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Several years ago, the Reader published an article on cell-phone towers, safety concerns, and the Sweetwater Union High School District. This old story has a new twist.

When the story was published three years ago, cell-tower money from lucrative contracts with telecommunications companies went into the general fund — the pool of money that goes directly to students' needs. Now, Sweetwater has begun to divert some of this revenue into its real-estate dealings.

Sweetwater has several pieces of property that trustees want to get on the market. These properties have been purchased with taxpayer money; the normal process for excess property to go through is first to establish that the properties are indeed excess, and then to go to the public and ask the public what they want to do with the excess property.

Sweetwater circumvented the process and operated as if these were investment properties rather than properties purchased for district needs. The district hired big-ticket consultants to ready the properties for high-density residential developments.

The district uses something called the special reserve fund, or Fund 40, to finance land speculation and make interest-only payments on one of the properties, located on L Street.

Fund 40, heretofore, has consisted of money set aside from an old Caltrans settlement, old redevelopment money, and rent revenue from the L Street property.

The district publicly maintains that Fund 40, or the money spent on the property boondoggle, does not come from students.

In fact, at an August 10 meeting, Thomas Calhoun, the school district’s executive facilities manager, told trustees, “No bond funds or general funds were spent on any of this asset [property] development. I want to make sure we’re not taking money from students….”

Interim trustee Lyn Neylon followed up on Calhoun’s remark by saying, “If I understand it correctly, once money from the state gets put in a certain pot, then it has to stay in that pot. It’s not like we can take that money and spend it on kids’ books.”

Though district officials did seem to understand that the money should stay in the general fund for things like books, in fact, money is now being diverted to the real-estate fund. Here’s how:

Sweetwater allows telecommunications companies to place cell-phone towers on campuses throughout the district. Although the judge is still out on the possible health hazards posed by cell-tower radiation emissions, the rental income is considerable.

According to an August email from Karen Michel, Sweetwater’s chief financial officer, “The district currently has 26 operating cell sites…the annual rental revenue from those sites ranges from $700,000 to $900,000 [per cell site].”

In 2011, when the Reader was researching Sweetwater cell towers, Lillian Leopold, then-spokesperson for the district, sent an email saying that, “Monthly revenue [from the cell sites] goes into the general fund.”

In 2012, the board voted to approve former superintendent Ed Brand’s recommendation that money from 13 of 29 cell sites, which totaled $3.2 million annually, be redirected to the district’s iPad initiative. The rest of the revenue stream went to the general fund.

Whether to iPads or to the general fund, revenues continued to flow toward the students’ needs.

But this summer, on June 30, four interim boardmembers and trustee John McCann voted for this recommendation:

“The district has numerous agreements for cellular facilities on various school sites. The license agreements require a lump sum initial payment and monthly ‘rent’ payments. Since these funds are generated from real estate assets [schools], the revenue from these agreements will go to the Special Reserve Fund [Fund 40]….”

At this time, only the revenue from the cell towers at Montgomery High School will go into the real-estate fund. At Montgomery High, one cell-phone tower, with a newly added generator, fetches $3150 a month; the other earns $2596 a month for the district.

Concerns about cell-phone towers and potential health hazards are common.

In July 2014, the City of San Marcos, in response to public pressure, modified its cell-tower placement regulations.

In 2013, the U-T reported that Encinitas parents were withdrawing their children from Innovation Centre Encinitas, a school run by Julian Charter School, because of cell-phone antennas.

In 2009, Los Angeles Unified School District passed a resolution “which opposes the location of cell phone towers in close proximity to schools.”

Meanwhile, the district’s chief financial officer says Sweetwater has “nine more cell sites in the works.”

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Comments

anniej Sept. 3, 2014 @ 7:22 p.m.

After reading today's release from SUHSD and now reading this I am wondering - is the cell tower money being diverted into the Asset Utilization/Fund 40 because our temporary Board authorized Tom Calhoun to go forward with the lease on Harold Place.

Has the lease for the new District office been signed? Inquiring minds will find out.

Ms. Neylon, our County Board representative went on record last month with her flippant statement 'it's not like we can take monies for books and spend them on property' (paraphrase) - OH REALLY!!!!!! It appears, once again those who were sent to hold down the fort inadvertently have gone out and leased a new fort - maybe I am wrong, maybe the lease has not been signed - we will soon know.

But one thing for sure, they are NOW SPENDING BOOK MONEY!

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anniej Sept. 3, 2014 @ 7:39 p.m.

But one thing for sure they are NOW spending book money on FREAKIN' REAL ESTATE!!!

