted on the district's website. I know you must be referring to Mr. Tom Hassey who teaches in the district and also attempted to start a bank with superintendent Brand. I heard Hassey was serving in the district office gratis, but I don't know what you're are referring to. Clue me in? Or perhaps I will stumble upon it while listening. Thanks...


anniej Nov. 14, 2012 @ 10:26 p.m.

what montana is referring to is a vote regarding changing two of the bylaws:

the first would allow the district to purge all employee emails after 90 days and purge calendars after 365 days. there were a few people who spoke in opposition. makes no sense to me, are they trying to bury the truth or perhaps hide some things that are going on? it appears no other school districts are doing this, but then again this is sweetwater.

the second issue came about when Ms. Mady Adato questioned why, yet again, donations (campaign) were not addressed in the new conflict of interest bylaws. well they hummed, and they hammered, and they sputtered, and they spoke. threats of penalties being levied against the district if it was not voted on did not deter Ms. Adato. no, she held firm - in the end it was tabled. however now according to mccann, in his world of politics it seemed he recalled when you do not have a majority vote on such an issue you either draw straws or put a name in a hat, or---------------. however according to the attorney they phoned - well, it appears the attorney was NOT QUITE FAMILIAR WITH THAT LEGAL MANEUVER.

regarding Mr. Hassey, well it appears that he has chosen to volunteer part of his day to the district. according to brand Hassey was volunteering to help with the kids, but according to Hassey Hassey is the new chief of staff. now when brand was pressed he relented and stated that the title was just a label (i am parphrasing) - according to brand Hassey is a long time friend and brand stands by Hassey. now that is fine, but the real issue is Hassey attending management meetings, presenting himself as chief of staff. so is Hassey chief of staff - hell who knows. according to jim cartmill - perhaps Hassey could be given the title of CFO - chief friend officer - are you kidding me? in what reality does a superintendent allow a 'friend' to present himself as chief of staff - "ah, hello, earth to brand - this is one of the largest school districts in the nations - stop treating our school district like a good old boys club". as Alex Anguiano pointed out there are rules/law regarding confidentiality - and there is, i am sure, quite a bit of confidential info in that disrict office. as well, one would think that those management meetings are confidential as well. does Hassey have an administration degree - i am hearing no. in all fairness to Mr. Hassey, i have heard from some that he does indeed care about the kids, and for that he should be commended. my comments should not be taken as a negative reflection towards what he has, what he may in the future accomplish as an educator or as a volunteer. my comments are simply questioning the professionalism or lack thereof of brand.


eastlaker Nov. 15, 2012 @ 10:03 a.m.

I seem to recall that Brand's contract said that he could spend school funds up to a point without needing approval from anyone. Perhaps Hassey's employment is falling under this. Just a thought.


jibaro Nov. 15, 2012 @ 5:50 a.m.

Hassey is to Brand what Dominguez was to Gandara ?


anniej Nov. 15, 2012 @ 7:05 a.m.

Jibaro: well, i guess that about sums it alllllllllllll up.


erupting Nov. 15, 2012 @ 9:25 a.m.

My fear is that this emboldened board ( by Brand) will soon bring up the legal fees again. Ricasa has a special defense account set up that you can see on line. I'm afraid that we taxpayers will be paying the fees,because of a silent community. The start of the hearings are inJan.i


angrybirds Nov. 15, 2012 @ 10:22 a.m.

Wow, sometimes you really have to think hard on why these people are so darn corrupt and dishonest. Don't these people have a conscious or any kind of morals. The meeting on Tuesday was another joke, why dont these idiots have a lawyer present to keep the stupidity at bay. I think maybe the lawyer would pay the school district for a real good belly laugh that they would get just looking at the idiots and they way they conduct business. I have a question who is going to be President of the board when Pearl is done next month? Will the asinine McCann nominate himself again? I think these board members who have been charged should just pass go and go directly to jail. PATHETIC GROUP OF POLITICIANS ON THIS BOARD. MS. LOPEZ KEEP UP THE FIGHT TO TRY AND KEEP THESE IDIOTS ON TRACK!


