Teachers & Parents Not On Board With Incumbents In Central School District Race

The current race for two positions on Rancho Cucamonga’s Central School District Board of Trustees involves a rare if not unique situation in which a significant number of the district’s teachers are supporting a candidate who was not endorsed by the union representing them.
Vying in the race to oversee the district, which entails five elementary and two middle schools, are incumbents Kathy Thompson and Joan Weiss, as well as challenger Robert Moya.
One major issue is the physical deterioration of the 100-year-old district’s capital assets. Some of the schools have been in place for 80 years and major improvements have not been done to some for nearly 70 years.
One of the district’s schools, legend has it, bears a curse. In April 1988, 19-year-old Leonard Falcone, who just a decade before had been a student in the district and at that time was working at a nearby Taco Bell and attending Chaffey College full time, was gunned down by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan’ielle Durrant as Falcone and three of his friends were playing laser tag that evening at Central Elementary School, located less than a quarter of a mile north of Foothill Blvd on Archibald.
Teachers in the district say the school has claimed or is endangering far more lives, with an alarming number of former teachers having contracted cancer and, at least one expiring from an advanced carcinoma.
Officially, the district has acknowledged that the sewer pipes and the roof at Central Elementary are in need of repair, and that the fire safety system is both antiquated and of dubious functionality.
In 2014, voters in the district overwhelmingly approved by 4,141 votes or 67.1 percent in favor and 2,030 votes or 32.9 percent opposed Measure N, a $35 million bond to repair and update facilities.
Despite that, some teachers have suggested, the district has continued to neglect far more serious problems at Central School, including the serious health hazards posed by lead and asbestos and other toxic materials that remain in place. In particular, teachers point to a high incidence of breast and liver cancers, melanoma and immune system failures of teachers or faculty working in rooms 1, 2, 24, 25, 26 and 34 at the school, in addition to within the school’s primary hall. Some teachers have theorized that the several-decades-long exposure to those conditions long term teachers at the school injured their health, and that students, many of whom have or will spend seven years on the campus, are likewise running a risk.
There has been no empirical survey of the classrooms to verify these suspicions.
One undeniable risk to children attending Central Elementary, however, is the traffic situation there. Built in the 1950s when Archibald Avenue was a rustic two-lane street and Cucamonga was a hamlet of less than 7,000, Central Elementary is now located on an extremely heavily traveled four-lane street that is a major north south artery in a city that now encompasses adjoining Alta Loma and Etiwanda and boasts a current population of 175,000 and growing.
Measure N has done nothing to redress the asbestos and lead threats to those who attend or work at the school.
A new parking lot is currently being constructed at Central Elementary, but it is taking longer than expected and both parents and teachers maintain it is more dangerous during the construction phase than before.
Insensitivity to these issues as well as others throughout the district which a cross section of the district’s teachers take very seriously has led a collection of teachers, working outside the aegis of the teachers union, to use the forum of the election to make clear their differences with district management in the personage of superintendent Donna Libutti.
The teachers make no bones about not seeing eye-to-eye with the board. In a circular that is being handed around the community, it is stated “The incumbents supported the recent school bond, Measure N in the Central School District, with the promise from superintendent Libutti that safety issues would be addressed. One safety issue specifically cited during the Measure N campaign was the fact that classroom teachers must exit the classroom to lock the classroom doors from the outside. Imagine a shooter coming onto a local campus and the teacher must exit the classroom to lock the door. This unsafe situation was promised to be remedied with Measure N funds and now all monies have been spent with this problem still existing.”
A group of parents maintains the funding obtained from Measure N was diverted to increasing administrative salaries, in particular that of Libutti. According to the circular, after the passage of Measure N, the “incumbents, free from the financial burden … find that they have other financial resources to increase the salary of the superintendent of their 7-school district from $125K a decade ago to currently over $205K in total compensation, while concurrently denying classroom teachers a raise and instead forcing them to take furlough days without pay to balance the budget.”
Parents in the district assert “Incumbent Joan Weiss presents multiple conflicts of interest,” a primary one consisting of her “being a Central School District board trustee in addition to working for the West End Special Education Local Planning Area, a local education agency, which provides direct instruction to students in the school district.”
According to several teachers, the teachers union, the Central Teachers Organization, was on track to endorse Robert Moya, a retired railroad executive who has a grandchild attending school in the Central School District.
Teachers report that Joanna Ambrozich, the union president, intervened when it became clear the union was not going to endorse the incumbents in this year’s race. Teachers allege that since Ambrozich took office the union has been less than vigorous in its representation of the teachers and their interests and that Ambrozich has been co-opted by the district administration. Ambrozich was appointed union president without an election after the previous president stepped down in the Spring of 2016. Ambrozich acceded to the position per the union’s bylaws in which the vice president succeeds a resigning president.
Repeated efforts to obtain comment from Ambrozich yielded no response.
The Central Teachers Organization did support Mr. Stacy Henry two years ago, when Stacy was the only newcomer in the county to win a school board election. Henry has questioned Libutti’s intentions and adherence to promises she made in seeking voter support for Measure N.
