Albiso Era In Local Education Circles Draws To An End

San Bernardino City Unified School District Associate Superintendent Mel Albiso, who has been a lightning rod of controversy in public education circles at the core of San Bernardino County over the last five years, will be leaving his post at the end of the school year.
Albiso, who was previously a member of the school board in the Colton Joint Unified School District until he was voted out of office there in 2010, is leaving the educational field amid a growing cacophony of criticism and in the aftermath of the departure of two members of the school board in San Bernardino who had been his political allies.
Those allies, Dr. Elsa Valdez and Teresa Parra, were widely perceived as responsible, along with former San Bernardino City Unified Superintendent Arturo Delgado, for Albiso’s advancement to the associate superintendent’s post, despite his lack of educational credentials. In some measure, the defeat Valdez and Parra suffered at the polls in November came about because of their links to Albiso.
The 56-year-old Albiso, who had been with the district for 22 years, was not fired, but persuaded to  accept an early retirement offer in the form of what the district  calls a Supplemental Early Retirement Plan, which will provide him with an annuity for five years based on his salary.
Albiso had acceded to the second highest ranking position in the district under Arturo Delgado, who abruptly resigned as superintendent in June 2011 to become superintendent of schools in Los Angeles County. For more than three years there have been perceptions within and without the district that Albiso advanced to the associate superintendent’s position because of a secret backroom deal he brokered with Delgado.
On January 27, 2009, the San Bernardino City Unified School District (SBCUSD) school board voted 6-0 to give Albiso, who had been the district’s director of personnel and was promoted to assistant superintendent in 2005, a 2 percent raise, retroactive to January 13, 2009. Undisclosed at that time was the salary enhancement was intended to put him into a higher compensation bracket consistent with duties it had already been secretly agreed he would assume the following month. Indeed, the following month the school board created the position of associate superintendent – in effect the district’s staff position second only to superintendent, and promoted Albiso into that position. Among the position’s duties was supervising the district’s assistant superintendents.
Albiso was provided with a $151,188 annual base salary, such that he was receiving a total annual compensation package exceeding $210,000, including all benefits and salary. In March 2009, in his capacity as  a member of the Colton school board, Albiso voted to provide layoff notices to 52 full-time Colton Unified employees for the 2009-10 school year, including 20 elementary teachers, all four middle school librarians, at least one counselor at each level, and several home economics and woodshop teachers. Meanwhile, in the San Bernardino district,  Delgado utilized Albiso as his budgetary axe-man, assigning him to the task of laying off other administrators. Albiso’s promotion into the second highest district office fell under criticism because of his lack of experience, qualifications and expertise with regard to the role he took on. He had previously overseen the non-educational, non-teaching departments, known as the district’s classified divisions: employee relations/human resources, facilities/maintenance & operations, and information technology. He continued to supervise those departments and employees but was also put in charge of the district’s assistant principals, whose jobs included managing instructors. Albiso does not have an educational degree or any type of state credential, including an administrative credential.
There were suggestions that Delgado had promoted Albiso as part of an arrangement by which Albiso would later arrange for Delgado to be hired as Colton Joint Unified’s superintendent if he were ever forced out of the San Bernardino position. In the ensuing months, a siege mentality set in, during which Albiso was practically inaccessible to members of the public, either his constituency in Colton or teachers, employees, residents or parents of the San Bernardino district, or the press.
For many, Delgado’s promotion of Albiso sounded alarms. Albiso’s status as associate superintendent positioned him to become what was  the de facto acting superintendent when Delgado without warning tendered his resignation last year to move on to the position with Los Angeles County Schools.
Albiso’s ascendency to the interim superintendent’s post had the effect of bringing greater focus to another  troubling circumstance,  that is, the nepotistic and conflict-ridden relationship between Albiso, his daughter and then-San Bernardino City Unified School District board members Elsa Valdez and Teresa Parra.
Mel Albiso’s daughter, Nicole Albiso, was originally hired as a programmer with the district in 1999, even though she did not have a degree in information systems at that time. An administrative hearing officer, Norman Brand, the past president of the California Dispute Resolution Council who was brought in by the school board to look into accusations of racism and cronyism within the district raised by personnel director Abe Flory, examined district files to determine there was no record of Nicole Albiso’s test results for the programming position in the district’s personnel file. Three performance evaluations she was given during her probationary term with the district indicated she needed to improve her computer skills – including learning Visual Basic, which all other district employees in her department had already mastered. Nevertheless, she became a permanent employee at the end of her hiring probation. Subsequently, she resigned, but in 2001, after she changed her name to Nicole Ramirez, she applied with the district once more and was rehired.
Her immediate supervisor, Thomas McCauley Jr., complained up the district chain of command about Ramirez’s performance. McCauley maintained that his superior, Dilip Patel, told him to rescind his complaint because of who Ramirez’s father was. When Ramirez tested for the position of web developer in 2003, she was the only candidate who failed to finish the test, even after she was provided with an extra hour. According to McCauley, Ramirez passed because a panel member gave her 8 out of 10 points for two questions she did not answer. Despite her performance on the test, Ramirez was promoted to the position.