anniej Nov. 15, 2012 @ 2:54 p.m.

angrybirds: well, the year that mccann was voted in - THE FIRST YEAR - john mccann nominated himself. first year?, he came in wanting to make a name for himself. pick a name, any name - i simply can not go there.

what ended up happening is this - many good people i have come to know supported mccann when he ran. they welcomed him into their living rooms, introduced them to their friends hoping to get more votes - BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED IN HIM. and he totally disappointed them, many feel used and embarrassed to think they would have voted for such a person.

what is that song "how you like me now"??????????? well truthfully, i never supported the man, and hell you all know 'HOW I LIKE HIM NOW - worse than i did then. pick a subject, pick any subject and i will tell you how he has failed our students and our taxpayers. all of those many good people - well they are waiting with bated breath till 2014 when they can send john mccann and jim cartmill on their merry way. john mccann, jim cartmill, and arlie ricasa have shown us who they are - lets do ourselves a favor and believe them.

bet you can guess who the voters would like to see as president. will Ms. Quinones do the right thing and nominate Ms. Lopez - we will see..................


Lakefront Nov. 16, 2012 @ 7:37 a.m.

Where is the oversight of this guy and board members who clearly acted unethically if not yet proven legally? Are all these 3-2 votes going to be do-overs when these indicted board members are forced to step down? As far as the Mello-Roos goes, there should not be taxation without representation punto end of discussion.


eastlaker Nov. 16, 2012 @ 8:09 a.m.

Well, part of the problem is that those who are supposed to be representing us are ignoring us and lining their own pockets.

And the County Board of Education has washed its communal hands of all this, despite the fact that they are supposed to be in a position of oversight, both fiscally and as far as leadership goes.

Apparently there is no accountability here in San Diego.

The rumor is that Mayor Cheryl Cox wants to be superintendent of Sweetwater once her term as mayor is over. She does have background as a teacher and as a board member of the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

The only conclusion I can come to is that barring a public that suddenly becomes informed, invested and active, all the decisions will continue to be made behind closed doors, in great violation of the Brown Act, among other legal considerations.

That is why we need the forensic audit of Sweetwater, going back many years--linking the Brand of old with the current Brand. It is a great mess that won't get any better unless more people stand up for their rights and their pocketbooks.


eastlaker Nov. 16, 2012 @ 9:05 a.m.

The only real policy at Sweetwater is obfuscation.


anniej Nov. 16, 2012 @ 9:16 a.m.

Lakefront: UNTIL and UNLESS the community of the south bay turn out in masses to demand fiduciary responsibility and quality education.

UNTIL and UNLESS the emloyees turn out in masses to stand up for the students.

john mccann, jim cartmill and ed brand will continue to do what they do - arlie ricasa and pearl quinones will either be found guilty and forced out or take a deal and leave quietly.

OUR OWNLY SAVING GRACE IS THIS NEWS ENTITY - 'THE READER' and this reporter have been our life line to factual news.


joepublic Nov. 16, 2012 @ 9:18 a.m.

Regarding the indictments, trials, and the guilty stepping down, the procedure to replace them will be crucial. Hopefully, there would be a special election. Appointing new members surely wouldn't be in the public's best interest, not with this board. While an election might be costly, those found guilty should be made to pay for one as part of their sentencing or plea bargaining. Not sure this is possible, but I feel the public should have a vote, and we certainly have already paid enough for their greed.


anniej Nov. 16, 2012 @ 2:08 p.m.

joepublic: when, NOT if quinones and ricasa leave the board will vote on their replacements. IF they can NOT come to a unanimous decision then it will be up to the county board of ed to fill the slots....... if comes down to the county - it is imperative that we do whatever we can to have a packed house - carpool, bring your neighbors, plan to speak, WHATEVER IT TAKES, we must do. too many have fought to hard to bring the issue of alleged corruption to light which resulted in the indictments - we are nearing the end of the mandate to clean up sweetwater. WE NEED ALL IN!!!!!!!!!!


eastlaker Nov. 16, 2012 @ 2:44 p.m.