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Susan Luzzaro Sept. 3, 2014 @ 7:42 p.m.

anniej, I encourage people to go to the website for Sweetwater Union High School district, board meetings, Aug 11 and listen to the audio 13 & 14.

Rental of Harold Place is part of the Asset--which means property--utilization plan.

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anniej Sept. 3, 2014 @ 7:44 p.m.

Thank you for that comment - perhaps you might answer this - the letter posted today on the Districts website I thought it stated all property deals were on hold. Or did it mean 'all property deals regarding L street are on hold?'

You see I am one of those people who expect my School District to give the straight and simple answer UP FRONT. I tend to not appreciate having to read between the lines -

While I am on this rant might I add - DID THE COMMUNITY DO EVERYTHING SHORT OF BEGGING THEM TO NOT GET INVOLVED WITH A NEW DISTRICT OFFICE LEASE? DID WE NOT WARN THEM THEY WERE BEING LIED TO?

But what the hell, it is only our children's education they are squandering away.

Am I torked, oh you betcha!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Bvavsvavev Sept. 3, 2014 @ 9:04 p.m.

This afternoon I toured Eastlake High to see the disaster that is the physical state of this campus. Active construction sites on the north and south ends of campus, over 3000 students, classes sizes in the 40s and 50s, a sloppy, dirty and poorly kept campus. Classrooms, flooring are old and worn. Desks and chairs are original with the campus. Shortage of equipment and supplies. And what is the district doing ? Why they are diverting money to fund 40 so they can get out of the property mess! Where are this districts priorities? Tom Calhoun and the rest of the old and ineffective administration needs to go. Not just a new board and superintendent, but new senior leadership as well.

It's amazing this type of diversion of funds can occur without Michel, Glover, Leyba, CASTILLEJA and others not knowing. And this is ok? Incredible!!

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Sjtorres Sept. 3, 2014 @ 9:10 p.m.

And the Mello-Roos funds being moved out of the CFD they were raised from and spent on unauthorized items is another example of the troubles with SUHSD.

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Jmbrickley Sept. 3, 2014 @ 9:40 p.m.

"boondoggle" I love that word. That one word covers so many things Sweetwater.

Here's another item to ponder a bit:

"Fund 40, heretofore, has consisted of money set aside from an old Caltrans settlement, old redevelopment money, and rent revenue from the L Street property."

By rent, does the SUHSD also use the "rents" being charged to all the various District Programs being housed in the multitude of offices on the L Street property? If they are, then General Fund monies are being directed to those programs, then being recouped as "rent" money that is then channeled in Fund 40?

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anniej Sept. 3, 2014 @ 9:46 p.m.

Candidates - please note, it is time for SUHSD to GET OUT of the real estate business and GET OUT of the construction business. THEY HAVE FAILED MISERABLY AT BOTH!!!!!!!

I agree with Mr. Vasquez, if we do a mass clean out of certain top heavy District personnel who continue to fail us so miserably we could then put those savings into our schools.

Concerned with how your schools look, perhaps we might get Dianne Russo back here, sit her in the witness chair and demand she answer the question why did you as Tom Calhoun reported 'squirrel away 9 million $ that was slotted for maintenance?'

Want a question for the candidates in all areas: what are you going to do to reign in the overages on construction costs.

Candidates, it is not enough to tell us you will bring about change, we want to know what changes and how - and please DO NOT EVEN TRY AND BLAME THIS ALL ON THE UNIONS! Ed Brand, The Board, The County, Tom Calhoun, and the other suits -

NOT PART OF ANY SUHSD UNION!!!!!!!

(Not to say the unions are perfect)

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Jmbrickley Sept. 3, 2014 @ 10:07 p.m.

Alas, all I can get out of most of the candidates is the old tired saw... "what's best for the kids... we need to work together... go to my web page..."

Reminds me of the stuff one sees every night during the six week run up to the national elections "Under my plan,..." then give no real specifics.

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anniej Sept. 3, 2014 @ 9:51 p.m.

Mr. Brickley - your common sense, knowledge of the issues ( due to your own hard work), and direct nature are EXACTLY WHAT THE DR. ORDERED for cleaning out the cancerous inefficiency and alleged corruption in our District. Hope our 5 new Board members share those attributes.

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Jmbrickley Sept. 3, 2014 @ 10:17 p.m.

In 2009, Los Angeles Unified School District passed a resolution “which opposes the location of cell phone towers in close proximity to schools.”

Meanwhile, the district’s chief financial officer says Sweetwater has “nine more cell sites in the works.”

Sweetwater will do anything for the bucks, including exposing your children to unproven radiation. Remember, back in the day, when shoe retailers put all those X-ray machines in the stores so you could "see" your foot inside your new pair of shoes, and just how well they fit. All the while exposing you to what we know today was an extreme amount of radiation... needlessly.