In 2005, Ramirez resigned from the web developer position and wangled being rehired two days later as a “substitute” web developer who did not need to work out of the district office and could function from home. She was provided the highest level of pay for the web designer position. Patel acknowledged Ramirez did not have the requisite five years experience working with Visual Basic, as required in the job description.
Brand told the district’s personnel commission that “The case of Nicole Ramirez, Albiso’s daughter, can only be explained by nepotism. The evidence of her special treatment is overwhelming.”
With complaints about Nicole Ramirez’s qualification to serve as the district’s web designer mounting, she was moved into a senior and lucrative position in the district’s nutrition services department without going through any competition or testing for the position. Nicole Ramirez is the proprietor of an Ontario-based business, Advanced Computing Concepts, which, according to its own website, is involved in advertising, website development and political campaigns. Ramirez touts herself and her company as being able to help a candidate “project the right image, have a clear and well articulated message, and adopt a campaign strategy with clear and concise goals. We offer a comprehensive approach to campaign consulting, including strategic planning and marketing, issue research and message development, and media consulting. A few of the many services we can provide for your campaign include: Direct mail marketing targeted to the highest propensity voters, email marketing, Web development, campaign signs, fliers, and other marketing materials, fundraising event planning, [and] multimedia presentations.”
Ramirez and Advanced Computing Concepts have, her website boasts, been involved in school board, city government and school bond and municipal bond campaigns and issues. Among those candidates referenced on the Advanced Computing Concepts website are San Bernardino City Unified School District board members Dr. Elsa Valdez and Teresa Parra.
Both Valdez and Parra supported Mel Albiso’s promotion to associate superintendent at SBCUSD and were his political supporters when he was with the Colton Joint Unified School District, where he was voted out of his position as a board member in November 2010.
Complaints have cropped up that the hiring of Ramirez was improperly done and timed to provide her with medical benefits to cover the cost of the birth of her child. Ramirez worked in her full-time position away from the district office in San Bernardino, either at home or at her Ontario business office. There have been suggestions that she was paid by the district while actually engaged in work for Advanced Computing Concepts.
Other charges of nepotistic hiring were leveled at Albiso. David Delgado, brother of Arturo Delgado, was hired as the principal of Cypress Elementary School by Albiso. Albiso hired Teresa Parra’s daughter into a clerical position with the district. And Mel Albiso’s sister-in-law, Laura Albiso, was hired by the district as a bi-lingual clerk.
The district’s reliance on Albiso in guiding the district did not sit well with many of the district’s teachers. The teachers’ union president Rebecca Harper told the school board on June 21, “The San Bernardino Teachers Association cannot and will not support another superintendent who lacks the educational background in curriculum and instruction.”
Albiso functioned last summer as acting superintendent until journeyman school administrator Richard Bray was brought in to temporarily oversee the district, pending a long term superintendent being hired. Bray lasted little more than a month, however, as he found himself overwhelmed with the disarray in the district. In October, Yolanda Ortega, SBUSD’s assistant superintendent of employee relations, was tapped to lead the district as the November election, in which both Valdez and Parra were seeking reelection, approached. In that election, both Valdez and Parra were turned out of office.
Last year, the one-time director of the district’s maintenance and operations department, Ed Norton, prevailed in a wrongful termination lawsuit against the district based on allegations that Albiso had engaged in reverse racial discrimination in firing him. That suit cost the district $360,000.
Subsequently, in a move that did not auger well for Albiso, his daughter’s employment with the district was severed.
More recently, Albiso was buffeted with accusations that he engineered the hiring of Helen Rodriguez at SBCUSD as special education director in the aftermath of a problematic circumstance she had worked herself into at the Colton Joint Unified School District, where she had been protected in her position as director of pupil personnel services there when Albiso was on the school board. Rodriquez engendered a litany of complaints in Colton with regard to failure to comply with federal regulations pertaining to the preparation of education plans for students with disabilities and instead substituted an unapproved curriculum. These complaints led to legal wrangling between the Colton Joint Unified School District and the Association of Colton Educators, that district’s teachers’ union.
The final straw came when in March, Brand, who was looking into Flory’s claim that he had been unjustifiably terminated as personnel director in 2007, concluded that Albiso has engaged in numerous examples of nepotism, cronyism and race-driven favoritism. Brand found that Flory’s firing was unjustifiable and Brand recommended that Flory be reinstated with $550,000 in back pay. The district’s personnel commission confirmed Brand’s recommendation and called upon the district to pay Flory’s legal costs, consisting of $263,000 in attorney and court reporter fees.
For Albiso, the writing was on the wall. With his two crucial backers on the board, Valdez and Parra, gone and the district’s independent hearing officer having made findings that are severely critical of his hiring, firing and operational decision-making and with a personnel director with whom he has tremendous differences set to return to the district, Albiso on April 3 said he would accept the Supplemental Early Retirement Plan the district had offered many of its employees last year.
In seeking early retirement, Albiso recommended to the board that his position with the district be eliminated.
The board has accepted, in principle, Albiso’s proposal.
One report is that he will receive a five year annuity based upon 107 percent of his base $151,188  annual salary for five years. He was given a seven percent salary bonus last year by the board to remain with the district in the aftermath of Delgado’s departure. In five years, he will then be eligible to pull a $89,667.62 per year pension.

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