I urge you, anniej, and all the public to check out the County B of E's website and watch videos of the meetings. From what I have seen, it is beyond anemic and approaching comatose. But I think we really need to know the people we will be working with, and they need to know us. All of us.


oskidoll Nov. 16, 2012 @ 3:27 p.m.

The good news is that the South County rep on the County Board of Education will soon be changing. New blood was voted in (I believe the June election) and should be taking that seat soon. I suggest we get to know her as soon as possible.
We know the rest of that troop can't see, or manage to hear, anyone who comes from South County. Perhaps the new person will be able to wake them up.


anniej Nov. 16, 2012 @ 7:44 p.m.

channel 39 reports FEDERAL GRAND JURY channel 39 reports LOCAL GRAND JURY - to convene next week

hmmmmmmmm, it appears that the warnings of more to come is coming to pass. those rats that were able to fill out those forms, wonder if they are doing a bit of sweating right about now. better get those attorneys lined up for business, something tells me there is MUCH more to come. let us not forget the new arrivals, wonder how deep they will be pulled into all of this when the newest batch of canaries start singing.

many wondered about those extremely large contributions that a long time board member and a newbie received. those that made deals with the da, i am hearing those deals mean nothing to the feds - the feds are no doubt connecting the dots - my advice, follow the money.

yolanda hernandez, if my memory serves me correctly she served on the sweetwater bond oversight committee - you know before the days of O'Neill, Marinovich, Butler, and the newest members. back when Vasquez was doing his best to raise questions. now what do hernandez and quinones have in common? well that would be the san ysidro school district, quinones worked there - hernandez is a board member there. hernandez was slated, it was rumored, to be 'the gandara's' choice to run against bertha lopez ---- but that was prior to 'the gandara' being let go and before his indictment.

hopefully the future will us better path.


eastlaker Nov. 17, 2012 @ 9:16 a.m.

There is more happening with the San Ysidro School District--Superintendent Manuel Paul's receipt of cash in a parking lot from someone who was bidding on a construction contract doesn't look that good. (Story in the U-T today).

Maybe we will be learning a bit more about this. I haven't been following this San Ysidro story, so I don't know if some of the people also appear in any of the Sweetwater contract issues.


anniej Nov. 18, 2012 @ 9:28 a.m.

eastlaker: that would be a yes, many of the same players. fuel for thought, the north county times indicates that there was a new house that was promised? something to do with solar panels at the schools - that is interesting as many of you know all of a sudden we had solar panels going up in our school parking lots - connection?


anniej Nov. 18, 2012 @ 9:37 a.m.

the district is attempting to pass a new by law regarding 'purging' of emails after 90 days. also they want to 'purge' calendars after 90 days. hmmmmm, why? our school is a government entity and i find it hard to believe that the 'purging' of emails is a good thing.


Mr. Anguiano make a good point in his comment, is this an attempt to 'shred' what a few do not want others to find?


eastlaker Nov. 18, 2012 @ 7:45 p.m.

It looks like Brand and friends feel the need to hide their tracks. That in itself is enough to refuse this new law.

Couldn't they be arrested on the grounds of conspiracy for attempting to cover up what they have been doing?


anniej Nov. 19, 2012 @ 2:14 p.m.

eastlaker: quite a bit of speculation going on regarding the 2, count them 2, grand jurys that are going on. last week federal grand jury started interviewing, this week our local grand jury - oh my ------------------------

with any luck those who were called are being asked about all of the other questionable activities - both past and present - that share the same players. it appears that the attorney business is a BOOMIN' BUSINESS - all thanks to sweetwater!!!!!!!! and a couple of others.


Jmbrickley Nov. 20, 2012 @ 9:26 p.m.

All I want for Christmas is about 20-30 more indictments.


Wabbit Nov. 21, 2012 @ 1:15 p.m.

Best wishes, jmBrickley, anniej, maty and others! I know I am thankful for all of you this year!


anniej Nov. 28, 2012 @ 4:24 p.m.

Wabbit: Your words are most kind. Hopefully the upcoming year will bring about the needed change we ALL are working so hard for. we must remember, TOGETHER, we will accomplish the taskS at hand.



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