Henry supports and endorses Robert Moya in his current campaign.
Rancho Cucamonga presents a study in contrasts with regard to its public school organizations. The city features five separate school districts – the Alta Loma School District, the Central School District, the Chaffey Union High School District, the Cucamonga School District, and the Etiwanda School District. There is a disparity between what teachers are paid in the Central School District and the other districts in the City of Rancho Cucamonga. This is an issue of some sensitivity, in part because Rancho Cucamonga is considered the second most affluent city in San Bernardino County measured by the common standards of average household income and median income.
To drive home how it is that they believe they are being given short shrift, a group of the district’s teachers outside the context of the union have begun to distribute a document titled 2016-17 Salary Comps, which purports to show the salaries provided to a beginning teacher, with the qualifications of a bachelor’s degree plus 30 units in education and the holding of a teachers credential, in 35 Southern California school districts. Central ranked at number 33 of the 35, with its beginning teachers being provided $45,956 per year. Only the Charter Oak district near Covina, at $44,768, and Mt. Baldy, at $42,193, paid beginning teachers less. This contrasted with Alta Loma at number 30, Etiwanda, at number 24, and Cucamonga, at number 12, which respectively paid beginning teachers, $48,129 and $49,647 and $51,575; with Ontario-Montclair, at number 22, which paid $55,256; with Upland, at number 29, which paid beginning teachers $48,244; Chaffey, at number five, which paid beginning teachers $54,364; Pomona, at number 4, which paid beginning teachers $54,552 and Arcadia, at number one, which paid its beginning teachers $57,301 per year.
Some parents in the district take issue with the assertion that the district has “21st Century classrooms,” which the parents say “only amounts to smart boards in the classroom that malfunction and are not used to their potential.”
In their circular, the collection of teachers says they have “refused to endorse incumbents and instead are canvassing the district for their opponent, Robert Edward Moya.” Some district parents have accused Libutti of “bullying” and of perpetrating “failed policies and practices in the district, leaving Central School District schools at the bottom of the barrel in Rancho Cucamonga. Incumbents rubber stamp these failed policies and procedures and fail to hold the superintendent accountable.”
Moya in his campaign has charged that the district administration has diverted the Measure N funds to academically unproductive projects as well as away from the district’s legitimate capital improvements needs. The district, Moya charged, is top heavy in administration, with money going to unnecessary administrative costs. Moya questioned Libutti’s stated intention of utilizing the Measure N bond money to build a new administration building.
Moya, unlike any of the current members of the board other than Stacy Henry, has shown he is at odds with Libutti and her approach. Libutti, who lives in Upland, is the wife of former deputy district attorney/Upland councilman Michael Libutti, who is now a Superior Court judge. Mrs. Libutti is making a salary that approaches that of her husband, while serving in a local and geographically compact district that does not have anywhere near the same economic support base as the statewide court system. For many, including Moya, Donna Libutti has an inflated sense of her value based upon her and her husband’s social, legal and societal standing that is not matched by her performance and abilities.
Moya cited Libutti’s superintendent’s $177,000 per year salary, which does not include benefits and deferred compensation, pointing out the superintendent in the Fontana Unified School District is paid $6,798 per school while Libutti receives $26,509 per school.
In seeming reaction to the negative publicity this election season is generating, the district, at taxpayer expense, but out a mailer that touts the outstanding job the district is doing.
That mailer, described as a “community update,” began landing in the mailboxes of district residents on October 12, the same day absentee ballots were being delivered within the district.
Under the category of “balanced budgeting” the mailer states, “The board of trustees approved a 44 million dollar balanced budget for 2016-17, just four years after the biggest spending cuts California has ever seen in Kindergarten through 12th grade education.”
Furthermore, the mailer states. “The district’s budget includes funds set aside for the following: textbook adoptions; 21st Century technology; full-time counselors; physical education teachers at every site; after-school sports at all schools; intervention programs; staff development; afterschool enrichment and activities at all schools; parent education.”
The mailer asserts, “The district maintains high levels of accountability and transparency to ensure all funds received are used to meet the needs of all students through: regular public budget reviews at board meetings; annual compliance and financial audits; additional financial and performance audits for bond funds; and a citizen’s [sic] bond oversite [sic] committee.”
Under the heading “Health/safety measures,” the mailer states that “Safety plans [have been] developed for all seven schools” and references “Ongoing collaboration with local police, fire, and first responders to continually assess immediate and long-term threat assessments [sic]” as well as “Ongoing training for all staff on how to respond to emergency situations involving weapons on campus.”
In addition to the mailer, the district employs “Seven full-time health clerks, two mental health clinicians, and three full time nurses serving families district-wide.”
The district spent $7,500 on the mailer. Board member Stacy Henry said he had not known about the mailer until he received it in his mail. He questioned its intent, noting his name and the names of the other board members were prominently featured on it, suggesting it was intended as a promotion of Thompson and Weiss’s candidacies.

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