What do you call a someone or a company that will do anything for the buck?

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Missionaccomplished Sept. 3, 2014 @ 10:19 p.m.

Kath Cheers, I put more trust in Block and Gonzalez, I am sure they would be interested in looking into this matter.

2

anniej Sept. 3, 2014 @ 11:05 p.m.

Missionaccomplished - no disrespect meant but 5 years is an awfully long time to wait. We have been hearing the old 'it's not good for a member of the party to criticize one of their own' Allegedly Block spoke up FOR Arlie Ricasa, guess the party friendship of one outweighs the votes of many.

Gonzalez, and, what has she done? Can't think of a thing,

Again no disrespect to you meant.

The message received by the community loud and clear 'we don't matter'. WE WILL REMEMBER WHO WAS NOT THERE FOR US NEXT TIME WE ENTER A VOTING BOOTH AND PICK UP THAT BLACK MARKER.

just my opinions

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Susan Luzzaro Sept. 3, 2014 @ 11:13 p.m.

bvav, The change in the cellular contract is on the June agenda, 10 item E49. It is the superintendent's recommendation and voted through by the whole board.

The ill-kept campus you describe, Eastlake High, sounds awful. But the class sizes are the worst part. That is what most directly influences student learning.

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anniej Sept. 3, 2014 @ 11:19 p.m.

JmBrickley - ah yes, I am already identifying those who are afraid to speak their minds on important issues. Sort of like a game 'you tell me how you feel and I will structure my answer accordingly.'

Take for example COMMON CORE - do you (any/all candidate/S) support it? That would be a yes or no answer, no need for pontificating - it's not a trick question.

You see, we have endured double talk for far too many years and refuse to continue with any party's political BS.

SPEAK UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN, I may not agree with you, but I am sure as heck going to respect you for it. Besides, doubt if I or any voter is going to agree with any candidate on ALL of the issues.

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Bvavsvavev Sept. 4, 2014 @ 6:49 a.m.

It is clear that the current administration and trustees see the schools not as a place of learning for our students, but profit centers or money makers. Otherwise, there would not be such a blatant disregard for student needs. This paragraph says it all:

“The district has numerous agreements for cellular facilities on various school sites. The license agreements require a lump sum initial payment and monthly ‘rent’ payments. Since these funds are generated from real estate assets [schools], the revenue from these agreements will go to the Special Reserve Fund [Fund 40]….”

Schools are viewed as real estate assets?! Just simply amazing that so many smart people could be so dumb!!

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oldchulares Sept. 4, 2014 @ 6:58 a.m.

All of a sudden Mr. box kicker McCann runs silent. Many had such high hopes for the guy a while back. Haven't seen him do a thing other than vote for things that fail to help the kids in any way. Time for him to turn in his political retirement papers.

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eastlaker Sept. 4, 2014 @ 4:18 p.m.

Hadn't you heard, he is very busy these days trying to change his stripes!!!

Hoping that photo ops showing shiny teeth will be enough to carry him into his next office.

Talk about an empty suit, but an empty suit just waiting to jump to the next political office. How anyone at the Lincoln Club finds anything of substance in McCann is beyond me--but then that crew has long since abandoned any semblance of political idealism or decency. It is all just perks, inside deals and helping each other out as they hop to their next position, sort of like the old Super Mario Brothers game.

7

oskidoll Sept. 4, 2014 @ 4:27 p.m.

I think it is McCann's decided lack of substance that makes him such an attractive candidate for David Malcolm and his ilk to support. Malcolm tends to gravitate to those who are easy puppets for his marionette strings.

Look at how he groomed Shirley Horton, who was such easy prey she was actually afraid to speak in public! As you point out, eastlaker, it has nothing to do with political decency or even identifying the better candidate. That bunch supports those who are easy to influence and manipulate for not-so-savory purposes down the line.

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eastlaker Sept. 4, 2014 @ 5:54 p.m.

For years I kept wondering why we would see all these photos of Shirley Horton smiling, but yet never hear her say a word. I asked someone who had attended some functions she had also attended while she was the mayor if she was indeed capable of speech. He said that she was a very intelligent person. I said, "Then why doesn't she ever say anything?!"

So--I guess she didn't want to offend her backers. This does not bode well for Chula Vista or Sweetwater.

Must there always be some sort of iron-clad grip on things here by opportunists and grifters?

3

eastlaker Sept. 4, 2014 @ 9:19 a.m.

Where to begin? Sweetwater (the school district) has turned into Sweetwater (the corporate hodge-podge of failed and failing schemes).

