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Cajon Valley school board gives $50k contract to outgoing board president

After unseating Tamara Otero, Anthony Carnevale stood alone in opposing her contract

Tamara Otero. Each board member claimed they were unaware the company they awarded a contract to was Otero’s.
Tamara Otero. Each board member claimed they were unaware the company they awarded a contract to was Otero’s.

The Cajon Valley Union School District board of trustees voted January 31 to give former board president Tamara Otero a $50,400 consulting contract. After 12 years on the board, she lost her bid for reelection November 8 to local real estate and mortgage broker Anthony Carnevale, who now represents northeast El Cajon’s trustee area 1.

Otero formed Alfabet Soup LLC on December 9 and the school board first awarded her new company a consulting contract at its December 13 annual meeting by unanimous vote. But Carnevale says the board was not informed they were giving Otero a contract. “No agreement, proposal, or documentation was attached for Alfabet Soup, which made this agenda item uniquely opaque relative to the other consultant agreements voted on.”

President Jim Miller, superintendent Dave Miyashiro. Instead of terminating the contract Miller placed an agenda item to “approve consultant agreement with Alfabet Soup, LLC."

After looking into it, he discovered Otero was the beneficiary and at the January 10 board meeting called for her contract to be terminated and for a review into why that information was concealed. Each board member claimed they were unaware the company they awarded a contract to was Otero’s. According to a January 6 email district superintendent David Miyashiro sent Carnevale, the agenda for the December 13 meeting was set by Otero and current board president Jim Miller.

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President Miller allowed a special meeting January 31 to address the contract, but instead of terminating the contract he placed an agenda item to “approve consultant agreement with Alfabet Soup, LLC voiding the previous contract.” Voiding the previous contract was to clear the problem with Otero setting the agenda for her own contract. The contract grants Otero $70 per hour for 30 hours a week until the end of June - “Not to exceed $50,400.00.” She will be doing advocacy work for the district and providing “services and support” for the district’s CEI [California Engagement Initiative] and FACE [Family and Community Engagement] programs, and TEDx events.

Anthony Carnevale: “Was there justification for skipping the public bidding process?"

The independent contractor agreement for Alfabet Soup cites Section 53060 of the California Government Code to justify paying for Otero’s “special services.” According to the “Guide to Bidding and Contracting for School Districts,” originally published by the San Diego County Counsel’s office, “special services as far as a school district is concerned…are in addition to those usually, ordinarily, and regularly obtainable through public sources.”

During the special meeting Carnevale said, “The contract calls out longstanding programs of the district. In each of those we have existing employees of this district who are licensed, certified, trained. How is this contractor providing a special service that is outside the existing in-house abilities of our district?” He asked, “Was there justification for skipping the public bidding process?...What is the nature of the emergency to approve the new contract?”

Assistant Superintendent Karen Minshew said, “The TEDx event takes months and months of planning and is time sensitive. Some of the work and commitments we have coming forward with CEI and FACE are time sensitive. We do not have the bandwidth right now to perform all that we used to do. I referred to some of our staffing limitations.”

Mike Serban, Cajon Valley’s FACE director, said Otero was the “key reason” the district secured county, state and federal grants to help the school district work with refugee children who do not speak English and are behind the education level of their American peers. He added, “I think it saved the lives of 26 kids, getting them out of Afghanistan. Day to day…we’re one community of many cultures. That’s the power of what she has been able to do.”

Miller says, “I asked Serban if there was another individual that could do the job immediately available. The answer, to paraphrase, was ‘no’.”

Eight people spoke against the contract during public comments. “There is no trust with Tamara Otero. That’s why she overwhelmingly lost. She’s betrayed the public trust time and time again,” one said. Carnevale received 62% of the vote to Otero’s 38%.

President Miller, Vice President Karen Mejia, Trustee Jo Alegria and Trustee Jolyana Jirjees voted to approve the new contract. Trustee Carnevale stood alone and voted against it.

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Tamara Otero. Each board member claimed they were unaware the company they awarded a contract to was Otero’s.
Tamara Otero. Each board member claimed they were unaware the company they awarded a contract to was Otero’s.

The Cajon Valley Union School District board of trustees voted January 31 to give former board president Tamara Otero a $50,400 consulting contract. After 12 years on the board, she lost her bid for reelection November 8 to local real estate and mortgage broker Anthony Carnevale, who now represents northeast El Cajon’s trustee area 1.

Otero formed Alfabet Soup LLC on December 9 and the school board first awarded her new company a consulting contract at its December 13 annual meeting by unanimous vote. But Carnevale says the board was not informed they were giving Otero a contract. “No agreement, proposal, or documentation was attached for Alfabet Soup, which made this agenda item uniquely opaque relative to the other consultant agreements voted on.”

President Jim Miller, superintendent Dave Miyashiro. Instead of terminating the contract Miller placed an agenda item to “approve consultant agreement with Alfabet Soup, LLC."

After looking into it, he discovered Otero was the beneficiary and at the January 10 board meeting called for her contract to be terminated and for a review into why that information was concealed. Each board member claimed they were unaware the company they awarded a contract to was Otero’s. According to a January 6 email district superintendent David Miyashiro sent Carnevale, the agenda for the December 13 meeting was set by Otero and current board president Jim Miller.

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President Miller allowed a special meeting January 31 to address the contract, but instead of terminating the contract he placed an agenda item to “approve consultant agreement with Alfabet Soup, LLC voiding the previous contract.” Voiding the previous contract was to clear the problem with Otero setting the agenda for her own contract. The contract grants Otero $70 per hour for 30 hours a week until the end of June - “Not to exceed $50,400.00.” She will be doing advocacy work for the district and providing “services and support” for the district’s CEI [California Engagement Initiative] and FACE [Family and Community Engagement] programs, and TEDx events.

Anthony Carnevale: “Was there justification for skipping the public bidding process?"

The independent contractor agreement for Alfabet Soup cites Section 53060 of the California Government Code to justify paying for Otero’s “special services.” According to the “Guide to Bidding and Contracting for School Districts,” originally published by the San Diego County Counsel’s office, “special services as far as a school district is concerned…are in addition to those usually, ordinarily, and regularly obtainable through public sources.”

During the special meeting Carnevale said, “The contract calls out longstanding programs of the district. In each of those we have existing employees of this district who are licensed, certified, trained. How is this contractor providing a special service that is outside the existing in-house abilities of our district?” He asked, “Was there justification for skipping the public bidding process?...What is the nature of the emergency to approve the new contract?”

Assistant Superintendent Karen Minshew said, “The TEDx event takes months and months of planning and is time sensitive. Some of the work and commitments we have coming forward with CEI and FACE are time sensitive. We do not have the bandwidth right now to perform all that we used to do. I referred to some of our staffing limitations.”

Mike Serban, Cajon Valley’s FACE director, said Otero was the “key reason” the district secured county, state and federal grants to help the school district work with refugee children who do not speak English and are behind the education level of their American peers. He added, “I think it saved the lives of 26 kids, getting them out of Afghanistan. Day to day…we’re one community of many cultures. That’s the power of what she has been able to do.”

Miller says, “I asked Serban if there was another individual that could do the job immediately available. The answer, to paraphrase, was ‘no’.”

Eight people spoke against the contract during public comments. “There is no trust with Tamara Otero. That’s why she overwhelmingly lost. She’s betrayed the public trust time and time again,” one said. Carnevale received 62% of the vote to Otero’s 38%.

President Miller, Vice President Karen Mejia, Trustee Jo Alegria and Trustee Jolyana Jirjees voted to approve the new contract. Trustee Carnevale stood alone and voted against it.

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