Even as San Bernardino City Unified School District Associate Superintendent Mel Albiso is taking his leave from the district’s second highest ranking staff position as the consequence of a mushrooming controversy involving charges of nepotism and racial bias in hirings and firings at the district, one of the region’s leading political personages rallied to his defense, referring to him as “distinguished, dedicated and effective.”
Those accolades were offered by none other than Congressman Joe Baca, who lauded Albiso as “an administrator [who] has worked hard to ensure equal educational opportunity for all students.”
Albiso has been with the San Bernardino City Unified School District as an administrator in one capacity or another for 22 years. He was formerly a board member with the Colton Joint Unified School District until he was voted out of office there in 2010.
Over the last seven years, Albiso has been a figure of growing controversy.
Many view him in a positive light as a leader of the Hispanic community who has empowered himself and used his position to promote Chicano politics and Chicano economics and lead efforts in assisting Latinos being placed in places of authority within the educational arena in the Inland Empire.
Others, however, view him as someone who has cut corners and eroded the overall quality of the educational system by suspending standards when it comes to hiring or promoting Hispanics, his political and personal allies and members of his family.
In 2005 Albiso was promoted to the position of director of personnel for the San Bernardino City Unified School District. Largely on the strength of his relationship with then superintendent Arturo Delgado, Albiso in 2009 was promoted to the position of associate superintendent, despite the consideration that Albiso does not have an educational degree or any type of state credential, including an administrative credential.
In the associate superintendent’s position, which at $151,188 in annual salary and $60,000 in yearly benefits paid more than that of assistant superintendent, Albiso oversaw credentialed assistant superintendents and assistant principals, and was used in large measure by Delgado as an axe man in making layoffs and firings as the district dealt with declining revenues. This generated some degree of hostility toward Albiso.
There were suggestions that Delgado had promoted Albiso as part of a secret backroom 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. Others were made suspicious by Albiso’s willingness to hire Arturo Delgado’s brother, David Delgado, as the principal of Cypress Elementary School.
Simultaneously, in the Colton Joint Unified School District, significant budgetary cuts were being made. As a member of the school board there, Albiso came under fire from that district’s teachers’ union.
Further controversy found Albiso as a consequence of what were perceived as nepotistic arrangements and cronyism involving his daughter and two members of the San Bernardino City Unified board.
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. Despite poor evaluations during her probationary term, she was hired as a permanent employee. Subsequently, she resigned, but in 2001, after she changed her name to Nicole Ramirez, she applied with the district once more and was rehired. Despite objections by her immediate superior, Thomas McCauley Jr., that she lacked the proper qualifications, she was hired into the position of district web developer, a higher paying position, despite her competitors having outscored her on the job test and the consideration that she had herself not finished the test. 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 or from the Ontario-based office of a company she operated, Advanced Computing Concepts. This led to suggestions that Nicole Albiso Ramirez was being paid by the district while actually engaged in work for Advanced Computing Concepts.
Complicating the matter was that among Advanced Computing Concepts’ clients were San Bernardino City Unified School District board members Dr. Elsa Valdez and Teresa Parra. Advanced Computing Concepts did work, according to its website, for the Valdez and Parra school board campaigns, including mail marketing of the candidates to voters, email marketing, Web development, campaign signs, fliers, fundraising event planning, and multimedia presentations.
Valdez and Parra endorsed Mel Albiso in his campaigns for the school district in Colton and he endorsed them in their races in San Bernardino.
Among those fired from their jobs with San Bernardino City Unified by Albiso were the district’s one-time director of maintenance and operations Ed Norton and the district’s personnel director Abe Flory. Both sued the district for wrongful termination, raising accusations that Albiso had based his firing and hiring decisions on ethnicity by sacking exemplary non-Hispanics and replacing them or seeking to replace them with less well qualified Latinos.
Norton prevailed in his 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.
Flory’s suit against the district was even more devastating to Albiso. To arbitrate that matter, the district brought in an administrative hearing officer, Norman Brand, the past president of the California Dispute Resolution Council, to look into accusations of racism and cronyism alleged against Albiso. Brand looked at Flory’s performance and the decision to fire him. He further examined Albiso’s decision to hire Teresa Parra’s daughter into a clerical position with the district along with his hiring of his sister-in-law, Laura Albiso, as a bi-lingual clerk with the district. Brand also pored over district documents to determine there was no record of Nicole Albiso’s test results for her hiring into the programming position in the district’s personnel file. Brand concluded Albiso had engaged in numerous examples of nepotism, cronyism and race-driven favoritism.
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.”
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.
The beleaguered 56-year-old Albiso last month accepted 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. He will officially leave the district in June.
While many in the community hailed Albiso’s departure as a positive development, Congressman Joe Baca was not one of those. He commended Albiso for a job well done.
“Mel Albiso has had a long and distinguished career in public service,” said Baca. “His 22 years of service with the San Bernardino City Unified School District have been of great benefit to students, parents and educators in San Bernardino and throughout the Inland Empire.”
Baca continued, “Mel has dedicated his career to improving student achievement and enhancing education in the Inland area. As an administrator, he has worked hard to ensure equal educational opportunity for all students. During his service on the Colton School Board, he promoted new construction and remodeling projects, including the building of a new high school and middle school, as well as significant upgrades to Bloomington High School and Colton High School. Mel was elected by the people to serve on the School Board and he never lost touch with the local community. He was active in numerous civic organizations, including the Kiwanis Club of Greater San Bernardino. He also demonstrated effective leadership through his participation in organizations such as the Association of Mexican American Educators. He also played an important role in organizing community events honoring Cesar Chavez, as well as raising money for the Inland Empire Scholarship Fund, which helps poor and disadvantaged students pay for college.”