How can we extricate the good from the bad, the schools from the encumbrances?

When will we get the complete, unvarnished truth about all this?

I am sure that Mr. Calhoun is working overtime to justify all sorts of steppingstones in the great vastness of scheme-dom that is Ed Brand's legacy. I am sure there are all sorts of people who would love to make sure that the public never finds out the truth on all this.

But many of us are quite sure that what has been taking place in Sweetwater is nothing less than the whole-sale pillaging of a school district. This must end. Those responsible must answer for it.

If they continue to band together under some sort of allegiance of thieves, we will continue to chip away at them, relentlessly. The sort of person or persons who willingly steal the futures from our children must be stopped.

Education needs to regain a place of honor in Sweetwater, and the schemes of the deluded, grasping and corrupt need to be stopped.

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oskidoll Sept. 4, 2014 @ 10:18 a.m.

Ms Neylon certainly sounds as if she is intellectually challenged. As a member of the County Board of Education, representing the South County, she should have at least learned some of the basic fundamentals of school finance.

Money that comes to the school district from the state, unless it is restricted to some specific category (called categorical funding) can go into the general fund. The general fund is the money that the school board allocates via an annual budgeting process: so much for this, and so much for that.

There are certain guidelines about requirements for so much (percentage) in reserve for 'emergencies', and certain guidelines restrict the money raised from Mello Roos property taxes....but in general, the general fund is for 'everything else' and the board has great latitude in how it is allocated. Their responsibility is to make sure that there is sufficient funding for maintenance of district properties, supplies for students, teacher and support staff salaries, etc.

It seems to me that it is simple logic that if money has been put into one 'pot' as ms. Neylon says, that unless it is categorical funding or restricted to some special purpose, it may be MOVED into another more appropriate pot if needed there! Just because Fast Eddy or his buddies have said it must stay in the original account is not necessarily the truth and is quite likely part of the shell game.

Do some homework, Ms. Neylon! You are going to have to be a great deal sharper (less gullible) than it appears if you expect to be re-elected to the County Board of Education when your term is up.

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erupting Sept. 4, 2014 @ 2:26 p.m.

I truly am tired of hearing Tom Calhoun's name. Hopefully when we get a new board and supt.we can get rid of some of these Brandites starting with Calhoun. Why we didn't use the county's people is a mystery. I remember anniej talking about this in the past. I don't know about anyone else but I feel a new board secretary is a must. She was trying to keep her job I'm told,but Brand is gone and the problem getting public information is still a game of chess with Ms Vicedo. I'm tired of the games,run around and being treated like the enemy. We were told at the special board mtg that transparency would prevail as far as the property was concerned. Well I'm still waiting for Lichman's response to the district's inquiries about the property. So much for transparency. I don't know about anyone else but I have no hope that this board will do what's right for this community. More hide and seek games, with a bone thrown at us occasionally. I bet we get one tonight from the CFO in her report about unaudited funds,problem it will be a partial truth.

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eastlaker Sept. 4, 2014 @ 4:21 p.m.

Calhoun is certainly loyal to all the Brand processes. Why is he so loyal? He must have a belief that Brand is still holding the reins. Or that there are rewards for those who play the Brand game.

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CV_Parent Sept. 4, 2014 @ 6:29 p.m.

I don't understand why school principals didn't wake up and follow in San Ysidro High footstep. I remember when school was being built Hector Esponoza pitched a fit that district would take money from school for cell tower revenue I believe he started a scholarship find with the revenues. Wonder if that is still in place. I don't remember the details just hearing he wouldn't go for it.

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anniej Sept. 5, 2014 @ 7:21 a.m.

OFF TOPIC - I see the McDonnell's (Virginia Governor) were found guilty on several counts of accepting gifts such as a monetary payment for a wedding party - wining and dining, as well. Husband and wife are facing MAJOR PRISON TIME!!!!

Legal talking heads on CBS 'this should be a wake up call to ALL if you are in politics for the wrong reasons get out AND NOW!!!!!!!'

Hmmmm, is there a way I might send this story to the honorable Judge Espana?

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eastlaker Sept. 5, 2014 @ 2:22 p.m.

Well, not so very off topic...Gandara is now out of prison. Now that we know that the deals were far bigger than what was charged--but nothing is being done about that--I do wonder about the loyalists. Seems to me they still need watching.

Judge Espana. Eminently not up to the job.

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oldchulares Sept. 5, 2014 @ 8:43 p.m.

Erupting that report that was given last night was unintelligible the gal was talking like she had marbles in her mouth not a sound quality problem.New board needs to replace her right out of the shoot with Tom right behind her.

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