Aug. 17--After a year that has seen almost a complete turnover of upper management, up to 80 percent of Rialto Unified's school board could also be new faces by December.
Six candidates are vying for two seats on the school board. Only one incumbent's name will be appearing on the Nov. 4 ballot. Board President Joanne Gilbert, who's served on the board for 13 years (election dates were shifted during her time in office, giving her an extra year as a result), has opted against seeking a fourth term, saying that she's tired.
Her fellow incumbent, Edgar Montes, is seeking a second term, and after years of vocal opposition to the direction of former superintendent Harold Cebrun, has said he's looking forward to being part of a board that's similarly interested in making changes.
"For two years, I was hammered and destroyed," Montes wrote in an Aug. 5 email. "At board meetings, I was publicly chastised for questioning anything and everything, but I would not let up. With wasteful spending concerns, serious conflicts of interest concerns, and questionable contractual agreements, I took a strong stand and refused to be a rubber stamp, I went against the grain and many said I was fighting an uphill battle. Well, everything has finally come full circle now, and the district is in a big mess."
Also on the ballot are returning candidate Eoma "Teddy" Harris, Lillie M. Houston, former board member Don Olinger, Russel Silva and Dina Walker.
"I care very deeply, about families and their kids. The schools are not run the way it's supposed to be, the district's not run the way it's supposed to," Harris said on July 25. "Everything that's happened in the district, it's an embarrassment."
She previously ran for the board in 2012.
Houston, a 25-year insurance broker and local Democratic Party activist, started thinking about running for the school board when news broke that accountant Judith Oakes was accused of embezzling $1.8 million from the district's nutrition services department.
"Because of that, I said, hey, I need to get involved, I need to go to more meetings," Houston said in July. "Everybody has a responsibility and if they do what they're supposed to do, here in Rialto, it will come back to where it was before, back when I was raising my kids."
Olinger worked in the district as a teacher and principal before serving as a school board member and member of the West Valley Water District board.
"During my 34 years in the district as a teacher and principal, the RUSD was the envy of surrounding school districts," Olinger wrote in an email earlier this week. "Families moved to Rialto so that their children could attend the best schools in the county. Professional teachers and staff were eager to work in Rialto."
Russell Silva, the husband of a district employee, believes the board's focus has gotten away from improving children's education.
"The time that I've spent at the board meetings over the last two and a half years, I saw the focus was taken away from where it should be, which is on the kids," Silva said Aug 1.
Walker is the president and CEO of the BLU Educational Foundation.
Gilbert's and Montes' school board seats aren't the only ones in play: A group calling themselves "Recall Ayala/Martinez 2014" are attempting to oust sitting board members Joe Ayala and Joseph Martinez, both of whom aren't up for reelection until 2016.
Recall organizers blame the pair (and Gilbert, who was not eligible for recall as her term was almost up) for their alleged support of former superintendent Harold Cebrun and "under the direction of the superintendent, approved numerous and unnecessary contracts, some of which were for duplicate services, leading to the depletion (of) nearly $30 million dollars of Rialto Unified School district's reserve funds," according to the statement they read at the meeting in March when members first served Ayala and Martinez with recall papers.
The group has until Sept. 16 to collect 9,450 signatures -- 20 percent of the 47,248 registered voters in the school district, according to the last official measurement. Proponents intend to gather more than that, to allow for some signatures being challenged by the San Bernardino Registrar of Voters' office and discarded.
Senior managers gone
But no matter what the voters do, the district has had major turnover of its managers in the past year.
It began with Superintendent Harold Cebrun and Deputy Superintendent James Wallace, who were put on administrative leave last fall, apparently as part of the school board's inquiry into the ties between Cebrun and former district accountant Judith Oakes, who's accused of embezzling $1.8 million from the district's Nutrition Services department over eight years. (Cebrun has denied persistent rumors that the pair were romantically linked and is not a suspect in her criminal case, according to Rialto Police.) After months out on administrative leave, Cebrun was allowed to retire at the end of March.
Cebrun was just the first of a wave of senior district officials leaving.
Associate Superintendent of Personnel Felix Avila resigned on May 13.
Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Susan Levine's contract was not renewed along with Wallace's in May, meaning that once their contracts ran out at the end of June 2015, they'd both be out of work. Instead, she found a job in another county.
And finally, Wallace will be retiring at the end of September.
Once that happens, interim superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam -- the district's associate superintendent of business services -- will be the only senior manager on the job in October 2013 still employed one year later.
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